New eco-conscious underwear label Underplants – responsibly manufactured in China using low-impact fabrics made from beechwood fibres sourced from sustainably-managed forests in Austria and Czech Republic – is pledging to ‘bring back the bush’ by planting a tree in Australia for every purchase made following the destruction caused by the devastating 2019/2020 Australian bushfires.
The luxuriously soft Underplants range features bralette, g-string and high-waisted brief that are designed to flatter and comfort every curve and boost confidence. Body positivity and acceptance is at the top of the agenda for Underplants, encouraging people of all backgrounds to love their natural bodies whilst choosing underwear that reduces environmental footprint.
Following the brand’s official launch on World Environment Day, we interviewed its co-founders Marnie Boraso and Dominique Pooley to gain insights into what influenced their sustainability thinking, how Underplants differs from existing eco-friendly underwear brands and the steps they took to bring their idea to fruition.
EWP: What makes Underplants different to other eco-friendly underwear brands already in the marketplace?
Marnie and Dominique: Our biggest objective in starting Underplants was to tackle the environmental issues surrounding the intimates industry, not limited to the product itself. I think what sets us apart from other underwear brands is that the environmental issues are what we have built the whole brand around and we intend to have a bigger impact than just labelling a product “sustainable”.
We understand that unless you are producing your underwear at home or not wearing any at all, you’re by nature not going to be 100% sustainable. We have tried to consider every aspect of our business and its impacts on the environment, as well as those who craft our products – so aside from planting a tree in Australia with every purchase we also have researched the best practices for underwear manufacturing that have the least impact on the environment and protect the workers who cut, sew, and make our products.
Our garment factories hold a Gold Certificate of Compliance from the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) which has twelve principles that cover compliance with local laws, prohibition of forced labor/child labor/harassment/abuse/discrimination, compensation and benefits, security, health and safety, hours of work, freedom of association and collective bargaining, environment, customs compliance and security.
We don’t use dyes that don’t harm people or the environment and work with factories that have certifiable ethical and environmental practices. Our dying mill is a member of the Ecological and Toxicological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers (ETAD).
We use minimal and 100% compostable packaging: 100% home-compostable mailer bags from HeroPack, 100% home-compostable packaging from The Packaging People (Earth Bags) and 100% compostable tape and stickers from Noissue.
We think about how our shipping and freight impacts the environment and don’t ship our initial freight by air. Our shipping to customers in Australia is carbon-neutral and all other shipping and freight should be offset by our tree planting activities.
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Whilst we want to create products that do the least harm to the environment and implement other environmentally positive initiatives (like our tree planting program) – we are also aiming to be a bit less product-focused and create a resource for our community on how they can live more sustainable lives and what they need to think about before deciding to purchase and consume products.
EWP: How do you recommend customers deal with the items at the end of its lifecycle?
M & D: A quick Google search to find your nearest textiles recycle plant to drop off your products at the end of their life!
Although our products are 95% biodegradable, they aren’t currently able to be composted. We are searching far and wide for a solution that solves this problem, but have not yet found one that exists.
This is an important area of research for us, and we are looking for other interesting ways to help our customers repurpose our products (and other products) at the end of their lifecycle.
EWP: Why did you choose Tencel and MicroModal fabrics over natural fibres such as organic cotton?
M & D: After over a year of research, we landed on Tencel products from Lenzing. This was due to their transparency and sustainability principles first and foremost. Of everyone in the industry, we could not find another company that was more dedicated to sustainable fibre production practices and had research and supporting accreditations to back this up. Organic cotton can be okay, depending on where it is sourced from, but a lot of organic cotton is not sourced from high-rainfall areas and as such requires artificial irrigation which can not only contribute to unsustainable water usage – but also has an impact on other environmental issues around where the water is sourced from. Aside from this, even organic cotton is the result of land clearing for monocrops, which goes against the aim of Underplants to plant more trees than we use in the production of underwear – not less. Working with Lenzing gives us the peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to not harm the environment, reduce our carbon footprint and reduce water usage (and other impacts of artificial irrigation).
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EWP: Tell us about the process from idea to market.
M & D: The aha moment came from us shopping in opportunity and vintage stores and thinking about reducing our individual impacts on the environment by changing our consumption habits. We thought a product that wasn’t being recycled or upcycled through repurposing, hand-me-downs, swaps, and vintage purchasing would be an area where we could make the biggest change and have the largest impact on the environment. It took our team about three years to complete the required research on our product and packaging, design and develop our product itself, and create something that we thought would deliver real value to customers.
The most time-consuming aspect of this was finding a fabric that was as environmentally friendly as possible, acknowledging that anything you take from the environment itself and create into a product is not 100% sustainable. Once we chose to work with Lenzing fibres, the difficulty became designing the product. Lenzing fabrics are not widely available in Australia and designing high-quality underwear is quite technical due to the nature of stretch fabrics. Working out how to communicate our values around the environment, body positivity, and ethical business practices is also something that we didn’t want to do half-assed – so we delayed our launch until such a time as we thought we had hit the nail on the head with that messaging.
Unfortunately throughout COVID-19, we have not been able to visit our factory. Having said this, we have partnered up with a local Australian agent who works in the sustainable manufacturing space and who has visited and worked with our factory for a number of years to give us peace of mind during this period. It is our intention to tour our factories in the future ourselves.
EWP: What books and documentaries influenced your sustainability thinking?
M & D: Whilst we have found some books, documentaries, and podcasts thought-provoking and understand the importance of providing information about environmental issues in an interesting way to the masses – they haven’t contributed too much to what our thinking is on sustainability issues for the Underplants brand.
Having said this – the War on Waste has provided interesting views on wastage issues around packaging and textiles and we appreciate that the viewership of A Life on Our Planet can potentially have a really positive impact on people’s attitudes towards climate change and environmental issues.
Most of our thinking in these areas as a business has come from scientific journals, reports from fibre producers, independent research reports and research into the fashion industry and what competitors (and complementary products) are doing right and wrong. We also have a strong network in the retail fashion industry and have gained a lot of insight from people we talk to. We engage in a lot of discussion with people passionate about the environment and sustainability – but always try and back it up with our own research (ideally substantiated by science or certified by independent organisations) to make decisions for the Underplants brand.
We have also found a whole bunch of information through resources like the United Nations, Center for Biological Diversity, Landcare Australia, WHO, One Tree Planted (our tree planting partner), Good On You, Textile Exchange, Moving Towards a Circular Fashion Economy (MOTIF) and many, many more.
More personally though, we have been listening to a couple of podcasts that have definitely had an impact on our thoughts around sustainability. Although not specifically focused on fashion nor environmental issues, the 99% Invisible podcast has some really interesting and thought-provoking content on design issues that are directly related to the environment. This episode on where people’s ‘recycling’ in the US actually ends up is incredibly fascinating. As was this episode on creating a more sustainable toilet system.
How to Save a Planet is another one we have been listening to, as massive fans of Heavyweight (another podcast by Gimlet Media), we came across this one mid last year and have found it really interesting and informative.
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All images supplied.