Like many things that are “good for us” or, in this case, good for the planet, the concept of eco underwear calls to mind a degree of sobriety – pasty briefs and dowdy, shapeless bralettes. But if the ongoing vogue for upcycling has taught us anything, it’s that a conscious wardrobe doesn’t have to be without style.
Take El Bras, the London-based lingerie brand creating simple yet stylish made-to-order sets using vintage and deadstock fabrics. When El Domoney launched the brand four years ago, she was balancing the business with a career working for environmental organisations, which fed into her drive to create consciously crafted unmentionables. “People want to feel connected to the objects they own,” she says of the increased interest in her sustainably minded designs. “Small-batch underwear means you can own something that is unique, and you know who makes your clothes.”
Rest assured, as fellow underwear upcycler Anekdot explains, that using repurposed fabric isn’t the same as slipping into a pair of someone’s old pants; materials are sourced from production leftovers and offcuts. In Anekdot’s case, this includes scraps of fabric originally made for brands from the ’80s, while Brighton-based Ayten Gasson crafts its underwear from vintage lace and peace silk. “Every time a fabric runs out there’s an excitement in hunting down and handpicking the next,” adds Domoney.
Comfortable underwear has perhaps never felt so needed, with many brands and stores reporting spikes in revenue over the past year. But with demand comes textile waste – a figure that in 2017 stood at around 92m tonnes a year within the fashion industry, according to the Pulse Report. This is a point that former lingerie buyer Georgia Larsen, who launched Dora Larsen in 2016, is attempting to offset with her colourful, comfortable bras fashioned from recycled lace and organic, OEKO-TEX certified cotton. Any pieces left unsold are donated to the Scottish charity Smalls For All.
Working on a smaller scale allows designers to control excess. This is the logic behind Jo Rossell’s eponymous brand, which utilises reputable mills, family-run factories and certified fabrics. Rossell’s collection was born out of a desire for “a non-wired bra that still gave support, looked chic and was made from natural fibres”. Her creations are all that you might hope for from a former designer at Margaret Howell and Calvin Klein: smart, simple and quietly sexy. Sounds like eco underwear finally got its upgrade.