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 Internationalist. Who 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
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.