Underwear, knickers, pants, lingerie, briefs: no matter what you call it, it’s very likely you wear it (and if you don’t, well, you do you. You’re fabulous). But your smalls can make a big difference – and choosing ethical underwear has a surprisingly big impact on everything from the planet to the people who make it.
We believe that just because something is sustainable doesn’t mean it can’t look good.
Below are five brands who have prioritise beautiful design and comfort alongside ethics, whether they choose to work with only surplus fabrics, source organic materials, or partner with charitable organisations that empower vulnerable women.
You might prefer sexy silks, or you might be more of a super-soft cotton gal – but whichever you’re after, we’ve got both cheeks covered.
Ethical underwear: brands to look out for in the UK
Anekdot creates zero-waste lingerie, swimwear, loungewear and accessories, made from surplus materials carefully chosen for their softness. Most of Anekdots products are vegan, and any silks used in their collections are factory surplus that would otherwise go to waste, sourced from Italy.
Their collections are produced by freelance local seamstresses in Berlin, who are able to fit the flexible working hours around other projects. Anekdot have also started working with a small female-run manufacturer in Poland.
Olly was founded by three women who wanted to create more choice when it comes to sustainable underwear. They insist ethics and aesthetics are the pillars of their company, with all their lingerie made by workers paid above the minimum wage, and made to last.
Their collections include underwear made from soft organic cotton and recycled lace. Their bras are pretty, underwire free and oh-so-soft.
If you want proof that sustainable can be sexy too, well, Luva Huva’s ethical underwear is it. Think delicate chantilly lace bras, lace-edged suspender belts and delicate babydoll slips, all designed to tease and tantalise. At the more practical end of the spectrum, the brand offers plain briefs, boy shorts and simple-meets-sexy pyjama bottoms.
All of Luva Huva’s underwear is handmade in the UK by a small team, using either offcuts or ethically considerate fabrics like bamboo, hemp, soy, organic cotton and tencel (made using environmentally responsible processes and sustainably sourced raw wood material), and can be made to measure so that every body gets the best fit.
AmaElla’s promise is that all of their lingerie and pyjama sets are made in Portugal by a family-owned factory with ethics at their core. Every employee has a fixed contract (so there is no subcontracting or temporary workers) and the workers’ union keeps an on-going dialogue with the owners to safeguards worker’s rights.
On top of this, AmaElla use sustainable materials such as organic cotton. They don’t airbrush their photos because they aim to present a vision of beauty that empowers all women. This includes co-designing a couple of pieces with disability campaigner Samanta Bullock.
Good to know: AmaElla sizing is generous so if you’re in between sizes, opt for the smaller size. They are currently working on offering a broader range of sizing.
BUTTRESS & SNATCH
This is not just lingerie, this is art. Every piece of lingerie is handmade by founder Rachel Kenyon, who has been committed to making this way for 20 years, despite the rise in fast fashion.
Whether you’re looking for bedroom burlesque or a bra for breast cancer recovery, a design can be created bespoke for you. Most of the materials are vintage treasures that Kenyon has spent the last 20 years gleaning from the closures of the east end suppliers. Around 95% of the fabrics are dead stock, recycled or organic. But you can also request for a treasured item of clothing to be re-created
This process is slow fashion at its best. It’s not cheap to make or cheap to buy, Kenyon says: “I’m not sure if I add all my hours up I even hit a living wage.” But, we believe every woman should be able to experience the joy of owning at least one lingerie item made in this way in their lifetime.
Troo design lace underwear that flatters the female body without the need for underwire or push ups.
All of their lingerie is made from recycled materials, reimagined by five seamstresses who work together just outside of Cape Town. They give 1% of their annual sales to plant trees- the Spekboom – in South Africa.
From the dainty to the downright daring, Brighton-based Ayten Gasson has things covered when it comes to sustainably made underwear. Set up by designer Ayten, the boutique is committed to ethical production processes. They use upcycled vintage lace and organic fabrics like bamboo and peace silk, which is made using non-violent silk harvesting.
Dazzle in jewel-coloured camisoles, keep things covered with a silk bed jacket or slip on a pair of super sleek pyjama pants, and sleep easy in the knowledge that whatever you’re wearing, it’s made with the best of intentions.
Hackney-based Lara Intimates is both seriously cool and seriously hot. The ethical underwear brand swerves traditional lacy undies in favour of a simple and sexy look. It offers no-frills modern cuts that are stylish, supportive and suit every body shape. Meanwhile mesh inserts add a feminine touch to straight-forward designs.
Whatever you’re after, you’ll find it here: there are thongs, there are full briefs, there are hipster briefs, there are high-waisted briefs, there are bras for big boobs, there are bras for small boobs. And with all this choice, Lara Intimates’ sustainability credentials are even more impressive. The brand uses ‘deadstock’ (surplus) fabric to make its underwear; operates a zero-waste policy with its own offcuts; sustainably sources everything down to the hook and eye closures on its bras; and has a Factory Seconds line, which sells items with tiny faults at a cheaper price.
In short, Lara Intimates operates in a way every company should.
With bold patterns and unique design, Colie Co proves fun and sustainability can go hand-in-hand.
All ColieCo lingerie, underwear and swimwear is ethically produced in an in-house studio in Sagres, Portugal by well-paid, highly skilled workers.
They offer custom sizing and can modify designs to accommodate all body shapes.
Note: ColieCo ship abroad using 100% carbon offset priority Airmail, due to the reduced number of international flights currently operating, it is taking up to two weeks for packages to be delivered to the UK.
We’re already fans of Birdsong for its bright, bold and beautiful designs and commitment to fair pay and ethics. But throw in its simple, super-soft knickers and bras.and you’ve got an extra reason to love this British brand. Birdsong’s slogan is ‘No Sweatshops, No Photoshop’, an ethos we’re totally on board with.
The team knows every single woman in the supply chain that produces its clothes. The jumpers, for example are knitted by Knit & Knatter, an elderly womens group in Bradbury. The 100% organic cotton t-shirts are hand-painted by London-based charity Mohila Creations, which works with low-income migrant women. Most of the garments are finished by hand by Heba on Brick Lane, which pays living wage in a safe work environment.
Rapanui’s underwear is as simple as it comes. But that’s not a bad thing, because with pants this well made, nothing else really matters. Available in a range of sacharine hues like mint and lavender, the knickers are super soft and comfy where it counts. Plus they have wide elastic at the waist band for a sleeker, more flattering fit.
Based on the Isle of Wight, Rapanui makes all of its items in the UK using organic materials and in a factory powered by renewable energy. The company’s factory manufactures orders in real time when the item gets sold, so there’s no waste.
Worn-out items can be sent back and get recycled into new products – something that’s only possible with the purest materials.
Rapanui is a brand that understands the bigger picture. So, it shares its supply chain and its technology with everyone. This means anyone can use that information to started their own brand. Now that’s what we call selfless.