While I’m a big advocate of shopping secondhand before shopping from sustainable brands, underwear is one thing that I would recommend buying new. I’ve tested a few brands and researched some others over the last couple months, and I’ll be going over them in this post.
Here’s the YouTube video version of this post, with a closer look at some of the pieces!
How Often Should You Replace Underwear?
You don’t need to replace your underwear if it’s not broken! I saw a TikTok a few weeks ago that said we need to replace underwear every 6-12 months, and that’s such a marketing myth. There are some studies that say we should replace our undies often, but these studies are often funded by clothing companies. Of course they want us to get rid of our old underwear—we’ll just buy more if we do that.
Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU, says that there’s no “end period” to our underwear, except when it’s “mechanically dysfunctional.” Yes, there is bacteria and poop even in washed underwear, but it’s generally not cause for major conscern. It’s a very small amount and we’re constantly surrounded by bacteria anyways. (But please do wash your underwear after each use).
If your old underwear has holes or is sagging though, then it may be time to replace them. Here are some ethical and sustainable options to consider, if they’re accessible to you (they can be quite expensive). Remember that you don’t have to buy from these brands to participate in sustainable fashion. What’s even more important is reducing consumption and taking care of your clothes.
8 Ethical and Sustainable Underwear Brands
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Overview: Organic cotton, Fair Trade, Oeko-Tex certified, closed-loop
Size range: XXS-XL (up to 4XL in the mid-rise brief, and more styles coming this summer)
Pricing: $13 (use code IMPERFECTIDEALIST for 10% off)
Knickey has a lot of great things going for it. For one, the company is extremely transparent; they trace all of their supply chain, which often doesn’t happen, even with more sustainable brands. Their factory is Fair Trade certified, we know it’s safe and regulated, and that workers are paid a living wage.
The underwear is made from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The fabric is also Oeko-Tex certified, meaning that it’s free from harmful chemicals.
Knickey offers 5 different styles, from a low-rise thong to a high-rise brief. If you’re not sure which one you’ll like, they have a starter pack of all the styles, which is slightly cheaper than buying the styles individually. As of June 2021, they also came out with bralettes.
One of Knickey’s coolest initiatives is its recycling program, where you can mail in any old underwear to be turned into insulation or mattress batting. You even get a free pair of new Knickey underwear on your next order 🙂 I feel like it’s a lot easier to upcycle or repurpose other clothing, but I have a harder time upcycling old undies, so I’m glad a program like this exists.
My experience: I tried the high-rise brief and the mid-rise hipster. The underwear is extremely soft and lightweight, and I felt that it was true to size. I do wish that they had a thicker waistband though—I prefer to have undies that kind of hold you in. If you don’t want to notice your underwear as much though, these are for you. Knickey undies feel quite similar to some of my old Aerie underwear, so if you like Aerie, I’d recommend these.
Update: the waistband of my mid-rise hipster started coming off after a few months. It’s easily mended, but I was disappointed that it already started showing wear like that.
Shop Knickey here (use code IMPERFECTIDEALIST for 10% off).
Overview: Organic cotton, Fair Trade, more affordable
Size range: XS-XXL
Price range: $14-25
Pact is one of the more affordable sustainable brands out there. It offers clothing and underwear made from GOTS-certified organic cotton in Fair Trade factories. You can choose from a wide selection of bras, briefs, and boxers, and they even have some lacey options, which aren’t as common for sustainable brands. To save the most money, try their 6-packs, which come out to $10 per pair.
My experience: I didn’t try these personally.
Overview: Closed-loop bamboo viscose, Oeko-Tex certfied, WRAP-certified
Size range: XS-XL (2XL-4XL coming March 2021!)
Boody is an Australian brand offering sustainable underwear, loungewear, and activewear (if you’re not from Australia and worried about carbon emissions from shipping, Boody does ship from other countries; my undies came from Georgia in the US). Of all the brands here, Boody is probably the most accessible in-store in the US, as they’re stocked in some local gyms, pharmacies, and grocery stores.
Their underwear comes in several styles (briefs, boxers, bras) and is made from bamboo viscose. Bamboo viscose actually isn’t always a sustainable fabric, as the process of turning bamboo into thread often involves toxic chemicals. Luckily, Boody uses non-toxic solvents and recycles their water in the production process. Their products are also Oeko-Tex certified, so they’re free from toxic chemicals.
Boody’s factories are WRAP-Certified, so their products are manufactured responsibly. WRAP has 12 principles to ensure workers’ rights, factory safety, and environmental practices. Boody could take it an extra step though and become Fair Trade certified to ensure its workers are paid a living wage, rather than just the legal minimum wage.
My experience: Out of the three brands I tried, Boody was actually my favorite. I got the full brief, which was true to size. The material was soft, but still felt very sturdy because of the thicker waistband. I really like these and would buy more from Boody in the future to replace old underwear.
Overview: Recycled water bottles, SA8000 certified factories, closed-loop
Size range: XS-6XL
Girlfriend is probably best known for its workout sets in gorgeous colors, but they also make seamless underwear! The underwear is made from post-consumer recycled bottles (rPET) in an SA8000 factory. This certification ensures fair wages, safe conditions, and no forced or child labor.
Recycled plastic bottles aren’t the absolute most sustainable material, as they release microplastics, and rPET clothing can’t be recycled indefinitely, unlike plastic bottles. But that being said, there still aren’t tons of good alternatives to synthetics for activewear, and it’s better for the polyester to be recycled than new. You can also get special filters for your synthetic clothing to prevent microplastic pollution.
For underwear, there are better materials than recycled synthetics, but Girlfriend is also one of the most size-inclusive sustainable brands out there, going up to 6XL. That’s why I include them in this list, as there are a lot of different factors to weigh.
Girlfriend is also committed to diversity. They’re an Asian-owned company, and they’ve always hired models of different ethnicities and sizes. They also released their corporate diversity statistics.
My experience: I didn’t try these personally. I have heard that some people don’t like how thin the gusset is.
Overview: B Corp, natural and recycled materials, carbon-neutral shipping
Size range: XS-XL
Pricing: $39-70 (2-pack undies), bras $40+ (use code LILYOBX for 10% off)
Organic Basics is a European loungewear brand offering briefs, bras, and boxers. Their pieces are made of mainly GOTS-certified cotton, but they also use certified recycled materials and TENCEL Lyocell (a sustainable material derived from responsible wood pulp). Their fabric is Oeko-Tex certified and the company is a member of 1% for the Planet.
Organic Basics traces most of their supply chain and works with factories that have environmental and ethical certifications. You can learn about each factory, its certifications, and worker benefits on their website. They ensure a living wage in some of their supply chain, and I’d like to see this eventually be all of it.
The products ship plastic-free (except for some tape), and they offer carbon-neutral shipping worldwide from Europe. International shipments do take a bit longer, and I had to wait around a month to receive my order. I didn’t mind, but it’s something to know.
My experience: I got the TENCEL Starter Pack with the Lite Bralette and Lite Briefs. I’m usually not a huge fan of normal bras, but this bra was comfortable and I didn’t notice it that much when I was wearing it. The underwear is super silky and breathable, though it does give me a bit of wedgie sometimes. I think it’s because the material is just really silky, and I bet that the organic cotton pieces would be sturdier and more wedgie-free haha. I felt that both pieces were true to size.
Shop Organic Basics here (use code LILYOBX for 10% off).
Overview: Organic cotton and hemp, Oeko-Tex certified
Size range: XS-2XL in briefs and bralettes, XS-3XL in boxers (3XL-4XL coming in summer 2021!)
Pricing: $20-38 (cheaper in packs)
WAMA’s specialty is hemp and organic cotton underwear in classic styles and colors. It won’t be hard to make a decision as most styles come in black or green and sometimes yellow.
Hemp is an up-and-coming sustainable material that’s naturally anti-bacterial. Paired with organic cotton, you get a comfy and breathable fabric that’s perfect for undies, and is vegan.
WAMA is committed to labor ethics as well. They have a supplier code of conduct and place a team member in each factory in China to monitor their conditions. I would, however, like to see gurantee of living wage instead of just the legal minimum wage.
My experience: I tried the bikini and gave a pair of boyshorts to my mom and boxers to a friend (I already had too much underwear for myself haha). I was told that WAMA runs a bit small, but I selected my typical size (small) anyways and sized up for my friend’s boxers. I found that the bikini fit fine, though it did feel a bit snug, but the medium would’ve been too large (the boyshorts I gave my mom were a medium). My friend found the boxers to be a bit snug even when sizing up. I would definitely recommend going up 1-2 sizes on the boxers and maybe 1 size up on the briefs, unless you like snugger undies.
Sizing aside, I liked how the undies felt very sturdy. The fabric wasn’t too buttery but still comfortable, and the waistband felt secure. I wished that the bikini had a bit more coverage, but that’s just the virtue of the style. I think the high-waisted undies or boyshorts are a better choice if you want coverage.
Photos used with permission of Allbirds
Overview: B Corp, carbon-neutral, natural materials
Size range: XS-3XL (briefs), XS-XL (bralette), S-XL (boxers)
Allbirds is a certified B Corp that’s primarily a sustainable sneaker company, but they recently expanded into underwear and other clothing. For underwear, they offer boxers, different types of briefs, and a bralette.
Their undies made from TENCEL Lyocell, a sustainable material derived from responsible wood pulp, and ZQ Merino wool. ZQ ensures that the sheep are treated humanely and allowed to live as natural lives as possible. While the wool is certified responsible, this does make their products non-vegan, so I’d love to see Allbirds find a non-animal alternative that’s equally sustainable.
The underwear is carbon-neutral, and Allbirds also ships directly in a 90% post-consumer recycled box.
While Allbirds has many highly-sustainable practices, they aren’t as transparent about their labor. They do trace most of their supply chain, require suppliers to follow their Code of Conduct, and participate in third-party social assessments, but it’s unclear whether their workers are paid a living wage vs. just the legal minimum wage. I would like to see them make a greater commitment to labor standards.
My experience: I didn’t try these personally.
Overview: Recycled materials (certified by the Global Recycled Standard), Oeko-Tex certified, colorful styles
Size range: XS-3XL
Edit: Since posting, I have been told that Parade has not been great about paying microinfluencers and their undies have caused several people yeast infections. Please proceed with caution.
Parade is the Instagram baddie’s underwear brand—quite literally. They gifted products to lots of Instagrammers, and with their endorsement, Parade has become a trendy company.
Their undies are made from certified recycled synthetics and come in fun colors and patterns. I appreciate how they feature diverse models whose bodies feel very real, as you’ll see stretch marks and a variety of butt shapes (including my butt shape, which is effectively no butt haha). Their Universal line is carbon-neutral, thanks to offsets made by investing in native prairie land in Colorado.
The underwear ships in home-compostable packaging, and Parade donates 1% of each purchase to Planned Parenthood.
I would like to see Parade offer more transparency in their labor practices, however. They do audit their factories through a third-party, which has a code of conduct, but it’s unclear whether they pay a living wage vs. just the minimum wage.
My experience: I didn’t try these personally.
Those are all the brands I wanted to go over, but please let me know in the comments if there’s another one you love that I missed. If you’ve tried the brands in this post, I’d also love to hear your thoughts, especially if it’s one that I didn’t try personally.
If you’re looking for more sustainable brands (that aren’t underwear), check out my ethical brand directory.
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