Textile trash is a huge problem. According to EcoWatch, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries in the world. Since change starts at the bottom, it only seems appropriate that we start with our own by switching to ethical underwear. (No not edible underwear; jeez what kind of site do you think we’re running here?!)
Like our approach to beauty, we developed a set of sustainable fashion criteria that helped us sort through plethora of panties on the market.
First and foremost, each product must be made from ethical and sustainable materials. Basically, we want something with a good “end of life” outcome (compostable not trash-able). Fabrics from the earth (cotton, hemp, and bamboo) can go back to it; synthetic fibers, like polyester, can take 200 years to break down.
We also look for these fabrics that are organic, vegan, naturally dyed, and renewable.
Companies should employ ethical and transparent labor practices (#whomademyclothes), ethical supply chains (Fair Trade certified and supportive of local communities), and sustainable operations (low waste, use renewable energy, carbon offsets, optimized shipping, low waste/no plastic shipping).
Handcrafting is a pro, too, because it creates local jobs and eliminates machine energy use. Ideally, they’ll also be involved in charitable giving, promote a positive body image, and be all people inclusive.
We know that’s a LOT of things to consider and we haven’t been able to hit all of them for each product but we think we’ve found a pretty damn good list of options to choose from! We hope you find it helpful!
We went over sustainable materials pretty quick up there, but it’s a crucial point. Let’s unpack some of the common fabrics you’ll find on this list:
- Hemp: Used as a fiber by humans for thousands of years, similar to linen in feel and able to keep you warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot and even protect you from UV rays. Great! Hemp can be one of the most eco-friendly fabrics: It uses 50%+ less water than cotton, requires no pesticides and can be converted into fabric sustainably
- Tencel (Lyocell/Modal): Made from dissolving wood pulp, sourced from sustainably managed eucalyptus plantations, Tencel is 50% more absorbent than cotton, it requires less energy and water than cotton and it is biodegradable
- Bamboo: Bamboo is not only super soft, breathable, and antimicrobial when spun into fiber but it’s also an incredibly renewable resource. You don’t have to kill the plant to harvest it and it grows remarkably fast. Also rain fed, it saves water and produces more oxygen than trees.
- Organic cotton: How is it different from regular cotton? It’s grown without chemicals, making it better for you, the farmers, and the environment. Working conditions are safe and hygienic, pay is fair and raw material and final textile products meet stringent waste limits, among other things…
- Recycled synthetics: Sometimes, natural doesn’t quite cut it, unfortunately. Things like stretchy waistbands must be derived from something else, but we like when that something else is at least recycled. Recycled nylon, for instance, produces 90% fewer CO2 emissions than its virgin counterpart.
Before we get to our list, there are a few terms you’ll see a lot. We want to take a second to explain what they mean. These are basically the certifications companies can receive to verify by a third party that their claims are accurate. Anyone can claim to be organic for Fairtrade, but these stamp of approvals let you know it’s true.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Holds fabric production to strict ethical and ecological criteria. Basically, fibers must be produced biologically, so no chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or even machine harvesting. To get this cert, all companies involved at any stage, all the way to packaging and labeling, must meet these criteria. Think of this as seed to shelf.
- Oeko-Tex 100: Ensures the fabrics (either raw or finished) and devices used to process them do not contain any harmful chemicals. This includes heavy metals (i.e. nickel and cadmium), colorants, formaldehyde, and other fabric preservative agents. It also keep everything at a skin-friendly pH.
- Fairtrade: Upholds standards of workplace ethics, including fair wages, safe/hygienic workplaces, proper training, and reasonable/limited work hours. It prohibits child labor, discrimination, forced labor, harassment, and abuse. Similar certifications are those by International Labour Organization (ILO) and Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI).
Without further ado, let’s meet some makers of unmentionables that are worth mentioning!
Don’t let the name fool you: they make very good panties and sleepwear, too! After creator Stephanie Devine’s breast cancer diagnosis, she sought to make non-toxic bras actually good for breasts and launched a 2018 wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. The claim to make “only zero post-consumer waste bra out there in proper bra sizes”:
- Materials: Australian-made with a combination of wood-based Tencel fibers, organic tree rubber, and organic cotton elastic. Every component (soy ink labels to special organic cotton hooks) is 100% biodegradable. Plus no underwire makes them super comfortable.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Lots of transparency about their suppliers, right from the Kickstarter. They ship in entirely compostable mailers, mostly through Australia’s Sendle, a carbon-neutral company
- Inclusivity: These bras come in 24 proper sizes available to fit a range of breasts, butts, and bodies!
- Community & charitable giving: No charitable partnerships as if yet, but VGB hopes to become a B-corp in the near future!
Available: The Very Good Bra
Pact, based in Boulder, Colorado makes sports bras, bralettes (both padded and unpadded), and undies. They believe “you should never show your underwear…unless it makes a really good point”:
- Materials: Every product is mostly GOTS-certified organic cotton, specifically long staple cotton, which makes everything super soft. Their underwear also contains elastane, a far more eco-friendly provider of stretch than the standard spandex. No toxic dyes or pesticides
- Supply chain & labour practices: They are Fairtrade certified and employ water and energy efficient production methods, as per their latest impact statement. In fact, each product page specifies water saved in production of that one garment.
- Inclusivity: On their website, they show off their products on models of all shapes and sizes. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is a core part of their company values, which is why they started #justwearyou.
This Canadian company makes bras, bralettes, underwear, lingerie, sleepwear, and some really unique pieces, like this bio bamboo bodysuit! Lots of Bs in that name but don’t let that fool you; the company motto is still, “because… there is no planet B”:
- Materials: They use primarily three fabrics: organic cotton (the lining of every panty), recycled spandex, and Oeko-Tex-certified bamboo. We especially love the looks of their Responsible Sourcing Collection, which are made only of recycled materials (so no underwire in the bras).
- Supply chain & labour practices: They are careful to choose suppliers who are conscious of their water and energy consumption. Most their products are made and dyed (under Quebec’s strict environmental standards) right in Montreal, but they did recently start working with a new carefully selected Peruvian manufacturing partner.
- Inclusivity: Again, a lot of diversity in the models on their website.
- Community & charitable giving: Sokoloff donates all their fabric scraps to the Montreal paper-making studio, Retailes, so they get recycled into beautiful stationery.
An Australian company creates everyday essentials, designed with all-day comfort in mind: no clasps, underwire, or other pinchy non-compostable components:
- Materials: Between the silky bamboo-derived viscose and seamless design, these might be the smoothest eco-friendly pair of panties you’ve ever worn.
- Supply chain & labour practices: In terms of production, Boody’s objective is as follows: “maximizing positive outputs and minimizing negative ones through the entire supply chain”. They believe in equal opportunity employment, both in workers and customers.
- Inclusivity: “Boody fits who you are, naturally” and they believe anyone should be able to afford eco-friendly underwear, which is why they employ a 4-installment afterpay program so cost and budget can’t stand in anyone’s way.
- Community & charitable giving: Giving back is one of Boody’s 4 pillars of business, and they currently donate (either time, money, or products) to several different charities as well as being one of over 14,000 companies now participating in the 1% for the Planet program.
This Australian company believes that “ethical is the new look” and encourage people to #switchyourunderwear with their line of classy men’s and women’s underwear. Even their “granny undies” are somehow stylish and flattering! Plus, they received an A+ from the Australian Ethical Fashion Guide 2 years running:
- Materials: They use 95% certified organic cotton with a 5% elastane blend.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Their entire supply chain is certified GOTS, Fair-Trade, AND sa 8000 social accountability (basically the gold standard for ethical labor requirements). Plus, they have an awesome Transparency page where you can look at some neat infographics about the exact processes of their three Indian cotton suppliers. In hopes to one day become carbon neutral, they offset 1kh of carbon for each pair of undies
- Community & charitable giving: In 2017, they initiated the now annual Bare for Good campaign, where they invited celebs and others to bare themselves in portraits to raise awareness about the unethical and unsustainable reality of underwear production. They’ve also worked with non-profit, Free the Girls to help victims of sex trafficking.
Available: Mighty Good Undies
Hara means “green” in Hindi (the company was inspired by founder Allie Cameron’s visit to India) and they make underwear and bras “designed for you and our earth collectively”:
- Materials: Passionate about the benefits of bamboo, they use Soil Association and OEKI-TEX 100-certified bamboo, reduced to weavable cellulose with food-grade solvent. It is then naturally dyed with plants like turmeric, indigo, and madder root.
- Supply chain & labour practices: HARA believes in supporting local economies, and they strive to have the “whole supply chain in one country, one location”. As it is, all products are made (from dying to shipping) right at their GOTS-warehouse in Melbourne, Australia.
- Inclusivity: So much diversity in their models and a quick scroll will assure you these underwear are designed for any and all women. In an interview with founder Allie Cameron on Simple-Ish, she stated, “All women are beautiful in their own form. We are here as a community, to empower women to love themselves, be themselves. […] Feminism for HARA is a movement to empower women to release their inner flame and be who they are with no guilt/shame.”
- Community & charitable giving: HARA partners with the Environmental Justice Foundation on worldwide projects involving the use of chemicals and pesticides in cotton production.
“The fashion industry is a dirty bastard.” What an opening! This hilariously inspiring Danish company started making men’s undies but have since expanded to women’s intimates, sleepwear, even socks! Their goal is to end the poor life cycle of underwear. Check their guide on washing smarter so you can both conserve energy and water, and extend the life of your lingerie!
According to these fashion fellows, “We think that buying poor quality, fast fashion is a lot like peeing your pants when you’re cold. It feels nice at first, but it’s not so good later on.”
- Materials: Really cool stuff here! To make their garments long-lasting and in need of less frequent washing ( washing and drying accounts for 2/3 of clothing’s environmental impact), they spin it with real sustainably-sourced silver.Sounds scary, but this well-tested EPA and Reach Act-compliant and Oeko-Tex 100-certified silver thread is spun in mere trace amounts with USB and GOTS-certified organic cotton to create SilverTech. What’s the benefit? Other than the fact that you can say there’s silver in your skivvies, it’s heat-regulating anti-bacterial, and odor-controlling.
- Supply chain & labour practices: OB definitely gets the award for workplace transparency. You can check out an exact numerical breakdown (vacation days, hours worked, etc.) for every one of their factories. They personally visit these factories regularly sit down with workers to ensure job condition satisfaction. Finally, they’re BSCI-compliant and a member of Sedex, a non-profit that empowers ethical supply chains.
White Rabbit, a company with French roots but based on Mexico City, is one of the oldest ethical “everyday intimates” companies. They asked themselves, “In a world where we care so much about what goes into our food, our bodies, our clothes, how is it that no one paid attention to how our underwear is made?”
- Materials: These undies are made of “uber soft” bamboo rayon
- Supply chain & labour practices: Their bamboo is sourced from 3-4 year old bamboo trees in China’s Yunnan province. It is then processed and crafted by an OEKE-Tex certified knitter that adheres to ISO-9000 (workplace safety) and ISO-14001 (environmental) manufacturing standards.
- Inclusivity: White Rabbit stands for women’s advancement and thus employs only women in a country where it can be difficult for women to find fair work.
- Community & charitable giving: A percentage of every purchase goes toward their partner women empowerment organization, Fabrica Social. This Mexican organization focuses on teaching female artisans how to design new products and ensure their work is properly valued so women can become a driving economic force.
Available: White Rabbit NY
Another awesome Kickstarter funded company, Y.O.U. Underwear focuses on classic styles in black and beige. We love the classic, simple look, because really, what more do you need?!
- Materials: All products are made of PETA-certified vegan and GOTS-certified organic cotton.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Both their source material and production is certified Fairtrade, crafted in India’s “number one ethical and sustainable manufacturer”.
- Inclusivity: As the name might suggest, Y.O.U. makes underwear for you, as in EVERYONE! As such, they are “committed to using real men and women of all shaped and sizes” as models. Everyone should be comfortable in their own skin.
- Community & charitable giving: Y.O.U. Underwear backs every their purchases with a buy-one-give-two promise, which they fulfill through Smalls for All. The donated underwear get distributed them across Africa to women and children in need of them. (PS – Did you know young girls in some communities are denied going to school during their period because they don’t have underwear?!)
Available: Y.O.U. Underwear
Woron is sister-owned, Scandinavian company based on Copenhagen, Denmark that began out of a desire to put an end to the “’ahh…’ of relief” that comes with taking off your bra at the end of the day. Ladies, you know what they mean. They make simple and feminine bras, undies, swimwear, socks, and camis.
- Materials: Woron’s products are Peta-certified vegan and made of Oeko-Tex-certfied organic cotton. While this list focuses on underwear, we think it’s notable to mention their swimwear is made of recycled plastic waste cleaned out of the ocean. So cool!
- Supply chain & labour practices: Their family-owned factory in Hungary used to be GOTS-certified but it got too expensive to pay for the certification. Still, they maintain the same operating standards, paying higher than minimum wage, upholding strict rules about hours worked, and giving added benefits for working mothers.
A tomboy can be a lot of things, namely, “A girl or a woman or person who […] is utterly, completely, and unapologetically themselves, who is not afraid to stand up, stand out, be heard, be seen […] A person who is damn okay with who they are.” Let’s all aspire to be tomboys, then!
- Materials: Their products use mostly MicroModal (an eco-friendly renewable fabric made of Beechwood fiber) and Oeko-Tex organic cotton.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Seeking to end “fast fashion” and mass production, they work with women-owned factories located in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and China that are well lit, safe, clean, and fair in payment. They regularly visit to ensure they adhere to these standards.
- Inclusivity: Tomboy X’s slogan is “underwear for all” and their line is fit for all sized bodies (4S-4X).
- Community & charitable giving: Activism for social justice, LGBTQ, and women’s rights are at the core of this company: “Our #humanagenda is not just a gay agenda, or a feminist agenda… It is all of those things.”
Available: Tomboy X
Twenty years in the ethical underwear business and this family-owned New Zealand business has it dialed (they have a separate USA branch now). Their “ultimate undie” comes in all sorts of super fun prints. Plus they promise no wedgies or underwear lines and we are ALL about that.
- Materials: Thunderpants uses SKAL (International Standards for Sustainable Textile Production) organic cotton dyed with water-based, non-toxic inks.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Thunderpants believes in traceable production. They grow their fairtrade cotton in India, knit in a mill in Australia, near their headquarters in New Zealand, and sew in their New Zealand or Portland, Oregon (for the USA branch) factories. Their NZ operations are also dog-friendly! “Always put people before profit” is their motto.
- Waste minimization: We’re adding this in because Thunderpants does an awesome job of this. Their factories buy in bulk where possible, compost, repurpose fabric offcuts, and use recyclable Eco-enclose mailers. In 2018, the pledged to the NZ government to be carbon neutral by 2050; until then, they offset their emissions through Ekos.
- Inclusivity: This is one of their core values: “Thunderpants stands by inclusivity, championing minorities and supporting other organizations that do the same.”
- Community & charitable giving: Just call this company Philanthropants! We wish we came up with that name, but we can’t take the credit. Thunderpants created this extension of their company to support local schools, create community initiatives, and work with a seriously impressive list of charities.
Started in 2016 by two friends Julie Kervadec and Lara Miller by crowd-funding, this all-female powered U.K. company creates sexy, vintage-style intimates.
- Materials: Their SmoothSilk is crafted from GOTS and Oeko-Tex organic cotton and occasionally elastane for waistbands.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Their products are first designed in the UK by training designers. They’re then crafted in an ILO & UN-certified Portuguese factory that employs local women. Their goal is to combine vintage designs with the rich textile heritage of the Portuguese culture.
- Community & charitable giving: AmaElla partners with a UK non-profit that helps young women hone their skills in the fashion industry.
Aikyou, meaning “love and respect” in Japanese, specializes in fine-crafted elegant lingerie for small-breasts. The goal is make small-breasted women “feel wonderfully feminine” without excessive padding and uncomfortable underwire.
- Materials: Luxury fine lingerie calls for soft and delicate Oeko-Tex 100 organic cotton. They are currently undergoing the GOTS certification process.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Entirely Fairtrade-certified, Aikyou keeps supply chain close (all in Europe!). The yarn in spun, knitted, dyed, and cut in Germany, then sent to Croatia for sewing. Both human and animal rights are important to them. Their partnering suppliers/factories are Fairtrade certified, offering fair working conditions. All their products are animal free. Finally, they ship via DHL GoGreen in recycled/recyclable packaging from certified forestry sources.
- Inclusivity: We love that this brand gives smaller busted women an option! Their paddable bras are great for women who have had mastectomies!
- Community & charitable giving: They support the animal rights organization Pro Animale and several bee and insect protection programs.
Run by a New York City mother-daughter duo that make lingerie pieces that are “sensuous, natural and just a little bit naughty”. This luxury line comes with a little higher price tag, for those special occasions. However, only some of this company adheres to our sustainable standards, so for this list, we’re considering their Organic Cotton Collection and Recycled Lace Collection.
- Materials: Their organic cotton line is made of 100% GOTS Peruvian Pima cotton, which is processed using only oxygen, bleached with GOTS-approved hydrogen compounds, and dyed with Ecological and Toxically Association of Dyes (ETAD) approved and GOTS organic dyes. Read more about their fabric processing here.Their recycled nylon collection meets the Global Recycled Standard at 59% recycled, though we would ideally like to see more.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Most pieces manufactured right in their home NYC Garment District but their Pima cotton is grown and collected in Peru.
Proclaim is an “inclusive nude lingerie line”. As a young company (only 1.5 years old), they currently focus on making one style of cutout bralette (in three nude shades) but doing it extremely well. Did we mention they make their bras from bottles?!
- Materials: Yes, you read that right: bras from bottles. Their ultra-soft bralettes consist of 100% post-consumer recycled #1 PET plastic water bottles. These bottles are washed, blended, melted into REPREVE, then textured into fibers which are BPA-free and Oeko-Tex 100-certified.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Made in the USA right in their home city of Los Angeles, California, so they can help drive and diversify their own local economy. They pay laborers hourly, instead of per piece (as in many “sweat shop” plants). Plus, products ship recycled poly mailers with a dual adhesive trip so you can reuse it!
- Inclusivity: Proclaim began because the founder grew “tired of not being able to find a nude bra that matched by brown skin.” Their goal is to expand the definition of nude for all ethnicities and skin tones.
A Munich-based underwear company that makes underwear and basic layering tops for men, women, and babies.
- Materials: All products contain a minimum of 70% organic cotton, but a total of 95% minimum organic content, meaning they qualify as grade-1 organic.
- Supply chain & labour practices: Being GOTS-certified, Vatter upholds carefully regulated factories, with fair and safe working conditions and hiring practices. These family-run factories are located in Greece and Turkey (for underwear) and India (for shirts). They ship completely carbon-neutral through DHL GoGreen.
- Community & charitable giving Vatter gives a portion of their revenues to various environmental and social projects, specifically through Kindernothilfe, a children’s rights organization that provides safety and education to children living in urban poverty.
Anekdot is what they call an “upcycle brand”. All their bras and underwear and made with entirely recycled materials, which makes all their pieces unique and limited.
- Materials: They use pre, not post, consumer (i.e. never worn) production leftovers like fabric trimmings and manufacturing miscalculations. When they source pre-consumer waste directly from the supplier, they know that it is Oeko-Tex 100 or GOTS. They also use recycled nylon and organic cotton for our crotch linings.
- Supple chain & Labour practices: All pieces are hand-made, fairly, in Berlin, Germany or in Poland, but their suppliers are always changing; whoever has unwanted materials laying around! On one hand, we know this means the materials might not live up to some of our standards (just because we don’t know their history prior to arriving at Anekdot!). Still, we like this concept of repurposing fabrics in such a unique and utilitarian way!
Vatter, really sums it up: “Any successful business should return part of its success to the environment in form of an eco-social commitment.” These are the companies we want to support, and we encourage you to employ some conscious consumerism of your own!
Let’s up the undue ante and give changing our undies new meaning. This list should give plenty of inspiration. It just goes to show that sustainability is about so much more than what’s meets the eye. What’s underneath counts, too!
In love with any ethical underwear brands not on our list? Let us know in the comments or send us a note!