From the plethora of lingerie brands flooding the Indian market, only a handful of them are championing eco-friendly innerwear.
When lingerie model Elsa Hosk walked the runway wearing nothing but the coveted Victoria Secret Dream Angels Fantasy Bra, heads turned and jaws dropped. The brassiere, crafted by Atelier Swarovski was made using 2,100 diamonds and topaz. While the spotlight shone on the glittering wonder, two truths came to light. One, that luxury is a fine thing to enjoy and two, that conscious luxury is the need of the hour. This year’s VS runway, while celebrating fashionable lingerie, made it a point to keep sustainability at its centre. And that’s why its show-stopping bra was made using diamonds that were responsibly produced and adhere to the highest environment, labour and safety standards. Similarly, the Topaz too was responsibly obtained from traceable sources. “The heavenly creation shines a light on conscious luxury with sustainable materials,” the website informed.
This statement was an important one to make because, in our conversations about sustainable fashion, we often leave out an important sartorial item – lingerie. While, of late, many fashion designers have made an effort to create sustainable clothing, including sustainable shoes, not many have extended this practice to the innerwear industry. Highlighting the importance of sustainable clothing, designer Deepti Bhalala, who co-founded the eco-friendly clothing brand Mesmora with her sister Sweety, says, “The concept of sustainable clothing is very important for all of us as it is beneficial for the fashion industry, as well as economically, environmentally and socially. Sustainable clothing upholds three R's - reduce, reuse and recycle. Source reduction or reducing the use of raw materials and virgin resources can ultimately reduce carbon emissions during the manufacturing process as well as during transportation. Sustainable clothing is a step towards saving the world and all living in it.”
From the plethora of lingerie brands flooding the Indian market, two designers have taken it upon themselves to create innerwear that marries comfort with sustainability. One of these is Neerja Lakhani, founder of Inner Sense lingerie. Breaking this down for us, Neerja explains how her brand’s lingerie is trying to revolutionize the space, starting with the material used, which combines organic cotton and a unique fibre. “The raw materials we use are sourced from farms that adhere to organic farming standards and fair trade policies for the farmers involved. Conventional farming uses nasty insecticides and pesticides to increase production, whereas organic farming not only restricts the use of pesticides but also focuses on increasing soil fertility. These are very important things to consider while choosing textiles for any product,” she reveals. Neerja also highlights how, apart from the environment, sustainable lingerie is also beneficial to the user. “The simple fact that the material that grazes against your most intimate parts on a daily basis is toxic is alarming enough to make one think of healthier alternatives, the healthiest being something that doesn’t contain carcinogens. That’s the reason why organic lingerie is important for the consumer’s skin.”
Neerja is well aware of the need for sustainable lingerie and hopes that more brands will follow suit soon. Explaining why it is a pressing need in the innerwear industry, Neerja says, “The lingerie industry is full of synthetic products that have micro-fibres that fill up landfills and clog the ocean. This leads to ecological pollution. As a whole, sustainability is very important for the textile industry, but since the lingerie industry uses more synthetic materials and lingerie is a product that is worn daily and is an irreplaceable product in one’s wardrobe, sustainability becomes crucial in this industry.”
Another person driving change is Abhishek Elango, founder of the Chennai-based innerwear brand, Tailor and Circus. The brand champions body positivity and sustainability and prides itself on having a fiercely organic approach, even in terms of the idea of beauty. Abhishek starts from scratch, talking about the fabric used to make the innerwear. “There is a misconception in India that cotton is the best fabric for underwear. But cotton is the second dirtiest industry in the world after coal. If not produced organically, it makes up about 25% of pesticide use in the world, although it accounts for less than 4% of all the crops.” To sidestep this crop, Abhishek decided to use fabric made from the Beechwood tree. “We use Beechwood fabric which we import from Austria. The Austrian company has planned production in such a way that after utilizing x number of trees, they move on so that the trees get time to rejuvenate,” explains the entrepreneur.
Though Abhishek says that many people, especially women have embraced his brand’s products, he is aware of the misconceptions that prevent people from switching to sustainable inners. “Since sustainability is nascent in India, people expect sustainable clothing to be boring or drab or dull. So our focus is on creating eco-friendly, carcinogenic-free options that are also fashionable,” he informs. Abhishek also addresses another issue that dogs the underwear industry – the problem of disposing of old underwear. “Slow fashion, which is an integral part of the sustainable movement, cannot be applied to the innerwear industry since underwear needs to be disposed of sooner due to the accumulation of harmful bacteria.” To address this problem, Abhishek and his team are working on a project that will involve collecting old underwear, running the fabric through an anti-microbial process, recycling the fabric and donating it to NGOs, who can then use it to make toys and other fabric-based items. “This should be up and running by next year,” he informs.