Photo credit: Pansy
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While it remains to be seen what our new normal will look like post-COVID, it’s hard to imagine going back to a life where bras with underwire are the order of the day. I’ve been regularly reaching for my softest organic bralettes and panties during this lockdown, which led me to look for more cozy options that are good for lounging at home. Then, I can use them as a comfy base layer under “outside” clothes once I go back to wearing those regularly.
Thankfully, this category of simple basics is one where ethical and eco-friendly options are readily available — as long as you know where to look and what to look for. If, like me, you’re looking to grow your collection of comfy underwear, here is how you can do so in a way that minimizes environmental harm and supports small businesses and producers at a time they could really use the help.
What to Look for in the Best Eco-Friendly, Comfy Underwear Brands:
Certified, natural fabrics: These pieces are the ones that you’ll wear closest to your skin and so it makes sense to prioritize breathable, natural fibers like cotton and bamboo. To make sure you’re factoring in sustainability as well as comfort, look for certifications like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for cotton or Ecocert for bamboo viscose.
Minimal spandex: To give your undies that snug fit, most underwear brands have to blend in small amounts of synthetic material like spandex (also known as elastane or by brand name Lycra) for stretch. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation suggests that materials can be recycled at the highest quality and value as long as they don’t include more than 2% of a non-cellulose based fabric, so look first for brands with that amount of spandex or less. Then, prioritize brands using recycled synthetics certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
Plant-based dyes: You’ll see that several of the brands below make underwear in earthy, muted tones. That’s because they are using natural, plant-based dyes to color the pieces, which are less toxic than their synthetic counterparts. Other sustainable dyeing methods are those that are Bluesign certified, which means the dyeing process is safe for both humans and the environment, or OEKO-TEX certified, which means the dyes are produced without any toxic chemicals.
Fair labor and transparency: Finally, make sure to check for fair labor practices. Check how much brands share about their supply chains and suppliers and how much of the information is backed up with third-party certifications like Fair Trade.
Here are our top picks when it comes to small brands stocking the coziest, most sustainable underwear:
PACT’s underwear, bras, undershirts, and socks are certified organic, Fair Trade, and some of the most affordable organic underwear available. The brand uses low-impact dyes and processes that decrease water use, too.
Brook There has a range of silky soft briefs made from GOTS-certified organic cotton with silk accents. The pieces are made in the USA, and the majority of fabric is produced in South Carolina trucked to Pennsylvania for dying and then cut-and-sewn in Massachusetts. And, products are shipped to customers in recycled poly bags and recycled tissue paper.
WAMA Underwear for men and women is made from sustainable, GOTS Certified hemp and organic cotton. There are a lot of great things about hemp: it’s naturally anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, odor-fighting, and super soft and breathable. And trust me: these undies are super comfortable! The WAMA team works transparently with certified factories in China and oversee production there in order to ensure ethical manufacturing is taking place.
Complete with double-bonded seams and invisible elastic for a truly seamless look, Warp + Weft underwear offers its underwear in an inclusive range of sizes (from 00 to 24). The brand uses sustainable and absorbent modal, along with processes that cut down on emissions and prioritize fair conditions for factory workers.
Huha makes undies out of tree-derived fabrics such as lyocell, making them biodegradable and compostable. Its underwear is also enhanced with naturally antibacterial and soothing mineral zinc oxide. Whenever possible, Huha steers from clear plastics throughout every step of its operations, opting for paper or glass.
Organic Basics uses eco-friendly materials like GOTS certified organic cotton and Tencel, as well as recycled wool and nylon. Everything is made transparently with certified factory partners around the world where workers have safe working conditions and are paid a living wage and benefits. They also publish an impact index measuring the amount of waste, chemicals, energy, emissions, and water used in their production processes.
You probably know Allbirds for their sneakers, but they’ve recently forayed into the world of undies too! Their soft and comfy briefs, boyshorts, thongs, and bralettes are made from eco-conscious TENCEL mixed with their signature merino wool to give is a moisture-wicking quality to keep you feeling fresh. Sizes go up to XXXL.
Kent creates 100% Pima cotton underwear that is GOTS-certified and compostable. Its simple styles are made with fewer toxins, no synthetics, offering better fit, less irritation, and fewer wedgies. Kent’s briefs come in plant-based, acid-free, and compostable packaging. And its inks are soy-based and Oeko Tex certified, including the tagless labels on the inside of each underwear.
Hanky Panky designs sleepwear and underwear using responsibly-grown Pima cotton and organically-grown domestic cotton fibers. Its cotton knit fabrics are knitted, dyed, and finished on the east coast, using low-impact fiber reactive dyes, which do not contain toxic chemicals. In 2018, Hanky Panky launched Lingeriecycle®, a recycling scheme allowing customers to recycle their bras and panties. Once received, the garments are shredded to create fibers for carpet padding, and the metal components are separated for recycling. Customers can add a free Lingeriecycle® envelope to their cart, fill it with well-worn items (including other brands), and mail it. Hanky Panky has also committed to reducing its packaging footprint, including transitioning to biodegradable tagging, phasing out foil stamping and virgin plastic polybags, and adopting fully sustainable pulp sources.
Thought’s underwear is made from a blend of organic cotton and Ecocert-certified bamboo viscose sourced from FSC-certified forests. The brand is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and requires its suppliers to abide by an Environmental Policy as well as adhering to a Code of Conduct outlining standards for working conditions.
Knickey panties are created by women for women: the brand has a subscription service, bundle packages, and a take-back and recycling program to properly dispose of any old pairs. The pieces are made in Fair Trade certified factories out of GOTS certified organic cotton dyed using OEKO-TEX certified dyes. And, their packaging is 100% plastic-free and made with recycled content and low impact inks.
Pansy’s underwear is made from USA-grown and milled organic cotton that is cut-and-sewn in California. Their range includes pieces that are 100% organic cotton (with no elastane added) as well pieces that integrate recycled PET or natural rubber for stretch.
HARA’s bras and undies are dyed, cut, and sewn in Melbourne by employees who make a living wage reviewed annually by Australia’s Fair Work Commission. The pieces are made from OEKO-TEX 100 certified lyocell bamboo and dyed naturally using turmeric, indigo, and madder root.
Mighty Good’s boyish briefs and tanks are made from GOTS-certified organic cotton with Fairtrade suppliers in India. The brand is committed to transparency and shares the names of both its cotton suppliers and cut-and-sew factories on its website.