The sustainability movement has reached the innerworld.
The category — comprised of lingerie, loungewear, men’s basics and even swimwear — is upping the ante on its concerns for the planet. Everyone from men’s basics brand Mack Weldon to luxury lingerie boutique Journelle have their name in the game. But each one has put its own spin on how it plans to save the planet while simultaneously trying to convince shoppers to buy more.
Swim and activewear brand DK Active is using solar energy to power its Australian headquarters, while MeUndies is focused on treating its workers ethically. Period panty brands, such as Thinx and Ruby Love, are doing their part to save the planet since women don’t have to buy tampons or other menstrual products that might end up in landfills.
Brands like Harper Wilde, ThirdLove, Pepper and Hanky Panky are accepting used bras when shoppers buy from their sites or stores. (Most secondhand stores do not accept used bras and underwear for sanitary reasons and the synthetic fabrics and trims are not biodegradable.) Still other brands, like Asics, All Day Alba and Brazil-based Live Activewear, are experimenting with new collections that use sustainable fabrics.
“In the last year or two, everyone has been talking about sustainability,” Raphael Camp, chief executive officer of Eurovet Americas, a trade show organizer for intimates and swimwear, told WWD. “The young Millennials want to engage with a brand and develop a community. With Generation Z, it’s a step further. They want sustainable products.”
But Guido Campello, co-owner of lingerie brands Cosabella and Journelle, added that “it’s not just the certifications and all that stuff; it’s about how much you spend per use.”
That means consumers are willing to spend more for less product — if it lasts longer.
And the numbers prove it. In a recent NPD Group survey, a third to half of total respondents want sustainable products, said Kristen Classi-Zummo, NPD Group’s director of apparel market insights.
“The data is pretty consistent,” Classi-Zummo said. “It’s kind of what’s socially acceptable. Consumers are calling for brands and retailers to react. And I think it will only spread.
“We’re kind of past the point of asking, ‘Is it worth it?’ I think it’s necessary,” she continued. “It’s going to be necessary to do business in the next five years, the next 10 years.”
But making a long-lasting, environmentally friendly intimates garment is challenging, especially with products like bras that have so many components — 25 in a constructed, padded bra, according to Yossi Nasser, ceo of Gelmart, an intimates apparel manufacturer.
“Even if a product is 100 percent sustainable and recyclable, the process to get that product made and the process to get that product shipped to the consumer, is not a sustainable process,” Nasser said.
That means retailers — faced with pressures to both please consumers and stakeholders — need to get creative.
“Our job as retailers is to sell more, but be more sustainable at the same time,” said Ariela Esquenazi, owner of lingerie brands Curvy Couture and Smart & Sexy Lingerie. “It’s not an easy solution.”
Add to that the growing trend of greenwashing, or the practice of presenting information to make a company or brand appear more environmentally responsible than it really is.
While the beauty and personal-care industries maintain regulations on what constitutes vegan, the apparel industry has yet to implement standards on either sustainable or vegan goods. (Yet there’s still nothing stopping a company from slapping “organic” or “natural” on a product label as it applies to cosmetics or personal care items in the U.S.)
To further complicate things, some brands will try to claim a product is sustainable simply because it is vegan, for example. Or that the company is sustainable because it employs mostly women.
Technical phrases like reverse osmosis technology, Tencel, Modal, Lyocell or ProTex 4 dyeing are often thrown around as well, and do little to ease the influx of information consumers receive on a daily basis. Instead, they’re likely to confuse even the most enlightened shopper.
There’s also the growing rental and resale apparel markets, which have yet to touch the intimates and swimwear categories. And during the era of the coronavirus and increased attention to social distancing and good personal hygiene, they likely won’t.
“So it is a market where sustainability matters even more because we know it’s not going to go into resale markets,” said Morgan Hermand-Waiche, cofounder and chief executive officer of digital lingerie brand Adore Me.
Here, WWD has rounded up the details on what some intimates players are doing to help minimize their footprint on the environment.
The New York-based intimates company is striving to be 100 percent sustainable across the board — not just with a sustainable collection or two, said chief executive officer Hermand-Waiche.
“Sustainability is just part of the company’s natural DNA. We care about making the planet a better world,” he explained. That includes using a water-conserving, digital-printing technique; biodegradable packaging; Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification; and azo-free dyes, which are believed to be carcinogen-free.
Hermand-Waiche pointed out that the collections are only about a quarter of the company’s total carbon footprint.
“It’s really a matter of the whole supply chain: the raw materials, the method of production, the method of transportation and the planning of your inventory to not waste any,” he said. “People do not necessarily think of shipping footprint either. But that footprint is actually massive.”
The company currently has two sustainable collections, including the “Upcycle Panties” collection, which uses leftover materials, and a digital-printing swimwear collection. But as of February, Hermand-Waiche said Adore Me is introducing approximately 10 more sustainable collections throughout 2020.
Intimates brand Aerie, owned by American Eagle Outfitters, launched its first line of sustainable swimsuits earlier this year. The collection is made from Repreve, or about 1.2 million recycled plastic bottles. Add to that the recycled yarn the brand has been using in some of its leggings since 2018. Aerie also has bra recycling bins set up in stores so that shoppers can donate their old bras to women in need. To date, Aerie has recycled more than 43,000 used bras through the program.
Aerie’s global brand president Jennifer Foyle said Aerie will continue to work on more “green ideas.”
Meanwhile, both American Eagle and Aerie stores have set a carbon neutral goal for all company-owned stores, facilities and distribution centers by 2030. The formula includes conserving water by way of recycled water, reducing plastics in stores and throughout the supply chain, implementing recycled paper products whenever possible and using sustainable materials, such as sustainably sourced cotton, polyester and viscose.
Roughly half of Araks’ eco-friendly swim collection is made from Econyl fabrics, or recycled waste. In this case, that means things like abandoned fishing nets and plastics. The luxury label, which includes lingerie, sleepwear and some ready to wear, is also Oeko-Tex-certified and upcycles fabric scraps.
Founder Araks Yeramyan said she is also adamant about working with manufacturers that adhere to the EPD Environmental Certification, the EPD Climate Certification, the ISO 14001 Certification and the E.U. Reach Regulations, among other best practices, or companies that use solar power and water conservation methods to reduce their carbon footprint.
Boody Eco Wear
The men and women’s basics brand, which includes activewear and women’s bras, uses sustainable fabrics, such as organic bamboo free from Azo dyes, recycled rainwater, biodegradable packaging made from cornstarch and vegetable inks to produce products. The San Diego-based start-up is also Oeko-Tex-certified.
“The slow-fashion movement is natural to us; it’s part of our roots,” said David Stern, Boody Eco Wear’s chief executive officer.
Coco de Mer
The British-based luxury lingerie brand uses recyclable packaging and produces all of its products in Europe, cutting down on emissions. “And all our fabrics are also European and of top quality, so that they last and we don’t fall into the category of ‘fast fashion,’” said Lucy Litwack, owner and chief executive officer of Coco de Mer.
The Vermont-based intimates brand is Oeko-Tex-certified and produces more than 90 percent of its assortment in the U.S., which the company said cuts down on waste from sourcing and manufacturing abroad. In addition, Commando’s “Butter” fabric is made from beech trees without pesticides or irrigation and uses a special dyeing process that reduces toxic waste by using yarn dyed in bulk, according to Kerry O’Brien, Commando’s founder and designer.
“The most important thing we can do is create styles that last,” O’Brien said. “Nothing we do is disposable. We also source from mills with some of the most stringent certifications available. It’s a holistic approach.”
Both brands, co-owned by Guido Campello, carry a number of labels on their web sites and in stores. Last year, Cosabella partnered with sustainable brand Reformation to create a collection of sustainable intimates. This April, the lingerie retailer is launching a line of sustainable innerwear with Aritzia. And, both brands now have sustainable stretch laces, mesh and other trim, use water-conserving color dyers and cut everything made-to-order, reducing the amount of excess inventory.
Campello said Cosabella is working on a biodegradable collection for spring 2021. That would include biodegradable hang tags, labels and packaging. As for Journelle, the brand is slowly introducing biodegradable fabrics into the mix.
The intimates entrepreneur added that how long a product lasts — or how many times a consumer will be able to use it — is also part of the sustainability conversation.
“It’s not just the certifications and all that stuff, but it’s also in the thought process of how much it costs [the consumer] to wear this garment each time,” Campello said. “The amount of wears that the brand can build in is becoming important in sustainability.”
The New York-based lingerie startup is Oeko-Tex-certified, uses trim made from recyclable materials and will be switching to recyclable packaging within the year. Cuup also donates used and old bras to charity and is on track to convert all of its Asian factories to solar power by 2021.
“Cuup cares deeply about the environment and we are committed to being accountable for more than just profit,” said Abby Morgan, Cuup cofounder and chief marketing officer.
The Aussie brand, which offers swimwear, sports bras and other activewear, makes all of its products in-house and uses solar energy to power the Brisbane headquarters.
“We care deeply about the consequences of our business behaviors,” said DK Active founder Danielle Kay. “We’re no strangers to the waste that the fashion industry generates, with tons of offcuts contributing to landfill each year. To help combat this we release one [sustainable] collection per season.”
That includes garments made from regenerated nylon, organic cotton, organic bamboo and modal, in addition to yarns made from generated nylon waste recovered from landfill and ocean waste. The company is also Oeko-Tex-certified and uses biodegradable satchels made from plants instead of plastic packaging.
The bra and underwear company uses plant-based dyes and recycled water (about 80 percent of its total water consumption) from a rain storage facility. Felina also has a cotton collection, made without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and a new sleepwear line made from Cupro, or a plant-based fabric made from cotton waste.
The British-based online retailer of lingerie and swimwear is adding a “Mindful” collection to its in-house swim label. The collection uses a mix of recycled fabrics with regular fabrics. The company is also using a special paper printing method that creates about 80 percent less carbon dioxide, or greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Figleaves is a member of the Ethical Trade Initiative, which works to make sure products are made in safe working conditions.
“It absolutely makes sense that our customers feel as good about buying our swimwear as they do wearing it,” said Jenni Burt, head of Figleaves. “We believe helping the environment should be the standard.”
The French lingerie company, parent to six brands — Chantelle, Passionata, Femilet, Darjeeling, Livera and Chantal Thomass — has set some lofty goals for itself in terms of sustainability. Like using only energy-efficient LED lights in its French headquarters and stores and 100 percent organic cotton and recyclable packaging by 2021. The same year, the company is aiming for a “zero-destruction” rate of unsold products. By 2025, select stores and facilities will have PV solar panels. Groupe Chantelle is also hoping to reduce energy consumption by 40 percent at all production sites by 2030.
In addition, at present, the lingerie maker recycles unused raw materials and has donated roughly unsold bras to charity.
“Sustainability is important to Chantelle because we’re a family business that has always cared about the next generation,” said Guillaume Kretz, deputy general manager of Group Chantelle. “Given the accelerating challenges facing our climate today, we have made sustainability concerns central to all our activities.”
The Swedish retailer has set a goal to use only recycled cotton or cotton sourced “in a sustainable way,” by the end of 2020, according to a company representative. A decade from now the company is targeting the same for all of its materials. In addition, H&M uses only recycled or sustainable materials, such as recycled polyamide, for its women’s underwear collection and is aiming to do the same for its socks and tights collections in the future.
“But it’s not just about materials,” said the company rep. “Innovation within sustainability is important at H&M and we are, for example, working hard on finding sustainable solutions for all the small parts that make up a bra.”
HanesBrands, parent company to brands such as Bali, Maidenform, L’eggs, Playtex, Hanes and Champion, has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star partner of the year and Sustained Excellence Award for the last 10 years.
In 2007, the company implemented an energy management program, helping the company achieve a 34 percent reduction in carbon emissions across its supply chain.
Recently, the company has developed the ability to convert wastewater sludge to energy, has installed LED lights in some of its facilities and uses recyclable packaging for all HanesBrands’ intimates apparel.
Now the firm is working on incorporating sustainable fibers in its intimate apparel collections. In June, Hanes is launching the “NaturalLift Bra” at Walmart. The bra will be made from Tencel Modal EcoSoft fibers, another name for Lyocell, or a sustainably sourced wood pulp from trees.
While sustainability has become a buzzword in the last year or two, Hanky Panky has been reusing materials for more than four decades. Cofounder Gale Epstein used repurposed handkerchiefs to make her first collection back in 1977.
Now, the innerwear brand is introducing entire sustainable collections that include fabrics and trims with recycled synthetic fibers. Some examples include the “Eco Crochet” collection, made from recycled Q-Nova, or waste materials. Or, collections made with Tencel, Repreve or sustainably sourced Supima cotton.
“But also, as a company in general, we’re trying to encourage our employees to act more sustainably,” said Camille Milot, senior account executive at Hanky Panky.
That includes encouraging reusable water bottles in the New York office, using recyclable paper for its packaging and shipping materials and manufacturing locally to cut down on emissions. Hanky Panky also created the Earth Club this year, an internal committee dedicated to overseeing research and development in the area of sustainability.
Two years ago, the intimates business launched the Lingeriecycle initiative, a partnership with B.R.A., or Bra Recycling Agency. The program allows consumers to return used bras and underwear, which are shredded and turned into carpet padding. Metal pieces are separated and recycled.
Hanro, the men’s basics and women’s intimates brand, which has roots in Switzerland, uses sustainable fabrics, such as Lyocell, or sustainably sourced wood pulp. Other sustainable practices include water conservation, the use of recycled plastic buttons, recyclable cardboard boxes and omitting harsh chemicals and dyes in its fabrics. (The brand is also Oeko-Tex-certified.)
“Sustainability is at the forefront of our brand identity,” said Jan Snodgrass, president of Hanro USA Inc. “We recognize the impact the fashion industry has on our environment and challenge ourselves to locally source in Europe,” he added.
That’s why the luxury brand works with E.U. regulators to ensure all products are ethically made and supports a variety of philanthropic and environmental causes.
“Consumers might not come into stores saying, ‘I only want sustainable products,’” said Ila Wood, vice president of wholesale at Hanro USA. “But they appreciate that we have it and it does help make a buying decision.”
Last year, the direct-to-consumer lingerie brand teamed with apparel brand For Days, which creates zero waste clothing, to launch a recycling program that allows shoppers to donate their no-longer-needed unmentionables. As of February, the program had received more than 200,000 used bras, according to Jenna Kerner, cofounder and co-chief executive officer of Harper Wilde.
“Our guiding light has always been to put something into the world that helps empower the current and future generations of women,” Kerner said. “If we’re talking about the future, we can’t do so without talking about the importance of leading lady number one, Mother Earth.”
Harper Wilde has also partnered with several Los Angeles-based designers, setting up recycling bins in the designers’ offices to encourage employees to recycle bras no longer in rotation. In addition, the brand uses recyclable paper packaging to ship orders instead of plastic bags.
The New York-based start-up makes its undies with organic cotton, certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, and is Oeko-Tex-certified. Products are packaged in cardboard boxes made from post-consumer recycled waste, sealed with biodegradable adhesive tape.
While the brand currently only offers underwear (although there are plans to introduce bras later this year), Knickey partnered with a local nonprofit to launch a program to recycle all used innerwear in November 2018. To date, the business recycles thousands of old underwear, bras, socks and hosiery each quarter, turning them into lint pulp for construction insulation and carpet backing, according to Knickey cofounder and chief executive officer Cayla O’Connell.
“We take great care to ensure that every component of our supply chain and business upholds our core tenets of sustainability and better business practices,” O’Connell said.
The Brooklyn-based lingerie start-up, which was founded by designer Shiara Robinson in 2017, knew it was the little things that matter when it comes to sustainability. The brand sells bralettes, thongs and slips, packaged in reusable organza bags and mailed out in recyclable Tyvek envelopes with hang tags attached by way of string and safety pins.
For the last two years, the Colombian-based intimates brand has been making swimsuits — more than 10,000 pieces — out of fishing nets found in the ocean. Later this year, Leonisa, which also makes lingerie, shapewear and sleepwear, is going one step further, with a new activewear collection made out of recycled plastic bottles. In addition, the company’s factories and distribution centers are powered by solar panels and LED lights, and Leonisa reuses or sells all leftover fabric scraps.
This May, the men’s basic brand is launching the Stealth Underwear collection, made from recycled yarns and fabrics, like Q-Nova, or recycled nylon. The new collection even includes elastic waistbands made from 80 percent recycled products. All products come wrapped in biodegradable paper bags — sans plastic.
“For our new Stealth Underwear line, we had two goals: to redefine ‘second skin’ comfort and utilize the latest in sustainable technology,” said Matthew Congdon, creative director and vice president of design at Mack Weldon.
Monique Morin, a La Senza alum, created her nameplate lingerie brand last year. Her focus was on using plant-based fabrics, like modal, which the designer said uses only a fraction of the water needed to produce cotton garments. The collection is also biodegradable and comes packaged in recyclable mailers. Morin is now trying to incorporate recycled elastics in the pieces.
“We have a ‘buy-just-what-you-need approach’ to avoid creating waste,” Morin said.
The New York-based ready-to-wear brand, which includes a selection of intimates, uses only raw material suppliers that are Oeko-Tex Standard 100-certified, or suppliers that do not use textiles with harmful chemicals. In addition, Natori’s new cotton lounge and daywear collection uses 100 percent organic Pima cotton and ecofriendly dyes. The fabric is certified under the global organic textile standard, which verifies that it complies with organic farming practices, testing for pesticides and GMO residues.
A few years ago, the lingerie and swimwear brand for petite girls with larger bust sizes, made the decision to stop using single-use hangers for its products, a move that has helped reduce waste. This year, Panache will no longer use tissue balls in swimwear and sportswear packages, helping further cut down on waste. In addition, the brand only works with factories that are accredited with WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production), or BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), is Oeko-Tex-certified, has switched to LED lights at the company’s headquarters, and encourages employees to recycle in its offices.
The underwear company offers products made from 85 percent polyamide, or recycled plastics, uses compostable packaging and is Oeko-Tex-certified. “We believe the fun choice should always be the right choice,” said Parade founder Cami Tellez. “For too long, underwear companies have ignored their responsibility to the planet.”
The British-based intimates company, which includes the Playful Promises and Wolf & Whistle brands, offers select swimwear and activewear pieces made from sustainable fabrics like Repreve fabrics, the recycled plastic bottle material. The company is also in the process of transitioning to sustainable packaging, offers tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle on its web site and works with Charity One Tree Planted, planting a tree each time an order is made.
The apparel company, which houses intimates brands Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Warner’s, Olga and lingerie start-up True&Co. under the greater company umbrella, has set a goal to use only renewable energy in all company warehouses and stores and throughout the entire PVH supply chain by 2030. The company is also aiming to package products more sustainably, instead of using single-use plastics, in offices, stores and warehouses within the next 10 years.
Tights brand Rachel launched the Eco Collection in the fall of 2019, using 99 percent recyclable materials, like Q-Nova, or nylon made from waste materials. The brand also sells hair elastics made from damaged and used tights and plans to release even more eco-friendly tights collections later this year. In addition, the hosiery business is Oeko-Tex-certified.
The Los Angeles-based apparel company is known for its sustainable fashion. That includes a selection of bras, underwear and sleepwear made with things like recycled lace, mesh and Tencel. Reformation has also previously partnered with Cosabella to create an intimates collection with fabrics and trims that are Oeko-Tex-certified and made from 50 percent recycled materials.
But, “all of Reformation’s collections are made with sustainability at their core,” said a representative for the brand. In fact, the entire business, which includes ready-to-wear apparel and footwear, is working to reduce its footprint. Reformation has been carbon and water neutral since 2015. Last year the company partnered with Arcadia Power to support wind energy projects and helped recycle more than 484,000 garments.
And, on each product page, consumers can see sustainability information, such as how much carbon dioxide, water and waste was saved while producing each piece.
The direct-to-consumer sports bra brand, which boasts double the support of other performance bras, skips the plastic packaging. Instead, products come delivered in recycled laundry bags inside of a biodegradable paper envelope. Hang tags have also been narrowed down to just one, fastened by a SheFit hair tie made from recycled elastic.
SheFit, which also sells leggings and has plans to move into swimwear, uses water-conserving dyes, organic cotton and recycled materials, such as nylon and P.E.T. fabrics, or polyester made from plastic bottles. And, the Michigan-based company’s offices are LED-equipped.
“Sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint has become a huge priority for us in the past couple of years,” said SheFit founder Sara Moylan.
Soma, the Fort Myers, Fla.-based intimates brand owned by Chico’s FAS, has two collections — the Embraceable and Stunning Support — that are made in a “low environmental footprint” LEED Platinum-certified manufacturing facility, according to a company representative. Broken down, that means the facility is “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” approved, the highest level in design sustainability.
The retailer, which also includes direct-to-consumer lingerie brand TellTale, has had bra donation and recycling programs in place since 2010. More than 2 million bras have been reused or repurposed through the program.
Stripe & Stare
The British intimates brand may make its knickers and bed vests (tank tops) from beechwood trees, but it’s still got some of the softest undergarments on this side of the pond. Stripe & Stare founder and creative director Katie Lopes added that beechwood conserves roughly 95 percent of the water that’s needed for cotton products and takes only about three years to decompose. Cotton, by comparison, may take decades to decompose in a landfill. And, Stripe & Stare products come packaged in boxes made of recycled paper.
Vintage glam swimwear brand Tabacaru is trying to keep the ocean as beautiful as its bathing suits. Pieces are made from regenerated fabrics, such as Econyl, or nylon yarn made from industrial waste. (Think discarded fishing nets, carpet fluff and tulle, the fabric most often found in wedding veils.)
The Los Angeles-based start-up also skips on the plastic, instead opting to package products in recycled satin pouches inside of pretty cardboard boxes that are also biodegradable. E-commerce orders are delivered in paper envelopes.
Founder Stefana Tabacaru said next year’s collection will go a step further, with paper-hygienic liners. Plastic-hygienic liners, she said, can take up to 100 years to decompose.
“We’re very committed to keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible, simply because it’s important,” Tabacaru said. “To me, it seems like a no-brainer.”
Feminine meets chic in Underbares, the Washington, D.C.-based start-up known for its nipple-baring bralettes. Genevieve Gralton founded the brand in 2018 with just one “everyday” wireless bra. Since then she’s expanded into briefs and sports bras — and is now testing the waters with sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton and upcycled materials.
“We’re being really thoughtful about the product that we offer,” Gralton said. “We’re not just putting products out into the world to just crank out products that might sit and not sell and then go on sale. We really want to be mindful of the gap in somebody’s top drawer.”
Items are delivered in biodegradable bags with recycled tissue paper.
The lingerie giant may be down, but it’s not out. In fact, it’s making moves in the area of sustainability. Even before banishing plastic bags was a trend, both Victoria’s Secret and sister brand Pink were handing out paper shopping bags. Now, Pink has gone one step further, removing tissue paper from shopping bags and using recycled paper.
In addition, the business has set a goal of 50 percent of its cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative by the end of 2021 and is taking strides to eliminate harmful toxins from the manufacturing process for cleaner water in the supply chain.
Wacoal is moving into the sun with solar-powered rooftops at the company’s New Jersey headquarters and distribution center. Mitch Kauffman, president of Wacoal America, said this reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 935 tons per year.
“At Wacoal, we’re committed to holistic efforts to improve our sustainability as a company,” Kauffman said. “We feel strongly as a company that sustainability is not confined to our production methods or manufacturing processes.”
The intimates brand, which acquired lingerie start-up Lively last year, is also Oeko-Tex-certified, uses recyclable packaging and donated more than $1 million worth of new bras to women in need through the “Buy a Bra, Give a Bra” initiative.
The big-box retailer is stepping up its efforts to “work with suppliers to enhance sustainability across our textiles supply chain for both home and apparel, including intimates,” said Berch Schultz, divisional merchandise manager for ladies intimate apparel for Walmart.
“We’re working to deliver products that are not only affordable, but that are also produced in a way that advances sustainability.
Using research from The Sustainable Consortium, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the sustainability of consumer products, Walmart has begun working on sourcing sustainable fibers in its manufacturing supply chain. The company has set a goal of 50 percent recycled polyester and 100 percent sustainable cotton for private brand textiles by 2025. Walmart is also working to reduce “discharge of priority chemicals,” or toxic chemicals, from textile manufacturing by 2025.
Read more from WWD:
WATCH: Can Fashion Influencers Be Sustainable?