There underwear is among the leaders really wardrobe essentials but it is probably also one of the last things we think about in terms of sustainable living. Yet, it is estimated that, globally, well are produced every year six billion items of underwear, which last, on average, one to two years before ending up in landfills. Additionally, since lingerie is often made from polyester and nylon (environmentally harmful and petroleum-derived plastics), panties and bras remain in the environment for hundreds of years.
Fortunately, there are brands that believe in the cause of underwear that makes us feel beautiful and comfortable and at the same time sustainable. For example, the Danish brand Underprotection produces lace lingerie using recycled polyester and nylon while Proclaim, of Los Angeles, offers essential clothing perfect for working from home. “Sustainability is the basis of everything we do, starting from fabrics to packaging“, Declares a Vogue Proclaim founder Shobha Philips.
But creating lingerie without a negative impact on the environment continues to be a real challenge due to the stretch material, a key element in ensuring support and fit right. And this is the reason why the vast majority of underwear currently on the market contains a certain percentage of elastane, or Spandex, a material that is difficult to recycle and typically non-biodegradable. “There are limitations at the moment,” says Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen, co-founder of the British label Pico. “We have found a compostable type of elastane but it is not necessarily suitable for underwear. Our goal is to create 100% compostable panties and briefs ”.
Biodegradable underwear to be thrown into the compost bin is still a distant reality but we can make sure to choose briefs and bras that are as sustainable as possible without sacrificing style. Let’s see how following the advice of the experts.
Choose fibers from sustainable sources
Checking what material the underwear we buy is made of is essential for making more sustainable purchases. This means choosing certified organic cotton instead of conventional cotton (which uses much more water) and viscose of sustainable origin such as Tencel or Lyocell (traditional viscose can cause the destruction of ancient or endangered forests). Brands like Alexander Clementine they started using algae in their underwear. A choice that significantly reduces water use compared to traditional cotton.
Virgin polyester: to be avoided as much as possible
Although most of the underwear on the market contains a certain amount of synthetic materials, the advice, in order to reduce the environmental impact, is to avoid virgin polyester and nylon. “Today, more and more brands are using recycled materials,” says Sunniva Uggerby, co-founder of Underprotection. “For example, the base fabrics we use for our lingerie come from recyclable sources and not virgin polyester, and the elastane is recycled.”
The basic principle: the longevity of the garments
Given the current difficulties in recycling, that of longevity becomes an essential factor when we buy an item of underwear. “It’s about looking for a product designed to be worn for a long time and become a key piece of the wardrobe,” comments Philips. “In Proclaim, we make garments nude inclusive. I believe all women need flesh-colored underwear. It’s a must inevitable “.
© Karolina Wiśniowska
Since underwear is, by its nature, a garment in close contact with the skin, it is particularly important to avoid any harmful chemicals. So wherever possible, choose Oeko-Tex certified and naturally dyed products. “As we all know, there are all kinds of problems related to dyes with waste water that are often discharged into rivers,” says Isobel Williams-Ellis, co-founder of Pico. “Our naturally dyed garments are prepared for the dyeing process using soap nuts instead of being bleached. While for charcoal garments we use a GOTS certified dye [Global Organic Textile Standard]”.
Be careful when washing
Paying attention to the way we wash our underwear is crucial to making sure it lasts as long as possible. Choose low-temperature washes and use laundry bags (those of Guppyfriend they are able to prevent the leakage of microplastics which are dispersed in the ocean). “Our advice is to opt for the program [della lavatrice] at 30 degrees or choose the one for hand washing, ”says Uggerby, then stresses that it is not necessary to wash the bra after each use.
And finally… recycle
To prevent your worn underwear from ending up in landfills, find out about recycling initiatives offered by brands such as Intimissimi. Although it is currently difficult to transform our old panties and bras into new ones, the material can be used as insulation, in mattress wadding and for kitchen rags. “Always try to recycle your underwear,” concludes Uggerby. “Don’t just throw it in the bin.”