THE BRANDS

While the commando lifestyle is super sustainable, we realise its not always an option.
These brands have got you covered 🍑

 

ANEKDOT

There’s a great little story here 😉

ANEKDOT

👫 : Women

🌎 : Sold at select stockists internationally, and online with international shipping.

💸 : Approx €30 – €100

🌐 : anekdotboutique.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: All deadstock, all the time. These guys base their design on what fabrics they have available and all the fabrics they use are surplus or vintage, meaning they’re saving fabrics otherwise headed to the trash. ✔️

Labor: Everything is made by the owner herself or one of three seamstresses in Berlin. 

Environment: The brand already has an incredibly small footprint – they even have separate waste bins to reuse any scrap fabrics for hair ties and for one of a kind patchwork bags. If and when they need to use new materials, the brand requires they meet two criteria, either as local as possible, non plastic, from recycled/organic/biodegradable fabric or from a small business. They also don’t use any plastic packaging. ♻️

Innovation: This brand is the epitome of SLOW fashion. 😎 Everything is handmade and made to order. They design everything with unwanted surplus luxury and vintage materials. Each source of the raw materials for each product is listed on the brand’s website. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Their method of production means everything is VERY limited edition and truly almost one of a kind, only 1-3 pieces for each design. 👌🏼

• • •

Read more about Anekdot on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

NICO

These kNICers are 😍

NICO

👫 : Women + Men

🌎 : Sold online with international shipping.

💸 : Approx AUD 24 – AUD 84

🌐 : nicounderwear.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: This brand uses Econyl (recycled nylon), recycled cotton and for their underwear, Lenzing Modal – a type of sustainable rayon which is FSC certified.  They also do digital printing and are Oeko- Tex 100 certified for their dyeing process!

They provide washbags and care instructions with the undies to help prolong their life!  ✔️

Labor: These guys are Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) certified making most of their products in Australia, locally. ECA is a rigorous standard which requires that the supply chains are transparent and legally compliant.  They also have one vertically integrated sock factory in Bangladesh doing really innovative work, making yarn from recycled cotton. They are in the process of moving some production over to India to a GOTS factory – more on this to come they say. 💪🏼

Environment: Apart from the sustainable fabrics they’re using, they use recycled packaging and retain trims to use when designing future collections. ♻️

Innovation: We love that they feature a diversity of ladies sporting their underwear and all their sustainable fabrics and local manufacturing.  Going forward, we’d love to see some more innovation in terms of their supply chain and model. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

Moving to a new factory in a new country is a big deal. We want to see how this progresses for them!

• • •

Read more about Nico Underwear on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

PACT

These guys have packed it all in when it comes to organics

PACT

👫 : Men, women & kids

🌎 : Sold online with international shipping

💸 : Approx USD 10 – USD 30

🌐 : wearpact.com

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: Organic, GOTS certified AND even some fair trade cotton. They also use recycled polyester ✔️

Labor: All products (except socks) are made at a GOTS certified and Fair Trade USA factory in India. Socks are made at a SA8000 factory in Turkey.  GOTS has strict social criteria based on ILO convention rules, like that wages must be enough to meet basic needs and provide discretionary income. Their farmers are a part of the Chetna cooperative where they get a variety of benefits like access to organic seed banks and technical expertise. 🙌🏽

Environment: GOTS means no chemicals in the cotton and no GMO’s.  GOTS also means the supply chain has to report on waste, water and energy use, treat wastewater and specify target reductions and must be monitored for compliance. 💯

Innovation: These guys stick to the basics. They deliberately don’t create many styles and don’t change styles from season to season. They’re also available in Target, bringing organics to the masses! 📣

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW 👏🏼

This brand used to have B Corp certification but chose not to renew it in 2016 – we’re not sure what’s up there. Also, note that some of the brand’s products contain less than 70% organic content meaning they can’t get GOTs certification; in this case they go for the Organic Content Standard instead which only certifies how much organic content the product does have, no other requirements though. 📈

• • •

Read more about Pact on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

SAINT BASICS

Our prayers have been answered 🙏

SAINT BASICS

👫 : Women & men

🌎 : Sold online with international shipping

💸 : Approx € 15 – € 25

🌐 : saintbasics.com.en

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: They use GOTS certified cotton, Tencel and only Oeko – Tex 100 certified fabric. Their cotton comes from Aydin, Turkey on the Aegean Coast 🙂 💯

Labor: They’ve been shifting suppliers around a bit but are now at a supplier in Portugal, Silsa, which is GOTS certified.  Their previous supplier was also GOTS certified. They visit facilities 5-6 times per year and every 2-3 weeks when they’re designing a new style.

Environment: Beyond their organic standard and use of Tencel, they produce as locally as possible, with design happening in the Netherlands and factory in Portugal.  They’re also using only fabrics which are all Oeko -Tex 100 certified, meaning no harmful chemicals. 👍

Innovation: They add styles as they see fit, and phase out styles which are less successful – no chasing the fashion cycle here.  They also share supply chain stories on their website. 🌍

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW 👏🏼

They’re switching factories – not a huge deal but keep an eye out for features from them on their new facility so we can hear more about it.  👀

• • •

Read more about Pact on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

THUNDERPANTS

Thunderous applause for this brand , doing it right since 1995! 👏

THUNDERPANTS

👫 : Women, men & kids

🌎 : Sold online with international shipping

💸 : Approx NZD 20 – NZD 88

🌐 : thunderpants.co.nz

WHAT WE ❤️

Textile: GOTS certification means you can feel good about that all natural organic goodness on your skin. ✔️

Labor: Based in NZ they also do all their manufacturing locally! They’re looking now to start manufacturing in the US and Europe through licensing. 🌏

Environment: Besides their organic certification, they also use water based dyes. 💧

Innovation: We love the designs on the undies, many tied to a charitable cause – proceeds of the sale go to a good cause! Their totally local manufacturing and design process is also quite innovative nowadays 😎

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW 👏🏼

We’re not sure what will happen with the licensing in the US so we’ll keep an eye out for developments here 👁

• • •

Read more about Thunderpants on their Project JUST Wiki brand page.

A FEW MORE OPTIONS

We’d be remiss not to mention these two other brands that have already received our Seal of Approval in other categories – we think they def deserve a look for Underwear, too!

PEOPLE TREE

A great variety of essential styles to wear on a day-to-night basis, made from fair trade and organic cotton 👏

PATAGONIA

We sincerely hope you know these guys by now, but their underwear (like everything else they make!) is legit, too 👍🏼

THE COMMITTEE

We’re so honored to have an all star committee of style, context and industry experts join us in selecting the top Underwear brands to receive our Seal of Approval ⭐️ They are:
ANN CANTRELL

FIT Professor & Sustainability Steward
Fashion Institute of Technology
Academic Expert

DR LEONARDO BONANNI

Founder & CEO
Sourcemap
Industry Expert

JENNIFER NINI

Founder & Editor in Chief
Eco Warrior Princess
Context + Style Expert

JACINTA FITZGERALD

COO
Project JUST
Project JUST Committee Member

NATALIE GRILLON

Co Founder & CEO
Project JUST
Project JUST Committee Member

THE BASELINE

Before we do a deep dive into any brand, we look at the environmental and social practices of each of the nominated brands and whether or not they share enough information for us to research. In some cases, brands are doing great work from an environmental perspective, but share little or nothing on their labor practices, and vice versa – which isn’t enough to get them shortlisted. In addition to looking at how transparent the brand is, we also consider availability, accessibility (size and price) quality and aesthetic. Unfortunately, even if a brand self identifies as ethical but doesn’t share how, we can’t shortlist them for in-depth research.

We had 106 nominations for underwear. Click here to see the full list!

Looking for information on the Seal of Approval process + criteria?FIND OUT MORE

THE CONTEXT

Underneath it all…

🔍🔍🔍

 Underwear is (usually 😉) the first thing we all put on in the morning. A 2014 European study shows underwear is the second most consumed textile product after tops. Because our skin readily absorbs what is put on it, one of the key elements in our research for this category is fabrics, and the chemicals used to manufacture and dye them. Alongside this we looked for brands who are making their smalls in a responsible way, making sure that they are durable and fit for purpose ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

RAW MATERIALS & FABRICS

COTTON

Grown in over 80 countries worldwide, cotton represents around 32% of global fibre usage. 😯 A remarkable 90% of cotton farming takes place in the developing world (ex. China, India and Pakistan), on smallholder plots of land less than 2 hectares each. In total, that works out to around 35 million hectares globally, accounting for 2.4% of global arable land. 🌎

WHAT’S WRONG WITH CONVENTIONAL COTTON?

Nasty chemicals: Given that cotton is only grown in 2.4% of the world’s arable land, it’s extremely alarming that conventional cotton accounts for 11% of the world’s pesticides and 24% of the world’s insecticides. Yikes. 😨 With conventional cotton increasingly being grown as a monocrop, it also severely impacts the land and soil it is grown in by reducing its biodiversity, and contributing to its contamination and erosion.

Way too thirsty: Cotton is also an extremely thirsty crop – a single t-shirt = 1kg of cotton can require up to 20,000 litres of water. This puts a massive strain on water resources, particularly since 73% of global production currently dependent on irrigation. 💦 To make matters worse, these irrigation systems allow for pesticide and insecticide generated chemicals to contaminate local freshwater sources, as well.

THE ALTERNATIVE? ORGANIC + FAIR TRADE + RECYCLED COTTON

Organic cotton production does not allow for the use of pesticides and insecticides, substituting them with natural fertilisers, instead. It also prohibits the use of genetically modified (GMO) cotton seeds. Organic cotton also bans the use of heavy metals, azo dyes, chlorine bleaching (and other frightening toxic stuff), as well as the use of child or forced labor – particularly important as both are prevalent in cotton producing countries like Uzbekistan.

Fairtrade cotton focuses primarily on guaranteeing cotton farmers a fair price for their produce, and protecting their health and safety by promoting and training them in the use of sustainable methods of production, and prohibiting the use of hazardous chemicals and GMOs. Note, however, that not all fair-trade cotton is certified organic.

Last but not least – recycled cotton, which produces yarn from post-consumer cotton waste, is gaining a lot of traction and interest. We’re especially excited about this because although organic cotton is a massive step forward from conventional cotton, it still requires a large amount of water to grow; recycled cotton promises to reduce this water footprint substantially.

For more info, check out: ReCover, Giotex, Evrnu and Re:Newcell.

STANDARDS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Fairtrade Cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Connect (REEL)

VISCOSE / MODAL / TENCEL

Conventional viscose or rayon is made from cellulose from trees or plants (hence the mouthful “cellulosic”), so in terms of raw materials – they’re definitely natural and generally renewable / carbon neutral. That being said, the production process for both the fibre and the fabric can get tricky quickly, so we’re here to tell you why. 🌲

WHAT’S WRONG WITH VISCOSE / RAYON?

Water Pollution: In order to produce viscose, cellulose from plants like bamboo, cotton linter and wood pulp are processed with heavy chemicals like sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), carbon disulfide and sulphuric acid. Needless to say, if they’re not disposed of safely through a closed loop system, but dumped untreated instead, these chemical heavy weights can have serious negative environmental impacts on surrounding areas and local water sources. Case in point: one of the largest superfund cleanup sites in the US, was a viscose production factory. 😷

Deforestation: In most instances of viscose / rayon production, very little is revealed about the origin of the raw plant material, which makes it often impossible to find out where the material comes from, and consequently gauge the impact of harvesting it. It is estimated that 30% of rayon and viscose used in apparel comes from pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests. ⚠️

Textile Production: The environmental impact of weaving fibres into fabrics can be significant; conventional methods use high levels of both water and chemicals. In 2017 Investigators for the Changing Markets Foundation visited 10 manufacturing sites in China, India, and Indonesia, and found severe environmental damage including water pollution 🚱 from untreated contaminated waste, and air pollution. 

SOURCING PARTNERSHIPS

Canopy works with fashion brands to eliminate pulp sourced from endangered forests from their supply chains.

Forest Stewardship Council certification ensures appropriate plantation management & chain of custody certification for a brands pulp source.

FIBRE INNOVATIONS

Introduced by the Austria-based company Lenzing, both Tencel® and Modal® fibres are produced using an award-winning closed loop process that ensures an almost complete (99.8%) recovery of the solvent. They are fully biodegradable, and suitable to both natural and low-impact dyes. 💦

Modal® is made from sustainably harvested beech trees in PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) certified European forests. Tencel® is made from lyocell, a cellulose-based, biodegradable fibre made from eucalyptus trees. Although the trees are reportedly grown on marginal land unsuitable for food crops, with minimum water, using sustainable forestry initiatives – it’s worth mentioning that the eucalyptus tree can sometimes be competitive: its long and deep roots absorb a lot of nutrients and water from the soil, and in extreme cases can result in desertification.

Monocel®, which is still in its early stages of development, is essentially bamboo lyocell – it’s made with sustainably sourced bamboo, using the Lyocell process (the same closed loop one that’s used for Tencel), and dyed using plant based dyes. So if you’re really keen on wearing bamboo, make sure that it’s truly green, and you’re not being “green washed” by some good old-fashioned marketing. 👀

TEXTILE MANUFACTURING

We would be remiss not to tell you that these innovations refer to the raw material cultivation and fibre production, and not the textile manufacturing or dyeing itself. To ensure these are done in a responsible way, its a good idea to look for certifcations that limit the use of hazardous chemicals, such as Oeko-Tex 100, GOTS and Bluesign, and look for brands that have Restricted Substances Lists and wastewater treatment systems. 💯

FOSSIL FUEL FABRICS

Just the name is enough to make us cringe. 😖 Polyester and nylon, like other synthetics, are petroleum-based fibres that, because they don’t require much special care and are cheap to produce, unfortunately make up the most commonly used fibres in clothing. In 2015 Polyester accounted for 55% of global textile consumption.

ISSUES

Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fibre🛢, and its production is both carbon intensive and non-renewable. It’s also a pretty energy hungry fibre, although not nearly as much as its synthetic counterpart – nylon.

The production of polyester also uses harmful chemicals, including carcinogens (!), that can adversely affect environmental and human health through air and water pollution. Factories that do not treat their wastewater can release dangerous substances like antimony, sodium bromide and titanium dioxide into local water systems. ⚠️

Most of the world’s clothing and textiles end up in landfills, and with polyester – it could take up to 200 years to decompose. To make matters worse, synthetic fibres release toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, heavy metals and PFCs into the environment – over all those 200 years. 😷

Nylon is essentially a thermoplastic that undergoes a super intensive chemical process (condensation polymerisation), resulting in a polymer, which is ultimately melted and woven into a stretchy, durable fabric.

Nylon production is also extremely energy intensive and the fibre isn’t biodegradable, which means that it will persist in the environment for ever and ever. This is particularly alarming because two of the largest sources of micro plastic pollution in our oceans are – you guessed it – nylon fishing nets and micro-fibres that wear off from washing, contributing slowly but surely to the diets of marine animals and the Great Pacific garbage patch😟

INNOVATIONS

There are some great innovations to look out for with recycled petro-based fibres, however we did not find them in use with many underwear brands. See more in our lace section.

Almost all recycled polyester (rPET) in textiles comes from recycling plastic bottles ♻️, which replaces the need for primary extraction of crude oil. Its manufacturing requires 70% less energy than virgin polyester production, and also reduces the amount of landfill disposal, GHG emissions, and water use.

Thread International works with plastic bottles collected by hand in developing countries, which are then processed into the plastic “flake” in Haiti and Honduras, and shipped to the US to produce their Ground to Good™ fabric. Repreve is an American company that also produces its REPREVE fibre from recycled materials, including plastic bottles. Last but not least, BIONIC is a brand of recycled polyester fibre and yarn made from materials recovered from marine and coastal environments – pretty perfect to make clothes for us to swim in 😉

Recycled nylon in the form of ECONYL® yarn is made using both post-consumer waste in the form of discarded fishing nets and “fluff” – the upper part of old, spent, nylon carpets, and pre-consumer waste in the form of fabric scraps and industrial plastic waste. Waste collected from around the world is sent to its treatment facilities in Slovenia, where it is transformed using a closed loop system into 100% regenerated and regenerable Nylon (read more about their process here).

Apart from avoiding the extraction of crude oil completely, Econyl textile yarn requires only half the amount of energy to produce as its supplier, Aquafil’s, virgin nylon, and reduces CO2 emissions by 50%.

DEEP DIVE INTO LACE

LACE

From fine and delicate to beautifully weighty and embellished, lace has given lingerie a feminine edge 👄 for centuries. Polyester, nylon and cotton are the most common fibres used to manufacture lace. Traditionally laces were handmade by skilled artisans, however with industrialisation and the invention of machines, most laces are now mass produced. It is also common for underwear lace to have elastane woven in to the textile to give the fabric stretch.

Issues for lace made from conventional cotton, nylon and polyester are the same as for standard fibre production, with resource and chemical use being high. 🚫

There are some exciting new developments happening in lace production and, with the advent of innovation in both materials and technology look out for more to come here 📣

Look for sustainably produced laces made from fiber’s such as organic cotton, recycled polyester and organic biodegradable silk.

New developments in lace are also being made from Cornleaf, a bio based fibre and Italian lace manufacturer Iluna have released a Green Label lace collection, made with Roica, a fully certified GRS recycled fibre which is also Oeko Tex Step certified. ✔️✔️

We are looking forward to seeing these developments become more mainstream soon!

WHEN YOU TAKE IT ALL OFF

CARE  &  END OF LIFE

CARE:

Life Cycle Assessment has shown the biggest environmental impact of a garment is through consumer use and care. That is, the washing and drying of our clothes. According to a 2002 study, consumer use contributes 80% of total life cycle energy consumption (105 kWh) for a three-pack of men’s 100% cotton briefs from Marks & Spencer

We thinks it’s important brands give wash / care instructions to their customers to encourage using less resources, and to extend life of the item.  We were encouraged to see some brands sending out wash bags with their underwear and giving detailed care instructions on their websites. 🙌

Research has shown that washing in cold water reduces energy consumption, as does avoiding the use of a clothes dryer. It’s also been shown that the dryer is most responsible for your clothes losing their shape. If a piece of clothing is stained or damaged, we recommend considering repair rather than replacing it.

Odor control solutions such as the application of natural antimicrobial finishes made from food-safe essential oils like thyme and mint, can also help prolong useful lifetime of garments.

END OF LIFE:

Due to the intimate nature of underwear it is rarely reused or recycled, however there are options to dispose of it responsibly, and we would be remiss not to point out that at this stage, single fibre items are much easier to recycle into new textiles. There is exciting new developments happening in this area so we’ll keep you updated with progress here. ♻️

It can take oil-based fibres (polyester/nylon) up to 200 years to biodegrade in landfill. Ewww 😱 And pollutants are released into soil and groundwater as the fibres decompose.

Natural & cellulosic fibres are biodegradable in the right conditions. If you have finished with your organic cotton smalls, one idea you can try is to cut it up and throw it in the compost. Better yet, wash it, and send it to a local textile recycling plant to recycle into a new textile.

There area some certifications that help here: Bluesign and OekoTex processes allow for safer decomposition due to their low chemical use in the fibre and textile production.

Ladies, there are some great initiatives for your bras once you’re done with them, check them out.

 

DISCLAIMER:

Project JUST does not receive any compensation for our research and selection of Seal of Approval lists.

To continue to provide you, the shopper and member of our Project JUST community, with credible research and analysis, we have partnerships with some of the Seal of Approval brands to serve as their affiliate. Once and only if a brand is selected, do they have the opportunity to participate in our online shop and we at Project JUST receive a small percentage of the sale if a reader discovers and chooses to shop a Seal of Approval brand. This allows you to directly shop from sustainable, ethical Seal of Approval brands and allows Project JUST to continue our due diligence and research work. If you have any questions or comments about our partnerships with Seal of Approval brands or Project JUST, please send them to info@projectjust.com.