So guilt-free undies, do they exist? Are they hideous? Are they expensive? Well firstly i’m happy to report that they do exist and they’re not at all hideous (well most of them) and you seem to be able to get them for the same price as an average good-quality bra, which is very encouraging. As always the definition of ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ is open to interpretation so I’ve compiled a separate post on the sustainability / ethics of the most popular fibre types. You can use this to decide your own definition of ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’. Just remember, sometimes all we can do it make the least bad choice.
And when you’re ready to shop here are some companies that caught my eye in my search for sustainable, ethical, Europe-based underwear brands.
Ceil Lingerie in the UK make select pieces of lingerie from certified organic cotton or alpaca, certified man-made fibres, sustainable fibres such as Lyocel and hemp. They use 100% Azo free dyes, work with local manufacturers in the UK and local development groups in India in accordance with the rules set out in www.labourbehindthelabel.com. The company also operates a Carbon Neutral offsetting programme with www.staro.org and their designer Sarah Ratty is an advisor to the Soil Association Textile Advisory Committee and works as an Eco-design consultant.
Cotton and Push handmake their garments in the UK from organic cotton grown in Kerala, India and close-looped bamboo, i.e. no chemicals escape the process. They even go so far as to use 100% GOTS Certified organic cotton wadding, or batting for their lining.
Uk Based Green Fibres sell underwear, nightwear and leisure wear for men, women and children, in organic cotton, organic wool, silk and hemp. They also have organic cotton tights (pantyhose) and organic cotton, wool and silk tights. Organizations that supply Greenfibres must comply with the Code of Conduct as contained in the Global Organic Textile Standards, and the company make every effort to use local and small-scale labour as much as possible. Furthermore they are against increasing disparities of incomes and undertake to never have the highest earner in the company making more than 5 times the wage of the lowest earner. They also use banks and phone companies that are ethical, renewal electricity companies and use a high post-consumer content recycled paper in all their stationary and catalogues. They also participate in the following forums: the Soil Association, the Fair Trade Foundation, Pesticide Action Network UK, Environmental Justice Foundation, Global Organic Textiles Standards, Labour Behind the Label, and the Organic Trade Board.
Finisterre is a UK-based company offering merino wool and organic cotton underwear. The wool is sourced from a small UK farmer and is processed in England and Scotland.
UK based AmaElla makes knickers and non-wired bras from GOTS certified organic cotton and elastane in Portugal. All fabric, elastics and trimmings are OEKO-TEX certified.
UK company Thought (formerly Braintree) sells knickers, vests, tights and nightwear made from either bamboo or organic cotton. This company aims to ensure that their fabrics and how our garments are designed, made and delivered is carefully considered and done so ethically, with the greater aim of minimising their environmental footprint. The dyes they use are free from Azo (which they say is a harmful carcinogen) and they claim that their finishes are as environmentally friendly as possible. Each piece of their collection is made in the same country so never needs to be shipped from place to place and when it is time to transport them they claim to choose a slow option with great consideration for the environment. They’re also a founding member of the Ethical Fashion Forum.
Floripawear make underwear in small batches in their London studio from compostable Lenzig Modal fabric made in the UK from Beechwood pulp from sustainable forests in central Europe.
Molke use organic cotton to make their body-positive underwear in Scone, Perthshire in Scotland. They also say that they collect every scrap of spare fabric from the cutting room floor and donate them to local schools, craft groups and Remake Scotland, who reuse them in various ways, so leaving nothing to waste.
Luva Huva make ethical lingerie and loungewear in the UK from remnants, vintage and end-of-line fabrics and trims, including Bamboo, Hemp, Organic Cotton, Soy, Tencel.
Patagonia is a high-street that makes thermal and normal underwear from recycled nylon printed with PVC- and phthalate-free inks. On their website they give details on how they work with factories and mills to ensure ethical work-practices, good working conditions and processes that are less harmful to the environment. They say they are particularly invested in protecting migrant workings and guarding against child labour and human trafficking. The company also gives 1% of their sales to support environmental organizations around the world. There is tons of information on the Patagonia website about the ethical and sustainable way they do business. I found the Environmental Assessment of Materials in Clothing particularly interesting. It talks about the reality behind some fabrics that are being sold as green.
Based in London Ayten Gasson makes her lingerie in the UK using UK made lace. She also makes a few pieces of swimwear.
Welsh company Howies offers women’s knickers and leggings made from modal and men’s briefs made from merino.
German brand Aikyou make lingerie from elastane and Fairtrade and GOTS certified organic cotton to Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 for, as they put it, the small busted woman. There products and packaging are free of animal products, they use green electricity, and their shipping is taken care of by DHL GoGreen using second hand cardboard boxing and recyclable packaging. They also state that all their office and logistics processes are designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
German Company Living Crafts offer reasonably priced organic cotton bras, knickers, vests, t-shirts, long pants and pyjamas.
Loud + Proud in Germany make colourful clothes for children but also do some brightly printed vests and knickers for women in organic cotton.
German brand Anekdot make stunning underwear from surplus fabrics and Econyl, a 100% post-consumer waste polyamide yarn. Their elastic trimmings are high quality leftovers from big runs, originally made for UK brands in the 80s. Hooks & eyes, rings and slides are ‘Made in Germany’ and locally sourced and their garments are ethically made in Berlin by a small team of artisan sewers.
Underneath Lingerie hand make 1940s and 1950s pieces to order. They also plant a tree in an Indonesian rainforest for every order made. I’m including them in this list because making to order reduces waste caused by advance making of pieces that no-one buys.
Ode Lingerie make pieces to order in a small factory in Latvia using lace from family lace makers in Calais-Caudry or Lyon and Oeko-Tex (certified toxin-free) fabric. All their paper material is on recycled paper and their packaging consists of a pouch made of Fair Trade certified cotton.
French company Base Range makes clothing including underwear and swimwear from organic and recycled fibres. Looking at their range of bras I’d say they’re best suited to someone who doesn’t need a lot of support. No evidence of independent certification was visible on their website.
I am quite taken with the garments by French brand Do You Green (see top image). This company offers bras, knickers, lounge and yoga wear from organic pinewood fibres from sustainable forests, which the company says absorbs perspiration twice as much as cotton and is softer than any other cloth. All of their materials are made in France, as is the dying, and both are is done to the Oekotex standard. Their packaging is also plastic free. It’s interesting that the company uses the term organic pinewood fibres but doesn’t give any details on the process involved in converting them to fibre. I wonder if the fibre they’re using is actually Rayon, a very popular cellulose based fibre. There is nothing wrong with making Rayon from sustainably sourced forests to Oekotex standard, but if this is the case i wonder why the company haven’t declared it. I’ll contact them and update this post with what i learn.
French brand Peau Ethique make lingerie from silk and GOTS certified organic cotton in a factory in India that is SA8000 standard for fair working conditions. Their garments also comply with REACH regulations and are free of formaldehyde, azo dyes and aromatic solvents. UK based By Nature is is a stockist of theirs along with Do you Green (see above) and German company Living Crafts (see above).
Occidente make lingerie from organic fabrics in a French village in Provence.
French company Olly makes sustainable knickers from GOTS certified organic fabrics, dyed with non-noxious dyes certified Oeko-Tex 100. They also use lace and tulle made in France and Europe. They state that they aim to limit the carbon footprints of their delivery and use recycled packaging.
Le Slip Francais make clothing, underwear and swimwear for women and men exclusively in France.
Organic Basics in Copenhagen uses GOTS certified organic cotton grown in Turkey and recycled nylon from Italy. The company states that their factories are audited annually by a third party to ensure employees are treated fairly but they don’t say by who but on a webpage about their factories they list the certificates each factory hold. Package wise the company use a poly mailer made from 100% recycled plastic. They say it’s 100% recyclable but that would depend on local recycling policies but it has a dual adhesive strip so can be used a second time.
Danish brand Underprotection makes their underwear from certified organic cotton, recycled polyester, Lyocell, milk fibre (made from sour milk!!!!!!) and recyled wool in a small factory in New Dehli, India. They only use certified materials and in 2013 they obtained the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) young designer license.
Danish company Woron is vegan, cruelty free and a slow fashion underwear brand. They use plant-based fabrics such as Lenzig Modal, organic cotton. They mainly work with a family owned factory in Hungary. The factory is ÖkoTex certified and until recently was also GOTS certified (but due to cost had to let the certification lapse. Woron claim that the factory are still working under the same clean and strict regulations. They also work with a smaller Indian based family-owned manufacturer that works under and supports the local development of sustainable practices in the small Indian village that they are situated in. Online orders are packed in a box made of recycled paper. And when buying an underwear set you you will find our signature wash bag enclosed in the box. Furthermore, the additional wrapping paper, postcard and stickers are also made of recycled paper.
Made in Spain The Nude Label offers lingerie made with organic fabric, although no certification was mentioned on their website.
Underwear Concept is an online underwear retailer that offers organic cotton and organic bamboo knickers from Nukleus at very reasonable prices. Maylasian based Nukleus make underwear and basics from eco-friendly materials such as GOTS certified organic cotton, Lenzing Tencel and bamboo and all Nukleus core components are certified Oeko-Tex Standard 100. The boxes used by Nukleus are made from FSC-certified paper and printed with vegetable-based ink and have a fully recyclable PETE 1 plastic for its box ‘window’.
Mighty Good Undies is an Australian brand of underwear that make underpants and tank tops from certified organic Fairtrade cotton in factories that carry the sa 8000 social accountability standard certification.
New Zealand / UK
Thunderpants UK is a subsidery of Thunderpants New Zeland. Their undies are made from certified organic cotton, processed to strict SKAL standards (International Standards for Sustainable Textile Production), knitted into fabric in New Zealand, either printed in New Zealand or Australia with organic inks and dyes and finally sown in New Zealand.
American / Ireland
Boody is an American brand of bamboo underwear that includes light-support bras, briefs, socks and leggings all made from rayon derived from bamboo. I’m not a huge fan of rayon clothing because the process of converting bamboo to fabric is generally very environmentally damaging but Boody claim to use a close-looped system meaning that no chemicals or water leaves the system. They also use plant dyes and a computer based knitting system that produces no waste. The bamboo that they use is the only certified organic bamboo that I’ve come across on the market. Their bamboo is grown by the Hebei Jigao Chemical Fiber Company and grown in accordance with the international organic standard of OCIA / IFOAMand the USDA National Organic Program. The raw bamboo is also certified as organically grown by Ecocert. The final fabric is certified as being organic by The Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and has been tested for toxic chemicals by the private company SGS. Boody’s website claim that bamboo fibre (rayon) is biodegradable at the end of it’s life. My research has shown otherwise and I see no evidence of independent testing on their website to back this up. The company says that it’s factories reach the gold standard for employee conditions as set out by the independent organisation WRAP, but it’s unclear as to whether this means they’ve been independently assessed as being so. Similarly Boody’s website does state that the production in their factories complies with ISO 14001 Regulations but doesn’t say if they’ve been accredited with the standard.You an buy their goods directly from the company or from UK based e-tailer U Organic or the Dublin based store Hopsack in Rathmines, Dublin 6.
Sloggi underwear is made from a blend of cotton, lycra, polyester or spandex and are made in accordance with Oeko-Tex Standard 100. They also have an unlimited guarantee on their Evernew garments. If their product does not deliver our quality promise, simply return it to them at any time for an exchange.
Swedish Stockings produce tights (pantyhose for my American friends) from the by-product of other nylon products that is non-biodegradable. They say that their factories engage in sustainable practises including the use of environmentally friendly dyes, post-dyeing water treatment and, use solar power for much of the energy needed and is zero waste. They also offer a recycling program for all brands of stockings. Unfortunately the technology to separate the polyamide from nylon doesn’t yet exist so the old tights are ground down into fibre glass tanks for oil traps for the commercial industry.
If you’re looking for a funkier style of tight check out the colourful patterned tights by Irish company Slugs and Snails. They make their adult tights with blended cotton that’s certified as having no harmful chemicals in it.
Amnesty International sell briefs, tights and socks by brands like Thought and Chetna Organic.
The Hemp Shop offer knickers made from organic hemp, organic cotton and spandex and a cami and shorts set made from 100% organic hemp.
Pure Natural are on online department store offering organic cotton knickers, vests, t-shirts, long pants and pyjamas from the German brand Living Crafts (see above).
Bamboo Bamboo Clothing is a UK-based company offering knickers and socks made from bamboo. The company say that they are committed to everyone being treated fairly and responsibly, from garment maker to customer but there they don’t appear to have any independent accreditation or certification.
Hejhog sell knickers, bras, vests, t-shirts, long pants, nightwear and sportswear in organic cotton, organic wool or organic silk.
Cambridge baby sell women’s knickers, nightwear, vests, tights and long pants in organic cotton, wool and silk.
The Natural Store is an online department store selling women’s knickers in bamboo, fairtrade cotton and organic cotton including the brand Kerala crafts.
La Redoute is a UK based e-tailer with a few of organic cotton bras, one with underwire. Just search for organic cotton and click on the women category on the left and you’ll see them.
Reve En Vert in the UK sell underwear from a range of sustainable ethical makers.
The Ethical Superstore and The Natural Collection are online retailers selling underwear and nightwear from Thought. These two websites seem to be run by the same company and I often find that you can pick up items cheaper here than on the home company’s website.
You could also do a search for organic cotton, bamboo or ethical underwear on Etsy for Amazon.