Easily lured by the promise of an unbeatable deal (fast fashion’s truest grift), we forget every time that in a few months most of these briefs (made from synthetic, petroleum-based plastic polymers) will be stretched out of shape, faded and probably ready for the bin. We wear underwear every single day, and yet this drawer is frequently overlooked when giving our wardrobes an environmental upgrade.
If you’re on the hunt for high-quality, sustainable underwear, Australian fashion label NICO is an excellent place to start. Founded by Lis Harvey in 2012, NICO manufactures ethical basics and underwear in luxe fabrics and styles for everyday wear.
“I just wanted to make beautiful garments and fill a gap that I saw for intimates that were style driven but also comfort focused,” Harvey says.
Celebrating the “sartorial philosophy of minimalism and understated luxury” is NICO’s raison d’etre, fusing form and function to create garments that look and feel beautiful to wear. With the right cut, material and colour, even the most basic of basics can be transformed into a luxurious and elegant piece, which NICO also proves is possible with low impact methods and fabrics.
Now you might have noticed a lot of companies suddenly claiming to be ethical underwear brands. But NICO goes above and beyond to earn its sustainable badge. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but Harvey relishes this challenge.
“We are limited in what materials we are willing to use which means sometimes in the design process we find that we are not able to achieve a specific outcome or we have to adapt a concept to the materials we have,” she says. This innovation reflects the future of fashion for designers and founders, one where phasing out synthetics and shifting towards sustainable materials such as organic cotton free from toxic chemicals can be met with excitement.
On NICO’s website under the journal tab, an entry entitled A Postcard from India charts a trip taken by Harvey to visit the company’s garment makers and production facilities. With a background in photography, Harvey used her skills to capture images that give customers intimate access to NICO’s ethical manufacturing processes, showing the craft and care that goes into the creation of each piece.
She’s a natural at delivering the transparency gen Z shoppers expect. “As we grew, we were forced to make the decision to move our manufacturing to India which was a really challenging time with a lot of big lessons,” Harvey says. But it’s meant NICO has been able to work with a team of artisans specialising in natural dyes, which has been a payoff for the move.
In the same section of the website, Harvey’s passions and talents are further displayed through the “at home with” series, a collection of articles featuring women wearing NICO’s basics and lingerie, intimately photographed by Harvey in their homes.
As I browse through the collections, I’m reminded why high-quality basics and lingerie aren’t items to be overlooked when reimagining a more sustainable future for the fashion industry. These garments are often the thinnest veil between the physical world and our rawest, truest selves. How we feel when wearing them matters, and what could feel better than high quality, stylish, comfy, ethically made underwear that are also good for the planet.
Sure, it’s great they talk about treating their retail staff like family and post about donating profits to charity, but who is actually making these clothes? Do these sustainable brands have information on their websites about where their raw materials come from, who makes their products or how they plan to reduce the impact of the items by making sure they don’t end up in landfill?
Words are nice, but certifications are better. Do the brands manufacture in fair trade certified factories? Are they using GOTS certified organic cotton? These claims are regulated and controlled; they can’t be thrown around by anyone.
Sustainable fashion is about more than organic cotton and vegetable dyes (although obviously we love all that too). But there are a lot of other materials that can also reduce the environmental impact of your new favourite undies.
Keep an eye out for brands that use offcuts or upcycle fabrics, or are exploring cotton alternatives like water-saving organic bamboo.