I’m back with part three of my zero waste series! It’s been a busy few weeks, working eight or more hours nearly every day, and so I haven’t really had any time to write. But I figured I would give a little update on how I’ve been shopping ethically, on a budget. Shopping has always been a sort of status symbol for me- I shopped at Zara because the pieces were easy to access, affordable, and on trend- exactly why fast fashion exists. But then, a few months ago, I read this article, and my heart skipped a beat. Was I really endangering other human beings, other women, for the sake of a few cute tops or dresses? It scared me sober, and I vowed to never buy anything again from a company that didn’t have transparent production processes. So, I set about to do my research. Every time I needed something- underwear, a pair of shoes, etc- I looked for the most cost-effective and ethical way to obtain it. The principles of zero waste shopping look a little like this. First, look in your own closet to see if there’s anything that can substitute for what you need/want- and keep yourself in check. Do you really need that wrap top if you have a similar wrap dress? If it’s something you don’t already have, can you buy it secondhand, borrow it, trade/swap for it? Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads, and Ebay are all great places to look for big-brand clothing that isn’t technically new- thus avoiding supporting those big brands. If you want to stay as ethical as possible, look for ethical brands (more on that in a moment) at those same second-hand stores. Finally, as a last resort, when looking to buy something brand-new (for me, that means makeup, underwear, shoes- things I can’t really thrift or second-hand), look at how their production process is ethical (how they treat their workers, where their factories are sourced) and sustainable (what materials do they use, how much water is used in their production). If a company prides themselves on these factors, you should be able to read about it in their “about us” or “our mission” on their website. If there’s no information there, you can email their customer support, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
With all that being said, I will have to break ethical shopping down into different chunks, since it’s a complicated topic, and I have a lot to say.
Growing up, my mom always bought me Hanna Andersson cotton granny panties- which I hated at the time, but graduating to “grownup” underwear made me miss the soft practicality and organic cotton. I wore Victoria’s Secret underwear and bras, but the itchy polyester and poky underwires never sat right with my body, but I wore them because that’s what I felt I was supposed to wear. Check out Victoria’s Secret’s questionable production here. Once I made it to college, I experimented with several underwear brands- American Eagle (felt too childish and cutesy) plus their ethics are also questionable. Next, I tried Lively- a millennial-targeted underwear and bralette line. They seem generally like an OK company, but their production is still fairly vague. Temporary House-Wifey inquired about their production ethics, and this is the answer she got:
“Our supply chain is supported by a world class manufacturer that has been in the business for over 60 years! They are experts and engineers in this category of business, which is why we partner with them as it is important for us to have not only a well designed product, but one with amazing quality.
Our manufacturers have partnered with us to ensure that our LIVELY ethos holds true to the factories and workplace in which we produce. They built a factory dedicated to LIVELY that we have owned for 4 years; it is brand new, full of light and a beautiful place to work in southern China. We meet and exceed fair labor practices and wages. The staff of thirty is comprised of mostly women who have the finest workmanship and passion for their craft. We know that in order to make a great product, everyone involved in the LIVELY brand has to be happy in the work they do and we want them to be #livingLIVELY!”
Strangely vague and seemingly overly cheery- as Temporary House-Wifey pointed out, these women are passionate about sewing thousands of pairs of underwear? Next.
Next up came Madewell, a brand I’ve loved for years. Similar to its sister company J.Crew, but more relaxed, tomboy, lived-in. (Read about Madewell and 19 other similar big brands’ productions here.) They released an underwear line in 2016, and I enthusiastically scooped up a good dozen pairs of their panties, and a few bralettes. But for what? The bralettes’ straps got tangled, the panties pilled after just a few washes on delicate. The comfort was, at its best, OK. I tried Urban Outfitter’s bralettes (a fail, nip slips abound). I tried Topshop’s bralettes- too scratchy. Free People’s bralettes were always a hit, but they make the list of 20 big brands to avoid. What was I going to do? I need new underwear on average once a year, and it’s not something I can buy second-hand. I have fairly sensitive skin, and I needed something cotton. I wear mainly high-waisted pants and skirts as I have a long waist, and so I needed high-waisted panties. I wanted to purchase from an ethical brand. Where was I going to find such a seemingly simple product, that didn’t feel like granny panties?
At the beginning of this year, I found PACT. A low-budget, minimalist company, they sell socks, underwear, sports bras, leggings, knit dresses, pajamas. I purchased a few pairs of socks, which are very comfortable- I got some thicker sport style socks and thin no-show pairs for flats and sneakers. Shop PACT here. (You can also buy some of their select items on Amazon- more on buying from Amazon later.)
Everlane (one of my favorite brands since 2016, before I even began this low-waste journey) released their first underwear collection this spring. I lusted after it for several months, but the S and M sizes of panties and bra were always sold out. Finally, last month, they came back in stock, and I ordered three high-waisted panties, one bikini brief, and one bra. The panties are an absolute LOVE. The high-waisted ones are of course my favorite, but the brief is good for leggings and other lower-cut pants. Soft 92% cotton, 8% elastane, made sustainably in Sri Lanka. At $12 a pair, it’s a bit spendier than I normally like- but they offer 3 pairs for $27. Not quite the 7 for $27 of my VS Pink days, but I’ll take it.
I also purchased the only bra they offer (also pictured above)- and I was a bit underwhelmed. I have a large ribcage, so I ordered a size medium- and it’s still fairly tight, reminiscent of a sports bra, and the straps slack on my short shoulders. It’s a decent t-shirt bra though, and I appreciate the $22 price point.
I wanted a good, everyday bralette, and I searched and searched the Internet for something sustainable, high quality, yet elegant. I stumbled upon Baserange, and though the $60+ price point is steep, I have a feeling the bra I bought will last me at least a year or two without pilling. It’s comfortable, so much so I can fall asleep in it, and the straps don’t slide off or gap. They also feature models of all builds and body sizes, which I can definitely get behind.
My most recent underwear discovery was the Swedish sock company Swedish Stockings. Ethical and eco-friendly, they are made in Sweden, minimalist, everything I could have wanted. I ordered five pairs of the Ingrid, on sale for $5 at the time, which I truthfully haven’t tried yet as it’s been so hot in Seattle, but seem like they’ll be good under boots in the fall and maybe even with sandals. Their sale is still going on, it’s a bit higher prices than when I purchased, but in my opinion highly worth the money. I accidentally completed my order twice, and emailed one of the company’s few employees (all women!), who graciously and promptly refunded my money (even though it was the middle of the night in Sweden!) They did take several weeks to arrive due to customs, so keep that in mind.
That’s all the underwear information I’ve got! If you have any questions, please comment or find me at @lauraslavender on Instagram and send me a DM.
Good luck shopping responsibly!