How for Earth can I shop for ethical underwear?
First up, let's acknowledge that we have been trained to seek and find thrill in the cheapest option or the biggest ‘savings’.
This makes shopping for anything, whether it be a block of chocolate or a piece of jewellery, an exercise in control, understanding and appreciation of the high cost of our cheap thrills.
In the majority of cases, every dollar you feel ‘saved’ in your pocket has likely been a dollar ‘cost’ to another's or cost to the natural environment.
We admit, we have of course bought cheap clothing, likely made by a very skilled but undervalued and underpaid seamstress in a foreign country and we chose not to consider them and what message our purchase sent to the company and onto that worker. We have all done it. It is hard to avoid as you grow up and as you learn.
If it was made cheap to be sold cheap you can bet the worker who made it was cheap. Cheap in the sense that they had no other option but to accept the wage offered to make money and live.
This unfortunately does not always apply when it comes to more pricey garments. Just because it costs more does not mean someone was paid more to make it or that it was made ‘sustainably’.
It’s a lot and feels like all too much when all you want is some new undies so your bits don’t poke through.
The best thing you can do is to take care of what you already have. Buy second hand, thrift, swap, upcycle… but what about underwear?! And particularly period pants or underwear. For a lot of people second hand underwear is where they draw the line and a place they can choose to make a positive impact as a consumer in the fashion industry.
So what are some quick checks you can do to determine if your next purchase is a kind one?
Are the underwear less than $10 to make? Hmmm if one single pair of undies cost only $10 when 1m of organic cotton can cost up to $15 and Aussie Cotton $20 per m, then elastics, tags and THEN labour on top of this PLUS overheads… and remember they are making a profit. So what did they compromise? Quality of fabric, quality of make or pay and conditions of the worker? Or all 3!
Where were they made? Then does this location have any independent certifications? First check the label, then onto the website - poke around! If you can’t find the answer easily it’s because they don’t want you to know. Overseas is not always bad but it is harder to trust standards offshore
What am I putting against my skin? Materials can be tricky with underwear, they often contain a few types with elastics, trims and main fabrics, even more so with period pants.
Spandex, Nylon, Polyester are plastic. Let’s be clear on this. If the tag read made of 100% plastic how many people would second guess their purchase? If stretch or waterproofing is required for the garment, seek out brands that minimise virgin plastic use or minimal use of S, N or P. Some brands are starting to find natural stretch like rubber to incorporate too. Buying natural fibres that require minimal processing, particularly avoiding chemical processing like used in viscose.
The good news is that once you find a quality and ethical brand they usually last a lot longer than your cheap thrill and you may even end up saving money in the long term.
You can share your find with your friends and family and won’t have to deep dive next time around, empowered with knowledge and appreciation.