Cheap lingerie comes at a cost, and it’s not just the fabric: it’s the labor. Companies like Target, Gap, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Sears, and Calvin Klein (which is to say, popular destinations for lingerie buyers on a budget) have all been embroiled in sweatshop “scandals” within the last decade.
Let’s be clear about a few things:
Sweatshop labor is not a “scandal”; it’s a human rights violation. And the labor is not the kind of “free trade” these companies would have you believe — the United States might have “free trade” agreements with India, Jordan, and Singapore, to name a few of the countries involved, but these agreements are liberally written and are very much in favor of the corporations involved.
When people (not to mention children) are kept in unsafe working conditions for upwards of 14 hours a day for >$2 in wages, that is not “free trade.” It’s slave labor in the interest of producing cheap goods, which betrays these companies’ priorities. They privilege the bottom line above all else, including treating their workers with dignity.
You don’t have to be a politically motivated shopper to not want to reward companies that employ slave labor in so-called “sweatshops.” Victoria’s Secret, which has staked more than a third of the lingerie market share in the United States, has been embroiled in numerous legal battles over their overseas labor practices (in 2011, the National Labor Report released a damning report of the conditions in which company kept its Jordanian workers).
The more I learn about the lingerie industry, the more I am impressed by the number of up and coming designers who are producing locally and ethically, who in many cases seek to use as many locally sourced/natural/organic materials as possible. Even some major brands like the UK-based Bravissimo (which includes brands like Cleo, Fantasie, Freya, Panache, and Tutti Rouge) have instituted Ethical Trading Policies, which includes environmental policies and details about waste packaging and charitable giving.
It is remarkably easy to check out a brand’s website and see if they are transparent about where their lingerie is designed and produced — it takes less than a minute to Google a brand on your iPhone and see if they are transparent about their manufacturing process (or, even easier, if they show up on numerous bloggers’ lists of ethical lingerie!). Designers who produce handmade lingerie with locally sourced materials proudly say so. Ditto for those who use vegan or organic materials. Here are a few of our favorite affordable, ethical alternatives:
1. Hanky Panky
All Hanky Panky products are manufactured in the USA (specifically in the northeast). In their sustainability policy, they say that 100% of the fabrics and trims used to make their Signature Thong come from the USA. 100% of their packaging is from recycled paper. Underwear retails for $20-37, in S-XL with some plus size options. Organic options available. Some bras and bralettes available for under $50.
2. Tutti Rouge
Tutti Rouge is a UK-based brand owned by Bravissimo and thus must comply with all of their ethical standards and environmental policies, which includes audits and packaging policies. Tutti Rouge caters to busty and plus size women with a flirtatiously femme aesthetic, with a range of colorful bras ranging from 28-38 D-J and underwear from XS-XXL. Bras and panties all under $50.
3. Dear Kate
Dear Kate is designed and manufactured in NYC. The company, founded by a chemical engineer, produces lingerie that has a streamlined, modern look but is perfect for athletes, new moms, and anyone dealing with periods. Underwear XS-3X, bras XS-L. Underwear retails ca. $35, bras ca. $45.
Larkspur is an LA-based indie lingerie label that features eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton and repurposed silks in gorgeously simple designs. Underwear $22-29 in S-L; bralettes, bandeaus, & cotton bras $40-47 in S-L.
What are some of your favorite affordable, ethical lingerie brands?