How to Find Sustainable Undergarments (Seriously!)
For Valentine’s Day I decided to write about my recent quest for latex-free undergarments and socks. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say I had a “duh” moment about the latex sensitivity that I’ve known about for years. Guess what elastic is?!
My (urgent) search made me a bit of an expert on sustainable undergarments. Here is what I learned along with info on how to obtain these items.
The cheapest and most reliable way to ensure you are getting a sustainable item is to make it yourself. Green Cheeks offers a DIY panty pattern and a DIY boxers pattern that you can use to sew your own undies. The best part is that you can reuse old clothing that would otherwise go into the landfill. If you have a latex sensitivity you can also avoid using problem-causing materials.
Additionally, Green Cheeks sells some of the least “granny” looking underwear I have seen… in case that is important to you. 😉
If you would rather spend the money than sew it yourself you have some choices. You can battle with confusing and sometimes disingenuous clothing labels, or you can turn to a (usually pricey) company that you trust to make those decisions for you. Finding truly sustainable underwear (that with any luck is also Fair Trade) is a challenge. Companies know it is popular to be green and labeling standards are loose at best.
Fabrics (the most common ones):
- Organic cotton is a popular sustainable fabric. It is renewable, easier on the planet than conventional cotton, and safer for farmers to grow. In many cases you can also find Fair Trade versions of it.
- Organic Silk and Peace Silk (vegetarian silk) are expensive, harder to find, and more challenging to get Fair Trade. It can be raised sustainably but often isn’t.
- Organic Hemp is an excellent choice for a sustainable fiber. Even the conventional varieties use fewer chemical pesticides and herbicides than many other fiber crops.
- Organic Wool can be raised sustainably and often locally as well. It’s one of the best options for latex free socks.
- Organic Linen is made from the flax plant and can be raised organically. Confusion arises from the common term “linens” for products like sheets and towels, which are often made from other materials.
- Semi-synthetic fibers such as rayon (manufactured from cellulose) and elastic (manufactured from latex) require a lot of processing. Elastic usually affects people with latex sensitivities, though some can handle it if it is wrapped in another fiber, like cotton.
- Bamboo is very similar to rayon (processed with heavy chemicals), and should not be advertised as a green fiber, it isn’t.
- Synthetic fibers such as lycra (the same thing as spandex, which is an anagram of “expands”), nylon, and polyester are generally not sustainable to use. Also, lycra spandex sometimes causes latex reactions in sensitive people — depending on how it was made (and labeling doesn’t specify whether it will or not). Recycling is a good idea though so check out thrift stores if you have a preference or need for these items.
Where to get undies:
You can try your luck at local stores but the label reading can give you a “sustained” headache. If you are lucky you might be able to find a seamstress, knitter, or crocheter who will make items for you. (Alternately take classes or join a group to teach you these skills). You could also try searching Etsy.com.
Here are some online stores you can try.
- Pristine Planet for comparison shopping
- PACT Underwear is mostly organic cotton and gives money to good causes
- Smartwool has the most reliable latex-free socks I have found. They emailed to let me know they use no latex products
- Blue Canoe carries more than just intimates
- Gaiam has a variety of clothing products including underwear
- Green Cheeks has very stylish lingerie
- Cottonique (latex-free but not necessarily sustainable)
- Latex Free Undies.com (latex free, not necessarily sustainable)
If you have any other suggestions please let me know!