Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Socks and jocks

Underwear is a popular Christmas stocking filler in Australia so I thought I'd take this opportunity to post about ethical underwear choices (socks, jocks, bras and tights). Underwear is one item I don't want to buy "vintage" and am not willing to forgo completely.

This cheeky (sorry, pun) "More Than Pretty Knickers" video briefly (oops, another pun) points out some of the environmental and human costs of the production of underwear.

There is further explanation here of the facts quoted in the video. I'm not alone in the struggle to find ethically made underwear - I discovered great posts on the topic by Adventures Undressed and Life of a Vegetarian Girl (each with a list of links).

With my non-existent sewing skills, I'm unlikely to make any underwear that's wearable and does its job without bulging (and not in a good way). I discovered a website for a bespoke bra-maker in Brisbane (Linda's Lingerie) - I wonder if I could find the same in Perth? I have heard that making bras, particularly those with under-wires, is a specialised and difficult skill. If you are more sartorially savvy than me, here are instructions for making underpants from old t-shirts.

I am trying to extend the lifespan of my delicates by handwashing and mending where possible - and I reuse my holey (cleaned!) undies as rags for cleaning the bathroom. But what to do when my current batch of smalls has had its day? Finding ethically made underwear is far more difficult than finding ethically made clothes. Bras (especially with under-wires) are more difficult than undies and socks.

There are a number of producers making socks and jocks (and singlets and sleepwear) from fabrics with a lighter (but not invisible) ecological footprint than traditional cotton and nylon, such as organic cotton and bamboo. Some are fair trade. You can find them easily by searching for "ethical underwear Australia". Wool socks keep feet warm wet or dry, require less frequent washing and will biodegrade if you bury them in the garden once you're done with them. My friend works for NZ merino brand Icebreaker and vouches for their ethical standards (and his wife loves Icebreaker undies!), although I've not tried them myself.

Pants to Poverty (their name is a pun - my kind of brand) is a British pants company that, according to their website, source their organic cotton directly from farmers in India and produce in a carbon neutral factory that pays living wages to its Indian garment workers. There are a few online stockists in Australia including Etiko and The New InternationalistWho Made Your Pants? is an English worker cooperative (mainly of refugee women) making underpants from fabric that would otherwise end up in waste. I was really captured by their business model (after discovering them through Twitter).

I've struggled to find Australian-made underwear since Bonds sent their production offshore. Brisbane-based Nico Underwear produces (ethically, in Australia) pretty women's underwear that's available in a few stores in Brisbane and online. I won some of their underwear once and while it's gorgeous, it far too big for me because I chose the sizes based on my (obviously poorly self-measured) measurements. Still they're worth another try, especially if you're in Brisbane and can try them in person. With a bit of online searching, I just found Tuffys & Tuffetts, another Australian-made underwear producer (including bras with under-wires!). However, they don't seem to have any bricks and mortar stockists so I'm left with the same concern about ill-fitting bras and VPLs.

For seriously sexy, Melbourne-made lingerie, Hopeless looks like the way to go. They have a gorgeous blog and are the most only appealing of the Aussie underwear producers I found via an etsy search.

As I sit here sweating on the couch on a 39 Celcius Christmas day, it's hard to think about wearing tights. However, I thought I'd end by mentioning Tightology. Their lovely hosiery is Australian-made, from "organic cotton, bamboo and wool blend using 100% recycled paper packaging and environmental inks for printing." They have many stockists, including several in Perth!

I would love to hear others' suggestions for ethical underwear choices. Does anyone know of a store in Perth selling Australian-made underwear? Does anyone know of a bespoke bra-maker in Perth? If you do, please be generous and share the details - it's Christmas after all.


  1. My friend's mother hand-sews her underwear from recycled materials... mostly old t-shirts and happy pants I believe. She made me some when I was a teen and... well, let's just say that they were more 'functional' than aesthetically pleasing! Apologetically, I have no further info in regards to bespoke bra-makers. I'm definitely going to utilize some of your research for my next smalls purchase though, thanks E! xx

    1. Happy pants! I remember those. I don't think I'd want to wear them as undies. If I could sew, I'd try the recycled t-shirt pattern.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Awesome article and thank you so much for including Hopeless!

    When I started my little business 4 years ago the dream has always been to produce underwire bras here in Australia, and it most definitely still is. As you mentioned though the expertise is hard to come by, as is the machinery and components, and not to mention very costly.

    I will get there eventually - but in the meantime ethical and environmentally friendly knickers and sleepwear are my focus and passion. Thanks again!

    Gaby xo

    1. Dear Gaby, thanks for the comment and for producing beautiful, ethically made knickers and sleepwear. I have a birthday coming up and will definitely hint to my loved ones about your store!

  3. hey!

    not australian made, and they don't do bras...but thunderpants are a fab kiwi company that make fun (NOT sexy) undies...and icebreaker are a very cool company with great stuff that lasts forever!


  4. I discovered another Melbourne-made brand, Light Years.

  5. Hi guys,
    Thanks so much for the mention of Nico Underwear. It's true that we do manufacture ethically in Australia and we were recently the first underwear brand to achieve accreditation with Ethical Clothing Australia. I'm sorry to hear that you received something that didn't fit - we are super aware that buying underwear online can be tricky which is why we offer a really flexible return and exchange policy. If your underwear hasn't been worn we'd be very happy to change sizes for you :). Feel free to get in touch: hello@nicounderwear.com
    Lis from Nico

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