Posts

A guide to men’s ethical + organic underwear

Underwear is something that most of us buy new. It’s something that I buy new. 90% of my wardrobe is second-hand, and I try to make sure that those things I do buy new are as sustainable and ethical as possible.

(Because I buy most things second-hand, I can afford to spend a little more on underwear.)

I try to support independent and sustainability-minded businesses (not only by choosing to buy their products, but also by purchasing from them directly rather than a third-party platform beginning with A), choose well-made, organic and fair trade products, and avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.

It’s not always possible, but with underwear there are some options.

Slowly slowly I’ve been putting together a bit of a guide for ethical, organic and fair trade underwear. I’ve previously written about ethical and organic women’s underwear brands, and ethical bras and bralette options. Today, I’ve put together a list of options for men’s underwear.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of this post.

All of these brands are ones I’d recommend (I wouldn’t list any that I didn’t). Because they all offer something different and it is impossible to have favourites, I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order instead.

Bhumi

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Bhumi is an Australian company selling organic cotton products. Their mens’ range includes briefs, trunks (pictured), mid-length trunks and boxers.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: bhumi.com.au

Etiko underwear

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Etiko is a family-owned and operated clothing company with an emphasis on protecting human rights and transparency. All their products are certified organic, fair trade and vegan. They make mens’ trunks in four colours: heather grey, black, peacock and eclipse stripe (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: www.etiko.com.au

John Lewis & Partners

Company HQ: UK / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / Made in: not declared / Ships: Worldwide

John Lewis & Partners are more corporate than any others on the list, but I included them as the business is actually owned by the people who work there (there are no external shareholders) and they are more committed to sustainability than most. Plus I was struggling to find a UK option, and John Lewis have a surprisingly good mens’ range in organic cotton: briefs, keyhole briefs, button boxers, hipster trunks, trunks (pictured) and button fly trunks.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: johnlewis.com

Laura’s Underthere

Company HQ: Canada / Fairtrade: N/A / Organic: N/A (second-hand and upcycled fabric) / Made from: upcycled jersey / stretch knit / Made in: Canada / Ships: USA and Canada

Laura’s Underthere makes unique limited edition underwear made from upcycled jersey and stretch knit material. All of the designs are gender inclusive (Laura calls it genderful) and for every pair purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need. The pouched boxers are pictured.

Sizes: XXS – XXXXL

Website: laurasunderthere.com

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane or 100% cotton / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Living Crafts is a German company specializing in organic cotton textiles, with a good range of men’s underwear. They offer boxers (which they call pants – pictured) and longer, looser boxer shorts either with or without elastane. Their factories are 100% wind powered.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: livingcrafts.de

Nisa Men

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: No / Organic: uncertified / Made from: cotton or merino, elastane / Made in: New Zealand / Ships: Worldwide

Nisa have a line of men’s organic cotton boxer briefs in three colours: black (maroon trim), grey (mustard trim – pictured) and navy (grey trim).

Sizes: S – XL

Nisa employ women from refugee backgrounds to sew their underwear in Wellington, New Zealand. They state that they aim to source organic certified cotton ‘wherever they can’.

Website: nisa.co.nz

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: Turkey / Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have three styles of boxer: organic cotton boxers, Tencel (an eco-friendly fibre made from wood pulp) boxer shorts (pictured) and Slivertech Active boxers made of 93% recycled nylon and 7% elastane.

There are a few colour options depending on the style (all styles come in black). Bonus: they package and ship their products without plastic.

Sizes: S-XXL

Website: organicbasics.com

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% Cotton 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company with a good range of mens’ underwear styles and colours: briefs, trunks, boxer briefs (pictured), extended boxer briefs and knit boxers

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wearpact.com

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Peau ethique is a French mother-and-daughter company making organic cotton underwear. They have two styles for men: briefs and boxers (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: peau-ethique.com

Thunderpants

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 90% cotton, 10% spandex / Made in: New Zealand / USA / Ships: Worldwide

Thunderpants have two styles for men: original and fitted boxers. They have a lot of fun, printed designs which change regularly – black is also currently available.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: thunderpants.co.nz

(They also have dedicated site for the USA thunderpantsusa.com, with products made in Oregon, Portland stocking one men’s style: boxer briefs. Their newly launched UK site thunderpants.co.uk will be supplying products made in the north of England but current stock – men’s fitted boxer – is made in Australia)

Wama underwear

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: NO / Organic: YES uncertified / Made from: 53% hemp, 44% cotton, 3% spandex / Made in: China / Ships: Worldwide

WAMA have four styles: boxer briefs (pictured), trunks, boxers and briefs. All styles come in black; the boxer briefs come in green and hemp (a sandy colour) also. They are the only brand I’ve found that blend hemp with cotton.

WAMA are a Green America Certified Business and a PETA-Approved Vegan brand.

Sizes: S – 3XL

Website: wamaunderwear.com

Wonderpants

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / merino, elastane / Made in: Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Wonderpants have a single boxer style of mens’ underwear, available in either cotton or merino. Cotton colours are black, charcoal, green, red ochre, grey marle (pictured) and charcoal with black; merino colours are blaze red, charcoal and midnight navy.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wonderpants.com.au

As always, I’d love to hear from you! If you have any great brand suggestions that I’ve missed, would like to give an impromptu product review (good or bad) or have any other comments or thoughts at all, please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Underwear Brands

Part of me loves the idea of one day learning to sew my own underwear, but let’s be real. As someone who only just has the skills to sew a reusable produce bag together, it won’t be happening any time soon. Plus there are probably a hundred other skills I’d rather learn first.

The reality is, I buy my underwear. Chances are, so do you.

I wanted to share all the options for sustainable, ethical and organic cotton underwear that I’ve come across. There’s been a few companies come and go over the years (Pants to Poverty – how good is that name? – being my first ethical underpant love that sadly disappeared a few years ago) but overall the options do seem to be growing.

I know some people balk at the price of ethical underwear. I have a few things to say about this. Firstly, I believe that we get what we pay for. Cheap things generally have externalized costs – meaning costs that aren’t factored in to the price.

That could mean not paying workers properly, or it could mean dumping chemicals in waterways that someone else has to pay to clean up – or pay with their health.

If I believe in paying the true cost, then I have to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. As someone who buys very few things new, I feel that when I do make a purchase I can afford to invest in what most aligns with my values.

And yes, it does take a bit of a mindset shift to get my head around the fact that I pay more for my underwear than I pay for my jeans. But I don’t buy new jeans and I don’t buy used underwear, so that’s how it is.

Finally, I can’t tell anyone else what they can and cannot afford. All I can do is share my choices and my reasoning. I think where we can afford to spend a bit more and buy ethical underwear, its important to do so, to support these companies and practices. If you can afford it, I’d encourage you to do so too.

And if you cannot, there are plenty of other ways that you can create positive change in your life. No judgement and no guilt – we are all trying our best to do what we can.

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

I’ve listed the brands below in alphabetical order for ease. I’ve not included period underwear here as that is a separate topic for a separate post. There’ll be a separate post for men’s underwear coming soon!

Bhumi

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Bhumi is an Australian company selling organic cotton products. Their four women’s styles are bikini, boyleg, midi, and midi with leg band (pictured). Their colours are black, white, grey, navy blue and tan.

Sizes: S – XL ( AU/UK 8 – AU/UK 20, US 4 – 16, EU 36 – 44)

Tried and tested: I’ve never tried these, but I do know that Bhumi is one of the older and more established brands available in Australia.

Website: bhumi.com.au

Etiko Underwear

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Etiko make underwear in three styles: bikini, boyleg and full brief. Colours are black, grey, tan (they call it latte) and pink.

Sizes: AU/UK 10 – AU/UK 20 (US 6 – 16, EU 38 – 48).

Tried and tested: I’ve purchased the boyleg style in a size 10. They are a generous 10 (if you’re petite they are going to be too big for you). They are slightly cheaper than some other brands, but don’t last quite as long.

Website: www.etiko.com.au

Laura’s Underthere

Company HQ: Canada / Fairtrade: N/A / Organic: N/A (second-hand and upcycled fabric) / Made from: upcycled jersey / stretch knit / Made in: Canada / Ships: USA and Canada

Laura’s Underthere makes unique limited edition underwear made from upcycled jersey and stretch knit material. All of the designs are gender inclusive (Laura calls it genderful) and for every pair purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need. Styles include hipster, mid waisted and high wasted briefs, maternity and unpouched boxers in colourful patterned fabric.

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried these, but I love the huge range of sizes available.

Sizes: XXS – XXXXL

Website: laurasunderthere.com

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Living Crafts is a German company specializing in organic cotton textiles, with a good range of women’s underwear. Styles include high-waisted and hipster briefs, and boyleg. They have a range of plain colours, and also some simple patterned fabric.Their factories are 100% wind powered.

Sizes: XS – XL ( AU/UK 8 – AU/UK 20, US 4 – 16, EU 34 – 48)

Website: livingcrafts.de

Mighty Good Undies

I no longer recommend this brand. Might Good Undies went into liquidation after failing to pay suppliers in August 2019 and were purchased by another entity, renamed Mighty Good Basics (with a new company registration) and resurfaced as if nothing had happened. When I raised my concerns (ironically, after a social media post where they stated they were committed to transparency) they were evasive, simply telling me they were a new company but not addressing the issue of non-payment to suppliers, nor answering other concerns I raised. It’s not fair trade and it’s not ethical if you don’t pay your suppliers. I would not recommend purchasing from this company.

Nisa Women

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: No / Organic: uncertified / Made from: cotton or merino, elastane / Made in: New Zealand / Ships: Worldwide

Nisa have three styles in cotton: high full briefs, low full briefs and low cheeky briefs. Colours are black, navy and merlot, grey and mustard, rose, and pomegranate. They also make a merino wool low-waisted brief in electric blue.

Sizes: S, M, L and XL (AU sizes 10 – 16). They make plus-size underwear (sizes 18 – 24) to order.

Nisa employ women from refugee backgrounds to sew their underwear in Wellington, New Zealand. They state that they aim to source organic certified cotton ‘wherever they can’.

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried these but love the company’s ethos and vision.

Website: nisa.co.nz

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: Turkey / Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have two styles in organic cotton: bikini briefs and thongs, in black or rose nude. (They also have a Slivertech range with two stypes – hiperster and thong – which are 82% organic cotton, 12% SilverTech polyester and 6% elastane).

Sizes: XS – XL (XS fits waist 61 – 65cm / 24 – 25″, XL fits waist 81 – 85cm / 31 – 33″)

Tried and tested: Organic Basics actually gave me a voucher to try their products. I chose the bikini briefs in a size S – I’d read that the sizing comes up big – and they fit perfectly. (What I’m particularly enamoured with is their organic cotton triangle bra, but I’ll talk about bras in a separate post.) Their multipacks are particularly good value. They are also very transparent about their sustainability efforts.

Website: organicbasics.com

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company selling organic cotton products with a good range of women’s underwear. Styles include classic fit bikini, cheeky hipster, high rise hipster, boy shorts and thongs, and there are some lace-waist versions of some of the styles. They have black, white and tan and a wide range of pastel colours.

Sizes: XS – XL (AU/UK 4 – 20, US 0 – 16)

Tried and tested: I’ve not personally tried this brand, but they have been recommended to me a number of times.

Website: wearpact.com

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Peau ethique is a French mother-and-daughter company creating organic cotton and silk lingerie. If you’re after something that isn’t basic and black (meaning, you like lace and frills) this brand has options. They have briefs (the Lisa briefs are pictured), G strings/thongs, boxers/boy leg and high waisted undies.

Sizes: 36 – 44 (AU/UK 10 – AU/UK 16, US 6 – 12)

Website: peau-ethique.com

Pygoscelis Natural

Company HQ: Japan/Australia / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton, elastane / Made in: Japan/Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Pygoscelis Natural have two styles, high-waist and low-waist briefs, in two colours, sand and earth.

Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (waist equivalents 54 – 59cm, 60 – 66cm, 67 – 72cm, 73 – 79cm, 80 – 85cm)

This is a one-woman business where every piece is sewn by hand by Jeanne, a French lady living in Tokyo (and shortly relocating to Sydney, Australia).

Tried and tested: I have a pair of low-wast briefs in the old size medium (which was 64 – 70cm). The fabric is really soft and they are a comfortable fit. My guess is with the new sizing I’d stick to medium – I think I need those cm!

Website: pygoscelis-natural.com

Thunderpants

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 90% cotton, 10% spandex / Made in: New Zealand / USA / Ships: Worldwide

Thunderpants have four styles: original, hipster, women’s fitted boxer and undershorts. They have a lot of fun, printed designs which change regularly. Occasionally they release a series of zero waste ‘patchwork pants’ (pictured) made from fabric offcuts to reduce their waste.

Sizes: AU/UK 6 – 26 (US 0 – 20)

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried these but love the fun prints!

Website: thunderpants.co.nz

(They also have dedicated site for the USA thunderpantsusa.com, with products made in Oregon, Portland – same styles, but different fabrics.)

Wonderpants

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton, elastane / Made in: Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Wonderpants have three styles: high-top, regular and low-rise. Colours are black, charcoal, yellow, red ochre, grey marle and white.

Sizes: AU/UK 8 – 18 (they say their sizes are a generous fit, and suggest considering going down a size compared to what you’d normally wear).

Website: wonderpants.com.au

I love the idea of sustainable fashion, but the reality is there are too many used goods in the world for me to buy clothes new; I’d rather choose second-hand. As for underwear – well that’s a different story. And, it’s something I wear every day, so I figure it’s worth the investment.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any favourites of yours in the list, or any you’ve not come across before? Any I’ve missed? I know there will be more brands out there, so if you know of any please tell us and I’ll update the list! Any other comments? Please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

8 (More) Tips for a Zero Waste Wardrobe

With 6,000kg of clothing and textiles discarded every 10 minutes in Australia alone, there’s a huge potential for us to reduce our waste when it comes to our wardrobes. Last week I talked about how we can make better wardrobe purchases. This week I’m going to talk about the other end of the spectrum: what do to with the clothing we no longer need or want, without sending it to landfill.

1. Donate or Sell Clothes You Don’t Wear

Take it from someone who let unworn clothing sit in her wardrobe for years: if you don’t wear it, donate it.  If it was expensive and you feel guilty about wasting your money, sell it to alleviate some of the guilt.

Unworn clothing is not serving any purpose languishing in the back of the wardrobe.

Things sitting unworn deteriorate, get moth eaten and are a waste of resources. Whilst it’s sitting there someone else could be wearing it and loving it. Give them the chance to do so, and make the best use of the time, energy and resources that went into creating that item.

2. Learn Simple Clothing Fixes

I don’t know how to sew particularly well or use a sewing machine competently, but I have mastered a couple of basics.

Firstly, I do know how to darn. It’s simple, therapeutic and has saved many a jumper and sock of mine from landfill.

Natural fibres do have a tendency to develop holes, so knowing how to stitch them back up again is helpful to extend the life of things.

I’m not going to give a tutorial here because I’m no expert, but the principle is making a little cross-weave of thread across the hole. Sew strands up and down first, and then from left to right weaving under and over the other strands. (PS my darning mushroom is an orange. Does the job.)

Similarly, I know how to stitch a button or popper back on. Another very simple thing to do. I’ve purchased shirts from the charity shop that have likely been donated because a button was missing. An easy fix. I’ve also had buttons come off in action.

If I lose the button and there’s no spare, I move a button from the pocket or the very top (which I don’t use) to replace the spot where I need the button.

I purchased this shirt from the charity shop which had obviously been donated because one of the poppers was deformed. I simply stitched a new one on, and I had an almost new shirt.

If you’re a total newbie and/or the idea of attempting a mend on your own stresses you out, Repair Cafes and other community sewing groups exist. Here you can find sewing repair tutorials, where you can learn to fix your stuff for free (or low cost) with the help of someone who actually knows what they are doing.

3. Pay a Professional to Fix Your Clothing

If you don’t know how to fix something, and have no inclination to learn, find someone who does. My boots have fallen to pieces more times than I care to count (actually, I think they’ve been repaired 4 times).

I have no idea how to fix shoes, but luckily for me there is an awesome shoe repair service at the local shopping centre.

Over the years my boots have needed resoling, restitching, reheeling, reglueing, a toecap put in and a zipper replaced. But every time they come back good as new, and for much less than the cost of a new pair of boots.

I’ve also used a mending service to fix buttons back onto jeans (I think they need a special tool: it definitely isn’t a sewing job).

4. Repurpose Fabric

There’s a whole step between stopping wearing clothing, and tossing it out. Repurposing.

Clothing rarely disintegrates entirely; it tends to wear in certain spots. A pair of jeans might wear through at the bum, crotch and knees but the legs are often fine. A dress might wear out at the armpits or sleeves but the body is fine.

This is literally the most lazy repurpose in the world – I used the denim from a jeans leg to make an iPad case. I shuffled the iPad down the leg until it fit, then cut the leg just below and stitched the two sides together to make a case. It might look lame, but that was in 2014, and I still have that case. It does the job.

If the material is good quality or hard-wearing, it may be possible to donate to someone crafty to repurpose, or for projects for kids. Whether it’s for recreating into new altered clothing, making hankies, Boomerang bags, fabric bunting, cushion covers or something more creative, people can make good use of old clothing.

Buy Nothing groups are a good place to make inquiries, and Gumtree is a good option to place a free listing.

5. Use Old Natural Fibre Clothing As Rags

When my clothing from natural fibres is life expired, I chop it up to use as cleaning cloths – for the kitchen first and then the bathroom. They can go through the washing machine a few times, before ending up in the compost bin. Zero waste.

I’ve tried this with synthetic fibres but it doesn’t work nearly so well as plastic doesn’t absorb water. Now I stick to only natural ones.

6. Compost Natural Fibres

If your clothing is completely, utterly worn out, and is made entirely of natural fibres, you can compost it or put in a worm farm. If your clothing is part natural fibres, you can put in a worm farm, and the worms will eat the natural part, leaving the synthetic part.

If you don’t have access to textile recycling (or you don’t trust your textile recycling) consider composting your old clothing.

I’m not sure what the etiquette is with donating old underwear for recycling, so I pop in the worm farm. I get left with an elastane shell, and the cotton is recycled into soil. I also use old clothing as a cover for the worm farm. Eventually it breaks down.

7. Donating Clothing to Charity Shops as Rags

Not all charity shops offer this service, but some do – they will take clothing specifically for use as rags. It’s best to call first to find out if this is the case, and they will be able to tell you what they want and what they don’t.

If this is an option for you, be sure to label your donation clearly as “Rags”. This saves someone rummaging through it all and coming to the same conclusion.

8. Donate Worn Synthetic Clothes for Recycling

Worn clothing can be donated for recycling. Increasingly clothing companies and department stores will take back their own brand of clothing for recycling, but a few companies (including Levi Strauss in the US, and H & M worldwide) will take back any brand of clothing.

I take any won out synthetic clothing I have to H&M, because textile recycling is hard to find on Perth (and I want H&M to shoulder some of the responsibility for the excessive textiles problem they have helped create). If you’re lucky, you may have a council collection service or drop-off facility.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with old unwanted textiles? If you’re creative, how do you repurpose old fabric? Are there any ideas I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

8 Tips for a Zero Waste Wardrobe

My wardrobe wasn’t the first place I thought of when I went plastic-free and zero waste. No, the first place was the kitchen, and the second place was the bathroom. After all, these are the places where we generate a lot of packaging, because many of the things we buy are consumables (meaning, we use them up and they need replacing).

But once I’d been on the zero waste journey for a while I started to think about clothing. I’m the kind of person who wears things well past their life expiration date – things will have holes and be almost threadbare before I’m ready to part with them.

At this point, clearly they aren’t fit for the charity shop.

It was then that I realised that many of these fibres in my wardrobe were synthetic, not compostable and not really recyclable.

  • Textile recycling is limited in availability (meaning recovery rates are low – in the USA recovery rates are estimated to be 15%);
  • Textile recycling is also limited in effectiveness and is generally not closed-loop: many textiles are recycled “thermally” (meaning incinerated for energy) or using chemicals;
  • Let’s not forget the sheer volume of textile waste created every day. (It’s estimated that Australians discard 6,000kg of fashion and textile waste every 10 minutes. That’s just the waste in one country…)

Figures like this can be a little depressing, and I don’t like to focus on the problems. I much prefer solutions! Over the years I’ve been working on making my wardrobe as zero waste as possible, and I want to share what I’ve learned.

There’s a lot to say. I’m going to start with what choices I make when I let things into my home to ensure they get the best use and last well, and how I plan for zero waste with the purchases I make.

Next week I’ll share how I let go of things I no longer need, or things that have life expired, without chucking them in the bin.

1. Buy Stuff You Will Actually Wear

This sounds so obvious, but I have definitely been guilty in the past of buying clothes that then just sat in the wardrobe, tags still attached, unworn.

There were a few reasons for this:

  • Choosing items that were a little too tight, or that looked good but weren’t actually comfortable;
  • Choosing an item that I loved the look of in the shop (or on the model) but that didn’t actually suit me;
  • Choosing something that wasn’t the kind of thing I actually had an occasion to wear (I might love the idea of dresses in reality, I love to wear jeans more than anything else);
  • Not being practical about whether the item I bought matched the things I already owned.

It was only after I decluttered my wardrobe down to my essentials that I really began to understand exactly what I wore – the colours, the styles and the materials. Now I’m much more strict when I chose things.

If it’s not a definite yes then it is a no. There’s no room in my wardrobe for maybe.

2. Don’t Be Tempted by “Bargains”

I’ve purchased many “bargains” in my time that have sat in my wardrobe, unworn (usually for the reasons mentioned above). I used to have a real weakness for labels telling me the item was 70% off.

However, I can get an even greater bargain, and save 100% of my money, by not buying things that I then never wear.

When I first started shopping for clothing second-hand, the same thing happened. There were so many great items that were so cheap! Rather than thinking – Do I need it? Will I wear it? Is it worth it? – I’d think, wow, what a bargain!

Cue more things I didn’t wear.

A bargain is only a bargain if it is something that we will wear, and often. Now I ask myself, would I buy this if it was full price? Meaning, do I love it that much? I need to love the item more than the price tag for it to be worth bringing it home.

3. Choose Clothing You Can Wear 30 Times

Yes, it is better to only buy clothing that we love, that fits, that suits us and is practical for our lifestyle. If we want a zero waste wardrobe, we also need to think about how well made things are.

Buying something we love only to find that after 3 washes, it is bobbled and misshapen to the point of being unwearable is disappointing, frustrating, and a waste of resources (the materials it is made from, the effort that someone put into making it, and the work we’ve done to to pay for the item and bring it home).

Whenever I’m thinking about whether to buy an item, I ask myself two questions:

  1. Will I wear it 30 times?
  2. Can I wear it 30 times? (Will it last?)

If I can’t honestly answer yes to both of these questions, then I don’t make the purchase.

(Of course, things don’t always go the way we intend. We can mean to wear an item, and then change our minds later. But the more honest we are with ourselves the less likely we are to buy things we think we like, but don’t. If an item disintegrates after 5 washes, we can learn from this and be more mindful about choosing that material or brand next time.)

4. Avoid Excessive Embellishments

Beads, sequins and tassles might look fantastic on a brand new item, but they make an item much more difficult to wash (often meaning handwash or dry clean only) and they tend to fall off quickly.

If we’re not inclined to sew things back on, this can mean a premature end for our clothing. However, most beads, sequins and embellishments come off and are lost (meaning we can’t sew them back on, even if we are inclined to do so). Plus many are plastic, meaning plastic pollution.

I’ve made purchases like this in the past. I had a dress covered entirely in sequins, and whilst I loved that dress, it didn’t make it to 30 wears.

I still have a jumper sewn with tiny black beads that I’ve owned since 2011, that has lasted more than 30 wears. I’ll snip all the beads off before I compost the jumper, but it’s not something I’d purchase again.

However pretty sequins or beads are, now I choose not to buy these things. That way I don’t have to worry about where they will end up. I want clothing that will last, and I don’t want my clothing contributing to plastic pollution.

5. Shop Second Hand

I’m often torn between wanting to shop second-hand and wanting to support ethical, Fair Trade clothing companies by purchasing their (new) products.

With only 15% of all clothing donated to charity shops actually re-sold (the rest is dumped overseas, processed into rags or landfilled), I tend to lean more towards the second-hand option.

Buying second-hand means less new resources used, and less items heading for landfill. I shop at a couple of charity shops that I know sell good quality items and don’t have an overwhelming amount of choice. If I’m looking for something specific I use eBay.

6. Choose Natural Fibres (Where Possible)

I would love my wardrobe to be entirely natural materials, but let’s just say that is a work in progress. I’m very conscious of the materials I buy, and I always check the label before making a purchase.

It can be hard to find natural fibres in charity shops or second-hand.

I’ve had some great successes, for example this skirt (cotton and elastane, percentages unknown), denim shirt (97.8% cotton) and silk top (100% silk) were all second-hand from the charity shop.

Recently I needed some shirts for my talks/workshops, and I had to settle for two polyester numbers. I can tell the difference when I wear them immediately (I feel like I’m wearing a plastic bag), and I’m planning to re-donate them to the charity shop once I can find a natural fibre replacement.

7. Choose Recycled Synthetics (If Natural Fibres Aren’t An Option)

Whilst I try to limit my use of synthetic fibres as much as I can, sometimes it is unavoidable. When I headed off on my camino adventure, I purchased a rain jacket. I’ve really needed one for years, but the trip pushed me over the line.

The raincoat I purchased was made by Patagonia, who are well known for and committed to pursuing sustainable practices. The outer is made from 100% recycled nylon.

8. Shop Ethical

When I need to make a new purchase, I try to support ethical, sustainable brands. I don’t buy many clothes brand new, but it does happen.

One thing I always buy new is underwear. There are two brands I buy, Etiko and Mighty Good Undie: both are Fair Trade and use organic cotton. I don’t have a preference, but usually one brand is out of stock when I go to order so I go with whichever has my size.

Etiko is slightly cheaper but also slightly lesser quality, and the sizes also come up slightly bigger than Mighty Good.

Yes, both brands are more expensive than regular non-organic big box store brands. After I have a minor heart murmur over the price, I remember that I don’t buy new underwear often (maybe once a year) and I don’t buy new things often, and when I do make purchases, I want to act in line with my values.

That means supporting small business, supporting organic farming, and supporting Fair Trade practices.

To me, that’s worth the extra few dollars. In reality the difference is less than the price of a glass of wine or smashed avo on toast, and supporting a better world is worth prioritizing.

I don’t purchase everything second-hand, nor do I purchase 100% organic, Fair Trade and natural fibres. My ideal would to be able to find everything that fitted all of these criteria (except perhaps for second-hand underwear!) but the reality is, there’s often compromise.

My goal is to do the best I can with the options available to me and the resources I have; to learn as I go, and strive to do that little bit better next time around.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce your eco footprint when it comes to your wardrobe? Do you love second hand stores, or do you prefer new ethical fashion? Is there anything you particularly struggle with? Any tips to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

My (Mis)Adventure with Sustainable Fashion

I’m certainly not a fashion victim. In fact, I wonder if the clothes I wear can even be called fashion, seeing as I’ve owned most of them for more than three years, and they were purchased second-hand back then. So when I say sustainable fashion, I guess what I really mean is sustainable clothes.

Over the years my clothing shopping habits have changed. Whilst today I try to buy as little as possible, I confess there was a time when I used to see clothes shopping as a fun way to spend time. Luckily, I didn’t see it as a fun way to spend money (which I’m sure has saved me a small fortune over the years!), so I tried to stick to things I really liked and that I thought would last, and would only shop a few times a year.

I’ve never been a fan of cheap throwaway fashion:  inexpensive items wear out quickly and lose their shape, and I want the clothes I own to get many outings. More than that, I’ve always been a believer that if something seems too cheap, it is; somewhere along the line, someone has suffered. I’d opt for the more expensive high street stores hoping that if the prices were higher, it meant there was no exploitation going on behind the scenes.

The switch from new to second-hand came slowly, and actually, thanks to eBay. I’ve never particularly enjoyed clothes shopping in charity shops, but here on the internet I could find the size and styles that I wanted in the brands that I already knew. Giving a second life to somebody else’s waste, and not contributing directly to these fashion giant’s coffers rests better with my conscience, and I committed to try to avoid buying anything new (underwear excluded).

In the last year or so, two things have made me wonder if this is enough. There’s always the question “can I do more?” Sometimes the answer is no, but often it is yes, and I wondered if there was more I could do with the clothing I chose to wear. In particular, I had two concerns.

How Can I Live a Plastic-Free Life With a Wardrobe Full of Plastic?!

I buy my clothes second hand, wear them to within an inch of their lives, cut them up and use them as rags for cleaning…but ultimately they need to be disposed of, and I am faced with two choices. Compost, or landfill. Plastic fibres will not break down in compost. (They’re actually not great as cleaning cloths, either.) Natural fibres make much better cleaning cloths, and can be composted at the end of their lives.

When I looked at the contents of my wardrobe, only a handful of items were made of natural fibres (silk, cotton and wool). The vast majority are polyester (with some acrylic and nylon). Polyester is plastic. This has sat a little uneasily with me ever since I began my plastic-free living journey, but what really clinched it was when I first read that plastic microfibres are washed into the ocean every time we launder our (synthetic fabric) clothes. I feel that now I’ve got my all the plastic-free fundamentals of my life (shopping, eating, washing and cleaning) under control, this is something I want (and need) to tackle.

As I minimalise my wardrobe, ethical and Fairly Traded garments made from sustainable and natural fibres are my new priority : )

As I minimalise my wardrobe, ethical and Fairly Traded garments made from sustainable and natural fibres are my new priority : )

Is “Hoping” that Clothing is Sustainably Made, Ethically Produced and Sweatshop-Free Enough?

The answer to this, quite clearly, is no. Avoiding clothing at rock-bottom prices is a no-brainer, but assuming (or hoping) that just because a clothing company charges more for its products that the farmers and workers have been treated fairly… It’s a big ask. And it’s a question I’ve not even been asking.

Fair Trade fashion is a growing industry, with clothing that looks less like old sacking and more like regular high street wear than some of the earlier attempts I remember. Whilst I’m a huge fan of second-hand clothing, I also think it’s important to support companies who stand for ideals we believe in. I guess there needs to be balance. (Second-hand Fair Trade clothing would be my ideal, but there’s a lot less of it around!)

My Misadventure with Sustainable Fashion

With this in mind, I have decided that my vision for my wardrobe is one where the majority of the items are made of natural fibres, that the majority are organic and / or Fair Trade, and that a significant amount is second-hand. Second hand items aside, this is the total opposite to my current wardrobe. Change will be a slow process, I’m sure, as I still have a commitment to myself to reduce (half) my wardrobe, and I intend to wear the current items out before replacing them. (Or maybe that’s my excuse as I find it really, really hard to declutter my wardrobe!)

In some rather exciting news for the minimalist-wannabe-but-closet-hoarder that I am, I actually managed to wear out a pair of black leggings (to the point where they were almost see-through) and decided their replacement would be my first organic natural fibre Fair Trade purchase. Then, because the postage was a flat fee I also bought two organic Fair Trade dresses for work – which I justified because I literally wear the same skirt to work every day, and thought I should probably invest in another outfit. (Did I need two? Possibly not. Oops.)

Feeling rather noble about my purchases, I was very pleased when they arrived in a brown paper bag, looking all environmentally friendly. At last! A sustainable solution! And then I looked inside.

Plastic!

People Tree Ethical Sustainable Organic Clothing2015

Organic cotton clothing, Fairly Traded, ethically produced…and packaged in plastic!

I haven’t bought new clothing online in so long, it didn’t even cross my mind that the items would come individually packaged in plastic. I purchased these in July, so ironically, in the one month of the year where I aim to make the biggest effort to consume no plastic, I end up accumulating more than in the entire rest of the year put together!

People Tree Paper Packaging

People Tree packaging – plastic-free heavy duty brown paper envelope, labels made of card attached to the clothing with ribbon (possibly plastic but at least reusable). If only the items themselves didn’t come in plastic bags!

So often when trying to make “green” and ethical decisions we have to compromise, and it can be frustrating! Clearly I’m committed to not buying anything in plastic, so shopping like this isn’t going to work for me. I’d also far rather find local shops and avoid online shopping altogether. Then again, living in one of the most isolated cities in the world makes this tricky. People Tree is a brand is championing the values that I think are so important – chemical-free crops, Fair Trade, capacity building, ethical supply chains – and I want to support them.

An Ethical Dilemma – What Next?

One thing I’ve learned on this journey is to ask questions. Maybe there’s an option for purchasing items without plastic packaging. Maybe there’s a good reason why they don’t offer this. Maybe they’ve just never thought about it before. My first step is to write a letter to express my concerns, and see if I can get any answers. (I might mention replacing the ribbon with natural twine, too.) Plus I’ll be recycling the plastic bags (our local supermarket collects soft plastic like this for recycling).

My second step is to look for in-store options (next time I need to replace something though…not before). For example, People Tree stock over 1000 stores, so there must be the option to buy in-person, and avoid all the unnecessary extra packing and shipping. They are also not the only Fair Trade and organic brand out there. An exciting journey of discovery awaits!

And of course, as I start to discover these brands, there will be the option of looking for them online (or even in stores) in the second-hand marketplace. It’s also easier to request plastic-free packaging when you’re buying from an individual, items are usually cheaper, and you’re giving a new lease of life to somebody else’s waste.

Sometimes making sustainable choices isn’t easy. Often we are faced with hurdles. Giving up or accepting defeat isn’t an option. If we care enough, if we want to live a life aligned with our values, then we need to keep trying. I may have tripped, but I intend to get back up, dust myself off, learn from what’s happened and keep going. After all, even when we stumble, we are still moving forward.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried to make a sustainable choice that’s backfired? What did you learn from it? How do you deal with compromise? Do you have some non-negotiables – rules you’ve  set yourself that you’ll never bend, or is everything open to compromise depending on the situation? What about sustainable fashion? Have you taken steps to make your wardrobe more ethical or environmentally-friendly? What did you find easy? What do you struggle with? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Who Made Your (My) Clothes?

This week it is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. On 24th April 2013 the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1133 people and injuring 2500 more. The people killed and injured were making clothes to be sold in Western countries. Many of the companies resisted paying compensation, some even denied their garments were being made in the factory at all. Benetton (one of the companies that originally claimed not to have used firms located at the Rana Plaza complex) only agreed to donate money to the victims’ compensation fund last week, almost two years since the accident happened.

With all the major Western fashion retailers involved having contributed, the fund remains $8 million short of its target.

To ensure that these deaths and the tragedy that occurred would stand for something, Fashion Revolution Day was born. The idea is to make people question where their clothes come from – who made our clothes? Often we buy garments with no idea who was involved, what their working conditions are like, whether they are paid a living wage or where they even live. Fashion Revolution Day exists to try to reconnect us with this chain and the values and relationships that are embedded in it.

So..Who Made My Clothes?

A good proportion of my wardrobe is second-hand, and since 2013 I’ve pledged not to add anything more to my wardrobe in an attempt to minimize and streamline. My goal is less items, more staples, better quality, responsibly manufactured, and made of natural or sustainable fabrics. Sure, there’s been a few hiccups along the way, but I’m slowly wearing things out.

But do I know where my clothes were made?

No.

Well, I didn’t…but in the spirit of Fashion Revolution day, I took every single item out of my wardrobe and read the label. Every single item. In fact, I took a photo for prosperity. There were a few things with labels so faded that they could no longer be read, and socks and tights don’t seem to come with labels, but everything else has been inspected.

Here are the results.

China: 52 Items.

Who Made My Clothes? Fashion Reolution Day 2015 China

Hong Kong: 2 items. Phillipines: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes? Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Hong Kong Phillipines

India: 6 items. Bangladesh: 2 items.

Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Who Made My Clothes India Bangladesh 600 px

Turkey: 8 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Turkey

Portugal: 6 items. Italy: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day Italy Portugal

Malta: 1 item. Morocco: 3 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Malta Morocco

South Africa: 1 item. Sri Lanka: 1 item. Israel: 1 item. Australia: 1 item.

Fashio Revolution Day Who Made My Clothes Israel Sri Lanka South Africa Australia

Romania: 3 items. USA: 1 item.

Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Who Made My Clothes? USA Romania

Unknown origin: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes

I was shocked. The items in my wardrobe come from 16 different countries, plus 2 have no labels at all. Who knew my wardrobe was so multicultural? I certainly didn’t.

Of course, knowing what country at item was made in doesn’t tell me the conditions of the factory, or the minimum wage of workers. I like to think that by choosing not buying the cheapest brands (even buying most of my clothes second-hand, I avoid the cheapest brands) means I’m avoiding the sweatshops, but actually…how do I know?

The idea behind Fashion Revolution Day is to start asking questions. To look at the labels to see who the brands are, and ask the question – “who made my clothes?”

I still don’t know who made my clothes. But I know where they came from, which is more than I knew last week. It’s a good place to start from. Now I just need to ask more questions…

Now I’d like to hear from you! Have you heard of Fashion Revolution Day? Are you taking part? Do you feel you have a good sense of where and how your clothes are made? Maybe you make them yourself? Or are you like me with no real sense of where they came from? Do you have any tips for finding ethical and sustainable brands? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

24th April 2014 was the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where 1133 people lost their lives, and over 2,500 were injured when the overcrowded and unsafe building they were working in collapsed. They were sewing garments to be sold in the West. Companies who have admitted they had recent or trial orders at Rana Plaza at the time of the accident include Bon Marche, Matalan and Primark (UK/Ireland); Cato Fashions, Walmart and The Children’s Place (USA); and Mango and Benetton (Europe) (for the complete list see here).

At the time of the accident, and again at the anniversary (and many times in between) I was sad, I was angry, and I wanted to help make things change – but how? I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do. I’m not really a consumer. I don’t buy many new clothes. It’s already pretty obvious to me that if I can go into a store and buy a brand new pair of jeans for less than £15 – a store that is paying rent for a premium high street position, that has staff it will be paying the minimum UK wage of £6.31/hour, that has fixtures and fitting rooms and lighting and heating to pay, that has sturdy paper bags to pack my goods into, that has transported its goods across the globe to line its shelves – then somewhere along the way, someone is being screwed… and it’s likely to be the worker who made them.

I’m not the only one to be outraged by the Rana Plaza tragedy, or course. But whilst I’m lamenting what I could or should be doing, or where I’d even start, there are people with their heads already down, getting on with changing the world and making it a better place.

FairlyFashionable banner

One such inspiring project is the Fairly Fashionable? challenge, organised by Fair Trade Freo and the WA Fair Trade Collective, two local Fair Trade groups. It was an event organised by a group of volunteers who wanted to bring focus to the fashion and garment industry and promote Fair Trade. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, designers received a piece of donated Fair Trade fabric, and had 14 days to create a garment or fashion accessory that incorporated the fabric. They could use their own fabrics to complete the work provided they were recycled, upcycled or ethically sourced.

Last Friday, the eve of World Fair Trade Day, was the Fairly Fashionable? finale: a public fashion show showcasing the designs, as well as talks on ethical fashion. It challenged both the designers and the audience to ask the questions: where are our clothes made? How are they made? Under what conditions? How does their design and manufacture impact the environmental, social and environmental sustainability of people and the the planet?

FairlyFashionable1
FairlyFashionable4
Fairtrade
FairlyFashionable3

The turnout was incredible, far more than the organizers were expecting and there were as many people standing as sitting. The designs were hugely creative. The event certainly got me thinking. Not just about Fair Trade, but also about the power we all have to make a difference, not just as individuals but also as groups and communities. It was hugely inspiring to see what the organizers had achieved in just two months (I can’t believe they pulled the whole thing off in just two months!), and how many people they had brought together to share their vision.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead.