Image credit: Cosabella
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When you think about lingerie, you might think about sensuality, self-love and even empowerment. But you most likely also picture lace, ribbons, and bows. These all, unfortunately, are usually made with synthetic materials.
There’s also the important element of ethics. In 2020, Victoria’s Secret was reported to be dumping hundreds of its unworn bras in bins close to a branch of the lingerie store that was closing, damaging them instead of donating them to women in need. The same American retailer in 2009 was under scrutiny after a Bloomberg investigative report revealed the brand was using cotton from forced child labor. And let’s not even get into the charges of sexual harassment in Vicky’s corporate headquarters. Even though the huge brand is on a quest to reform its image, it is still leaving the environmental impact of its lacy things out of the equation.
Thankfully, many brands now recognize the importance of creating comfortable, beautiful underwear that is good for wearers, makers, and the environment alike. Here’s what we look at when deciding which brands deserve a spot next to our skin.
What to look for in eco-friendly lingerie
Natural Fabrics: Avoiding synthetic materials might be hard when shopping for lingerie, but when possible, choose natural, breathable and low-impact fabrics like organic cotton, which don’t wreak as much havoc on the environment when they’re washed or thrown out at the end of their life. They’re also healthier for our skin and private regions, and naturally odor-fighting. You’ll find that most lingerie brands do contain a small amount of synthetic material like spandex. As of right now, this seems to be a necessity in order to ensure garment longevity and compete with non-eco brands in performance and comfort.
Recycled materials: Synthetic fabrics are often used for their stretch and durability, and in lingerie to create lace and shine that doesn’t push underthings into the hundreds of dollars. (Silk is expensive!) For brands that go the synthetic route, check if they are using recycled materials. A drawback is that when we wash synthetic fabric (recycled or virgin), microscopic pieces break off and lead to our huge microplastic problem. Scroll to the end to read about a trick for preserving the life of your lingerie while helping to reduce the amount of microplastics that get washed down the drain.
Non-toxic: Lingerie is a close-to-the-skin item, which is why you should favor non-toxic products that are processed and dyed without harmful chemicals. Look for labels like OEKO-TEX, bluesign, and GOTS.
Fair labor and transparency: As with everything you buy, check for fair labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize transparency and have third-party certifications like Fair Trade and SA8000.
Environmentally-conscious manufacturing: The processes involved in creating textiles, especially synthetic ones, are often pretty harsh on the environment, using lots of water, chemicals, and energy, and leaving behind waste. Look for brands that are using more earth-friendly processes that reduce their impact.
Sustainable packaging: Support brands that use packaging made out of recyclable or biodegradable materials, like recycled cardboard or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper.
[Just in case you’re in need of sustainable PJs or loungewear too, click here].
To help you find lingerie you can feel good about wearing, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite sustainable and ethical lingerie brands.
Founded in 1978, Only Hearts is a mainstay of New York’s sustainable fashion community. Owned and managed by a mother-daughter team, the label features a wide range of what its website calls “lifestyle lingerie,” including bras, bralettes, underwear, and loungewear. Most of its pieces are manufactured in the NYC Garment District using local, deadstock, organic, recycled, certified MADE IN GREEN textiles and non-toxic dyes certified by the Ecological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers.
Uye Surana creates handmade lingerie in small batches. It has partnered with a small, family-owned and operated factory in Colombia that follows ethical manufacturing guidelines, which includes safe working conditions and fair wages. Uye Surana also uses natural materials, such as flower petals or unique hand-dyed techniques that preserve resources. All materials are sourced from both trusted overseas suppliers and a growing list of more local suppliers. Its printed styles use a technology that allows the brand to transfer prints without the use of water and excess dyes. You’ll receive your lingerie in 100% recycled mailers, boxes, and tissue paper.
Underprotection is a Danish brand based in Copenhagen and founded in 2010. It only uses eco-conscious materials, such as recycled polyester, recycled wool, lyocell, and organic cotton, and only works with fair trade-certified factories. All of its packaging, paper, and polybags are either recycled or biodegradable.
Urbankissed is a carefully curated online destination to shop for conscious fashion favorites and innovative upcoming brands. It stocks more than 100 conscious brands that ship directly to your home, mostly from Europe, with no extra stop. This way, it creates the least waste, CO2 emissions and avoids a warehouse full of unsold goods. You will find popular lingerie brands such as Nette Rose or thriving labels such as Olly Lingerie, which produce underwear from the softest recycled lace, lustrous silky fabric Tencel or Oeko-Tex certified natural materials. You can be sure that no toxic substances are entering your skin while wearing them. Urbankissed also ensures that their range has been extensively fit tested to offer comfort and support in every size. Plus, all shipping and returns are 100% carbon neutral at no extra cost to the customer.
Cosabella is a cult-favorite lingerie brand that has been around since 1983 and is best known for its comfortable, high-quality, and eye-catching pieces. Cosabella has been a family business for two generations and continues producing everything in Italy to this day. It takes measures to ensure its employees are treated well and the factories it works with adhere to Italy’s labor standards.
Founded in Brooklyn in 2018, Bum-cake Vintage sells high-quality vintage lingerie and home goods with subtle-sensuality. Its selection includes items from high-end brands, such as Oscar de la Renta. You can buy rompers, slips, bridal, camisoles, corsets, nightgowns, among other styles.
Anekdot creates feminine zero-waste lingerie using never-worn production leftovers and vintage trimmings, which are mainly sourced from factories that are closing down, production errors, or miscalculations. In addition to its upcycled delicates, it also offers swimwear, loungewear, and accessories in limited quantities.
Eco Intimates creates ethical, natural and organic cotton lingerie and sleepwear. It uses natural fibers, such as sustainable GOTS certified organic cotton, silk and bamboo. Its collection comes in solid color and pretty floral prints.
TransformedByTracy is a conscious lingerie brand handmade in NYC. Each of the brand’s lingerie items is hand-dyed with botanical dyes, such as coffee, hibiscus or charcoal, plus hand-beaded with Swarovski crystals.
Based in London, Aurore Lingerie is a contemporary lingerie brand that has a small manufacturing team in Italy that primarily uses French lace and Italian tulle. The brand focuses on ethical production in every detail, from sourcing materials personally to packaging. It has also partnered with Bra Recyclers, a social enterprise that donates bras to nonprofits around the world.
Canadian label Sokoloff Lingerie boasts feminine, contemporary designs that are ethically manufactured in Montreal. It sources its materials locally or from NYC as often as possible. The company is committed to promoting healthy body image and celebrating diverse forms of beauty. You’ll find multiple design options made out of bamboo.
BONUS: Catch those Microplastics!
Lingerie is a delicate item. Instead of buying a typical lingerie bag, put the undergarment inside a Guppyfriend filter bag to decrease the amount of microplastic shedding from your lingerie into your local waterways.