Ethical Undies

Okay, so the children have started to wear through their undies, and I'm sure mine are not too far behind..(ha, completely unintentional pun there). Now, as dedicated as I am to second hand, we are not going to do second hand undies. Or socks, or tights, although we do give and receive those among friends:).. mostly outgrown children's ones.

So I have been researching sources of ethical undies.

Our lovely Blueday friend and commenter Loretta recommended Tuffys, for all you Australians. Tuffys are actually made in Australia. From Australian cotton. From Australian farms. Yes, it's a miracle, but true. Their prices are reasonable, especially when on sale, and delivery is free.

Pants to Poverty is a UK brand, available in lots of actual shops around the UK which is great for all of you who like to support your local shops. I love their ethos  - organic, fair trade, responsible manufacturing and business practices. Based on the Make Poverty History campaign inspired by Nelson Mandela. Pants to Poverty undies are also available to us Aussies online via Etiko, in the US, and a bunch of other countries.

Now for socks - another lovely friend of Blueday, Lucinda, kindly recommended these socks from Humphrey Law for us. She accidently shrank hers on a hot wash, so don't do that! But don't they look lovely? Mmm, baby alpaca-wool socks? Oh, yes please. Australian wool and cotton and alpaca. Wonderful. Now apparently there are some local stockists for me to go and visit. That is on my errand list for this week. Otherwise, my fellow Australians, you can find them on-line or at any number of local stockists near you. There is free delivery for three or more pairs of socks..

All these underwear options are more expensive than the three-packs at Target which have been my undies mainstays for years... but the options above - this is the real price of clothes which are providing a fair wage to the farmers and processors. And, actually, because I have been buying very little in the way of clothes this year, there is a little wiggle room in the budget for more expensive undies..

I would love to know if you shop ethically and/or locally for your undies, or, even, do you make them? My friend Katherine wears fabulous socks knitted by her Mum. I really want to learn how to do that. And the other day when I was folding the washing I was critically examining the knickers thinking, 'Hmm, it's only three pieces of fabric. I wonder if I could make that?' I thought of all the t-shirts we have to turn into cleaning rags on a regular basis due to the plethora of small holes or the steadfast stain. I could turn t-shirts into undies!! (I say this as someone who is afraid of the sewing machine..). Still, wombling undies; it's tempting:)

I will update this post if I find new and useful suppliers of ethical undies, and give those I do use a review. If you buy ethical undies in Australia or another country, please share your sources, and/or favourite you-tube tutorial for sewing knickers (there are at least a hundred..).

Here's a US site I found while hunting for tights. Has anyone used this?:

US organic fairtrade underwear

Edited to add: Have some great links to add.

First is a post from Blueday friend Mimi who makes lingerie from old sheets because she is amazing:)

Judy recommends socks from Rapanui, an ethical UK company with a fair trade partnership in India with organic products which can be returned to the company for re-use or recycling.

I was reminded that Libi  recommended the company Who Made Your Pants? When they arrived she indulged her readers with a knicker unboxing post:) I love the ethos of this company too - knickers are made with left over end-of-line fabric from large underwear companies which would otherwise go to waste.

We also think that it's not really on for anyone to be made to work in bad conditions just for a cheap pair of pants. Who could feel lovely in something made in a bad place? So we make our pants in a great place. We've a little factory in Southampton where we create jobs for women who've had a hard time.
from the website

So try them for all your posh knicker needs, UK ladies:)

Further edited to add: Popped in to our local fabulous outdoors and camping and farm wear shop, Allgoods. Name says it all. They have a great selection of Australian-made socks. Who knew? Target has become totally obsolete now. I found:

Wilderness bamboo socks and sporty/hiker clothes

Rizzi socks

Mentor Ranger socks Explorer style

I also found a range of the most beautiful socks I have ever seen and lusted after - this Lothlorien range from New Zealand. Glorious! But a very annoying website that plays music and provides very little information. Stockists? You will have to find them yourself..

And of course, the Humphrey Law range that I went for was there as well. I ordered some sport socks for the girls. Imagine, sport socks that are mostly wool. Delicious! I might need to keep a pair.

As per usual, hunting for alternative and better suppliers of 'stuff' has turned up some real treasures and products that are immensely superior, plus a shopping experience that is exponentially better than the Target one. While I was in Allgoods scoping out socks, an old farmer was in the women's clothing section consulting with the sales lady (who I swear has worked there for all the eighteen years I have lived in Launceston) on a gift for his wife. She was reminding him what he bought last year so he wouldn't buy her the same thing again.. now that is service.

Even further edited to add:

From another NZ reader: Thunderpants. These look amazing! And this is from their website:

We love New Zealand, our families and our jobs. The Thunderpants business model is based on similar principles of slow growth, family before business and lifestyle over work. And it’s worked pretty well for us for the last 20 years, proving that it is entirely possible to work in a sustainable way that supports your local economy.
Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly the kind of business I want to support. The Thunderpants company sells 300,000 pairs of undies each year. I live in a region with a population of 100,000. We could support an underwear company right here in lovely Northern Tasmania if everyone bought local. 
An Australian reader has recommended Intimo Chic, a party plan lingerie range which has a good ethical and humanitarian standard for their Chinese factories, and offer ranges with, er, good support which is an area that seems to be a bit lacking in the other ethical ranges.. 


Anonymous said…
Hi Jo
I was just watching a John Oliver show yesterday about the factories that make our cheap clothing and resolved to continue my thrift store shopping.
As to the undies and socks. I was the same as you with the "ick" factor but I have started buying socks at the thrifts, most of what I got looks fairly new-ish. I also knit so that takes care of the winter socks.
As to the undies....the ones I bought(in a store) are about 6 years old and the leg elastic is starting to go so I am replacing the elastic, my first time doing this, it's time consuming...but hey! I'm retired and have lots of time.
The Bra's I will probably continue to buy in stores as I take a size that is difficult to find, even in stores.Even if I could find an ethically made one I wouldn't buy one without being able to try it on.
It is definitely a challenge at times to live your beliefs, so blogs like yours keep the thrifty spirits up.
Treaders said…
Hi Jo, as of yet I have no interest in thrifting undies although given the amount of weight I have put on lately I could probably just buy a second-hand wheelbarrow instead of a new bra. But I agree these are very definitely things that should concern all of us. It would not be reasonable to expect someone in India (for example) to earn the same as someone in the UK (for example) for the same job as there are so many variables but to enjoy the same standard of living in their own country must be a dream for all of us. And a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. Not sure it will happen in my lifetime but we can but hope/fight towards it. Anna
CJ said…
Well done you for finding undies from your country, and thanks for the UK suggestion as well. I shamefully don't buy Made in Britain ones, it's often so hard to find things made here. But you've shown it can be done, thank you. CJ xx
Bek said…
Well done you for thinking outside the undies box. I confess I am a steadfast bonds girl. But I've never considered where they are made, by whom, with what and under what conditions. They just seem so innocent. They are just undies.
You've made me consider the tuffys. I will check them out for sure.
Mimi said…
Jo, I've been making mine and the girl childs undies for some time now. They're so simple it's insane. The Husband refuses to wear anything but Bonds so no help there. I've used soft thrifted sheets, scraps of stretch lace and georgette (for something a little prettier), haven't lived till you've worn flanno knickers under your nightgown in Winter...and remnants of silk when I can grab them from the bargain bin. Honestly you can use the teeniest tiniest scraps of stuff to so they cost next to nothing even if you were to buy the fabric at full retail price. I have a post on making lingerie from sheets on my blog, and you would not believe the traffic that one post attracts, so obviously we're not the only sorry souls wanting to sew our smalls. Mimi xxx
Judy said…
Wombling undies - love it :)

Rapanui do ethical organic bamboo socks in the UK. They also sell a rucksack made from old sails, which can be returned when you have finished with it and the components can then be re-used for new bags. Ingenious....
Annabel said…
Jo I made undies when my girls were little. I found it very easy and they were soft and nice. I found a pattern then made it so it was just like the ones they liked and away I went. But it is some time since I did this!
Maybe I need to get back to it!
Anonymous said…
Saw this and thought it could be a project for your girls.
Jo said…
Marieann, putting new elastic in the undies - well, done. I need to do that with PJ bottoms, but of course I keep putting it off! I will think of you and persevere:)

Anna, I am imagining the 'wheelbarrow as bra' look - very Wagnerian opera:) Yes, a fair price for goods. What an outrageous concept that is!!

CJ, reading your comment made me think of Libi at Farewell Hackney Hipsters. She bought some very posh British knickers - I will put up the link.

Bek, Bonds right? Iconic Aussie brand. Such a shame.. I have been a Bonds girl for years too..

Mimi, that is BRILLIANT. A reall live person who makes undies from bedsheets! Fabulous wombling. I will add the link up above.

Annabel, that is amazing! I am in awe of people who sew! If you do get back to it, let us know, especially tips, hints or on-line patterns:)

Lucinda, I have bookmarked that into my Surprisingly Good Craft Ideas file:)

Tanya Murray said…
My words cannot do justice to how I feel about this post. This issue has been VERY much on my mind and it is great to get some links to good clean product. The lady who used to live next door to me makes her own knickers AND bras. I was very much in admiration. I noticed in Spotlight (gritted teeth) that they had an expanding range of bra sewing accessories so that must be a growth area one would assume and I wonder what ethics are driving that? Thanks again for the post and to all the people who have given feedback and provided links. x
Jo said…
Tanya, I hope you have popped back to see the latest, local info:) I know I have been thinking about doing this for ages, and only just now got around to it. I would love to say I could make my own undies.. but one thing at a time. I have to finish my blanket first. Then maybe knit some socks. Finishing craft projects is my new thing:)

I am loving visiting Ruche on George St as well, wonderful independent fabric store. They are lovely, and so far I have found the (very few) sewing notions I need there. Buttons to die for!!
Hobart Chic said…
I used to represent Intimo Lingerie. While our products were manufactured overseas (then circa 2005), we owned the factories, and as far as I am aware, looked after our staff (probably better than many companies locally do). We provided decent income, housing, schools, invested in the local area. It was one of the reasons I felt good about representing the company.
Anonymous said…
Awesome knickers from NZ
Anonymous said…
Thanks for including my Tuffy's rec Jo! I love Humphrey Law socks, and also have trawled our local outdoors/camping stores and found other Aussie-brand socks.

My big sticking point is bras. I've been wearing the same style of bra (Berlei Barely There) for years. They seem to die after about 2 years (the material at the sides just puckers and loses its elasticity and the straps also). I cannot find an ethically-made seamless underwire bra, as most of the ethically made bras are not underwire, or offer little support (including the Tuffy's ones from the look of them).

I just bought 2 new Berlei bras and am going to see if I can stretch them out to 3 years' wear (if I religiously wash them in a garment bag, not just chuck them in the machine). I just had a thought that I might try the Tuffy's crop bras for every day use (my daughter who is a 10DD poor thing) prefers them to her expensive made in China brands (had to get her properly fitted at Bras and Things as she's grown 3 sizes in 6 months!) And no, my sewing skills do not stretch to making my own, but how cool if there was a course I could do, or even if some lovely sewers custom-made bras to order...
Jo said…
Hobart Chic, welcome, and thanks for that comment, I looked up Intimo Chic and they do have an ethical standards policy for their Chinese factories which is great news.

Thanks for the anonymous recommendation for Thunderpants. Brilliant!! Everyone in NZ should absolutely buy these:)

Loretta, I am hanging on to my old Berlei bras! I have discovered that anything with Lycra in it should be washed on a gentle setting in cold water and hung in the shade or inside to be dried - no heat or tumble drying. Helps it to last for years longer. I am determined to make my expensive Skins gym tights last forever! All the best!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Thanks for this. Very important field work. Target has dropped their quality in recent years to increase their market share - they used to be a bit of a go-to for the basics. I used to work for Pacific Brands and always recommended the Bonds brand, but given it appears that the company got loaded up with debt and then local manufacturing was off shored... Ouch. I was actually involved in some of that shutting down of local factories and it is heart braking stuff and part of the reason why I left there.


heather said…
Perfectly timely post for me too; I've been seriously contemplating going all KonMarie (anyone? Japanese decluttering expert?) on my sock and undie drawer for some time now, and I decided now was the time to try out some ethically made stuff. Have just bought new knickers at Target, so that should last me a month or two, right Chris? So instead I'm trying some socks from Maggie's Organics- thanks for the link. I also ordered my daughter a couple of pairs to try out, since I am so disgusted at the short life of the cheap Target socks I recently bought her. (I should NOT have to replace worn-out socks twice in the same school year!) I'll report back here on the quality once I get to try them out.

JoAnn's is a fabric chain which also sells online sewing tutorial classes. I recently noted in their latest course list at least a two-part offering (maybe three parts?) on making custom bras, indicating to me that doing so would be WAY beyond my skill level, but maybe in my next lifetime, when I actually invest the time to learn sewing basics properly…
--Heather in CA
Jo said…
Chris, yes, I imagine it would be awful to have to close down a factory, knowing that those workers will likely not get another job in manufacturing.. and yes I have noticed the decline in quality in Bonds underwear. What used to last a couple of years, now.. doesn't.

Heather, I too need another lifetime to learn to sew. I've quit watching TV, maybe if I turn off the internet as well I'll be able to take on another project??

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