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Sustainable Underwear Brands

How to find sustainable and ethical underwear which is eco friendly.

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 41 brands of underwear which make adult bras and knickers or pants. 

We look at fabrics, organic and fair trade options, workers' rights, longevity of underwear, secondhand options, price and sizes, and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying underwear:

  • Is it organic and fair trade? Organic and Fairtrade cotton avoids the harmful environmental impacts of conventional cotton and oil-based fabrics and guarantees production without forced labour.

  • Is it pre-loved? Secondhand doesn’t have to mean pre-worn or worn out. There’s lots of barely worn bras and unworn knickers out there looking for a home.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying underwear:

  • Too much. Ignore recommendations to buy new underwear every six months and see how long you can make it last.

  • Is it made from oil-based fabrics such as polyamide and polyester? These have a high carbon footprint and release microplastics when washed.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

Many of the garment brands that make the cheap and disposable clothing characteristic of fast fashion also make underwear. Ethical underwear brands are those which have rejected the fast fashion model and are adopting better practices such as use of organic fabrics, manufacturing in living-wage factories and avoiding the use of animal products.

But there are now lots of brands claiming to make sustainable lingerie, including the giants of the high street, and it can be difficult to know who to trust. 

What do we investigate in this guide to sustainable underwear?

We look at the validity of company claims on climate, use of sustainable materials, workers’ rights, and animal welfare to calculate their ethiscores and to find truly ethical underwear brands.

We also look at the pros and cons of different fabrics and which brands are using what, options for recycling your underwear and how to buy secondhand lingerie. 

We also feature a price comparison table and look at the size ranges available from all the underwear brands.

With 10 Best Buy brands and 5 recommended brands, and ratings for 41 underwear brands from popular high street choices like M&S to 'luxury' brands like Agent Provocateur, this guide has your lingerie needs covered. Read on to find out which brands are the most ethical and sustainable. 

Which brands are in the sustainable underwear guide?

We feature a mix of mainstream clothing labels who make underwear and other clothes, as well as underwear-only companies.

M&S and Primark are the market leaders in women’s underwear with over 13 million users between them. These are followed by the supermarkets ASDA and Sainsbury’s. We’ve included them here alongside some of the other mainstream clothing brands that have large underwear ranges. 

Some small, ethical clothing labels also make underwear and they’re included here too.

The remaining brands specialise in underwear, and these include big brands such as Ann Summers, Bravissimo (which specialises in larger bra sizes), Triumph (which also owns Sloggi) and Victoria’s Secret, plus a range of small brands, all of which make ethical claims. These include Nudea, Organic Basics, Pico, Stripe & Stare, Thunderpants, Underprotection, and Y.O.U. Most brands now make period pants, but we’ve also included Modibodi which specialises in leak-proof underwear.

Smaller ethical lingerie brands taken over by less ethical companies

The clothing sector experiences lots of change in terms of ownership, with brands changing hands and small companies being bought up by big multinationals. This affects companies’ ethiscores, particularly when small ethical companies are bought by companies that don’t have the same standards and practices.

Organic Basics was a small, independent Danish company until 2022 when it was bought by Delta Galil Industries, an Israeli underwear manufacturer with a turnover of over £1bn. Delta Galil also makes underwear for other brands including Calvin Klein. In 2020, Delta Galil was included in a database published by the UN Human Rights Council of 112 companies conducting business activities in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to, the company operates branches in settlement neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem. For these reasons, some people may want to avoid Organic Basics.

Modibodi was an independent Australian company but in 2022 it was bought by Essity, a Swedish manufacturer of hygiene products with a turnover of over £12bn (see our toilet paper guide for more on Essity). 

If they were still independent, Organic Basics and Modibodi would have been Best Buy candidates but their ownership means that they don’t score well.

What is the most sustainable underwear made of?

Underwear is generally made from a combination of natural fibres (mainly cotton), semi-synthetic fibres made from tree pulp (such as viscose and modal), or synthetics made from oil (like nylon and elastane). There’ll often be several of these used in different parts of one garment and sometimes they’re mixed together to form a blended fabric.

Choosing the most sustainable fabric isn't straightforward as there are a number of factors to consider, including carbon footprint, use of toxic chemicals, and workers’ rights. We examine some of these issues below and pick out the best options. We have a separate article which has a more detailed exploration of the impact of different fabrics.


Conventional cotton has a range of negative environmental and social impacts. Its production relies on heavy use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and can contribute to over-consumption of water. Many cotton producers are small farmers who struggle to make a decent living, with many relying on debt and receiving only the lowest prices for their crops. In some parts of the world it is produced using child labour and forced labour. The majority of cotton is grown using GM seeds which has, in some cases, led to increased use of pesticides and higher costs for farmers.

Look for organic cotton as it prohibits the use of GM seeds and is grown without hazardous synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. Fairtrade cotton is also non-GM and provides cotton producers with guaranteed minimum prices and premiums for community investment. 

Lots of brands in the table use organic cotton but only two (Nudie and Y.O.U) used both certified Fairtrade and organic cotton.

Recycled cotton is also a very good option, but we only found one brand (Calvin Klein) that listed it amongst its materials for its underwear.

Viscose and modal

These fabrics are made from cellulose extracted from trees and have been associated with unsustainable forestry and deforestation. The manufacturing process is complex and involves several chemical treatments. These chemicals can damage workers’ health and, if they are allowed to enter the environment, can harm wildlife.

However, these fabrics can be made without the release of chemicals in a manufacturing process which captures and reuses chemicals rather than releasing them into the environment. This is referred to as ‘closed loop’. 

Look for the names lyocell, Tencel or Lenzing modal as these use the closed loop process.

Bamboo viscose

A few brands (BAM, Finisterre, and Modibodi) use bamboo viscose in their underwear. Using bamboo instead of trees to make viscose reduces the likelihood of deforestation but the production process can still involve high levels of chemicals and energy. However, as with tree-based viscose and modal, cleaner production methods are possible.

Modibodi states that it’s moving away from using bamboo viscose to bamboo lyocell, i.e. a fabric made using the closed loop process. BAM states that it only works with manufacturers with responsible chemical management systems.

Nylon, polyamide, polyester, elastane

These fabrics are synthetics made from oil. They’re very widely used in underwear because they provide stretchiness and a silky feel. Nylon is a polyamide and when you see polyamide on a garment label, it’s likely to be nylon. As these fabrics are made from oil and require a lot of processing, they have a high carbon footprint, and when washed, they release microplastics into the environment.

As they’re so ubiquitous, they’re very hard to avoid, so look for recycled and not virgin materials. These will have a lower carbon footprint but will still release microplastics.

Two bras hanging on a line with flowers in them

How did companies score for their fabrics?

In this guide we used two new categories to rate companies specifically on the sustainability of their fabrics. 

Our Cotton Sourcing rating column awarded the highest marks to companies using a high percentage of organic, Fairtrade or recycled cotton. Lower marks were awarded for lower percentages of these fabrics and to companies sourcing through the Better Cotton Initiative – a global initiative which provides some useful minimum standards but which is less rigorous than organic and Fairtrade. Marks were also awarded if companies weren’t sourcing cotton from Turkmenistan and Xinjiang, where forced labour is used in its production.

Our Sustainable Materials rating looked at all the materials a company was using and awarded the highest marks to companies using a high percentage of organic materials, recycled natural fibres, and closed loop plant-based fabrics. Companies also scored highly if they sold secondhand clothing. Companies using a lower percentage of these fabrics got lower marks as did those using materials with lesser sustainability credentials such as recycled synthetics. Marks were also awarded if companies were taking action to reduce chemical and water use in the production of their fabrics. 

You can see how well the companies scored in the table below.

Underwear company by A to Z with their cotton sourcing score, sustainable materials score, and what materials they use
Company Cotton sourcing score (max 100) Sustainable materials score (max 100) Materials used
Agent Provocateur 10 10 Polyester, polyamide, silk, elastane, cotton
Ann Summers 30 20 Nylon, polyester, elastane – small amounts recycled, cotton
ASDA 30 20 Nylon, elastane, silk
ASOS 50 0 Nylon, viscose, cotton, elastane
BAM 70 60 Bamboo viscose, elastane
Bravissimo 0 30 Polyamide, polyester, elastane, cotton
Calvin Klein 40 50 Cotton, lyocell, synthetics (some recycled cotton)
Community Clothing 50 30 Organic cotton, elastic
Debenhams 0 0 Polyamide, polyester, cotton, elastane
Finisterre 60 30 Bamboo viscose, organic cotton, recycled nylon, elastane
Greenfibres 90 100 Organic cotton, elastane
H&M 80 30 Synthetics, cotton, elastane
Howies 90 70 Tencel, non-mulesed merino, elastane, organic cotton
La Senza 0 0 Polyamide, modal, cotton, elastane
Living Crafts 100 100 Organic cotton, elastane
M&S 80 60 Cotton, modal, silk, elastane, some synthetics (not many)
Maidenform, Playtex, Wonderbra 5 15 Nylon, cotton polyester, elastane, Playtex uses some organic cotton
Modibodi 80 50 Recycled nylon, viscose, bamboo lyocell, organic cotton, merino wool, elastane
New Look 70 50 Polyamide, cotton, elastane
Nudea 100 40 Recycled polyamide, organic cotton, lyocell elastane
Nudie 90 100 Organic and Fairtrade cotton, elastane
Organic Basics 50 30 Organic cotton, elastane, TENCEL Lyocell
PACT 100 100 Organic cotton, elastane
Pico 80 80 Organic cotton, elastane
Primark 0 30 Polyamide, nylon (including recycled nylon), elastane
Rapanui 100 100 Organic cotton, elastane
Sainsbury’s 50 40 Polyamide, elastane, polyester, recycled polyamide, cotton
Sloggi 50 40 Polyamide, cotton, elastane
Stripe & Stare 100* 80 TENCEL modal, elastane, nylon (lace), roica
Thunderpants 100 80 Organic cotton, elastane
Top Man/Top Shop 50 0 Cotton, nylon elastane
Triumph 50 40 Polyamide, polyester, modal, cotton elastane
Underprotection 90 40 Recycled polyamide, elastane, some recycled, lyocell, organic cotton
Victoria’s Secret 30 45 Cotton, modal, nylon, polyamide (some recycled) elastane
Y.O.U 100 80 Organic and Fairtrade cotton, elastane
Zara 0 40 Polyamide, elastane, cotton, recycled polyester

*Stripe & Stare did not use any cotton 

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Can I compost my underwear?

Natural fibres, such as cotton, and cellulose-based materials, like viscose and modal, biodegrade. But, as most underwear is made from fabric which has elastane or other synthetics blended into it, it’s best not to go slinging your smalls on the compost heap just yet.

Stripe & Stare has a range of underwear called the B-Edit that it states biodegrades in 180 days, releasing no harmful chemicals and reverting fully back to nature when buried in soil. Instead of elastane, this uses a material called roica which was developed by the Japanese textile company AsahiKasei. According to AsahiKasei, roica biodegrades by 50% in two years – elastane does not biodegrade at all – but it does not give any information about how long it takes to fully biodegrade. It also states that the speed at which it biodegrades is too slow for it to be called a biodegradable yarn, according to the OK compost standard. We asked Stripe & Stare about this and they said they would contact roica’s manufacturer to find out more. At the time of going to press, we hadn’t heard any more.

Can I recycle my underwear?

As well as considering the environmental and social impacts of material production, we should also be thinking about our underwear’s afterlife. Recycling fabric for future use in garments is currently rare as so many fabrics are made from a blend of materials and it is technically difficult to recycle these. This is especially true of underwear as it needs to be stretchy. 

The vast majority of clothing is ultimately burnt or sent to landfill. If it does get a second life, it is used as insulation or stuffing and this eventually ends up in landfill too. 

You might be wondering where the recycled synthetic materials currently used in underwear come from. These are generally made from plastic bottles rather than fabric and, while this gives the plastic a second use, it’s just one more stop on the way to landfill.

There are campaigns to introduce legislation that would require companies to improve clothing durability and recyclability but for now, options for consumers to recycle their underwear are limited.

Ethical Consumer has been involved in a collaboration with Glasgow University on clothing reuse which touches on issues of consumer confusion around what can be recycled or reused and closing the loop. Outputs include the Fabric of Society video on YouTube video by Dr Lynn Wilson, Professor Deirdre Shaw and Dr Katherine Duffy.

Take back underwear schemes

A few of the brands in the guide do offer take back schemes.

Best Buy Y.O.U takes back any brand of underwear. This gets recycled by Terracycle for use in manufacturing of things such as outdoor furniture and flooring tiles. If you’re in Oxford, you can drop your underwear off in their shop or you can post it from anywhere in the country but you have to pay postage costs.

Underprotection takes back its own products. You have to send them to Denmark but you get a reward of 30% off your next purchase. The company describes the project as a “first trial of taking back used products and finding the solutions on how to give them a new life” and says that it either upcycles or recycles the garments.

Bravissimo takes old bras of any brand for recycling as does M&S, which donates them to Oxfam.

Can I buy secondhand underwear?

Don’t rule it out.

Firstly, wearing a used bra isn’t the same as wearing someone else’s undies. And bras are expensive, so you’ll save money if you buy them secondhand. A lot of charity shops accept and sell bras in decent condition and the Oxfam online shop sells them.

Secondly, there’s a lot of secondhand underwear available that’s unworn and still has the tag on, particularly on the online marketplaces such as Depop and Vinted. Admittedly, this is a by-product of our current culture of overconsumption. But given that we are where we are, it’s better to give those items a home and a useful life rather than have them go straight to landfill. Depop didn’t score too well in our Ethical Clothing guide, but Vinted and Oxfam did and they have lots of unworn bras and knickers for sale.

Three pairs of underpants on washing line

Workers' rights and underwear brands

The garment sector has been rife with workers’ rights abuses for decades. Garment production often takes place in countries with weak unions, lack of respect for freedom of association, and poor enforcement of workers’ rights. The result is low pay and, often, abusive practices.

We’ve changed our workers’ rights rating to give more credit to companies with good purchasing practices. This means that they make choices about where and how they manufacture which are likely to lead to better treatment of factory workers and higher pay. We found some good examples of this amongst the underwear brands.

Some companies chose to manufacture in countries where the risk of workers’ rights abuses was low. Community Clothing, which makes most of its products in the UK, was explicit about this: “making here means we can be certain of exactly who is doing what in our supply chain, and that we are making our products sustainably.” Thunderpants and Greenfibres also manufactured some of their products in the UK.

Maintaining long-term relationships with suppliers was also something discussed by several companies. Underprotection explained why this matters, stating that it helps “to ensure that the people who work in the factories have more stable conditions, as we do not move our production from place to place depending on where the best prices are”. Pico and Finisterre also mentioned long-term relationships and Greenfibres said that it had been going for 25 years and that some of its suppliers have been with them that long.

One of the major causes of workers’ rights abuses, particularly in the fast fashion sector, is companies making unrealistic demands of suppliers such as last-minute changes to orders or giving very short deadlines. Such practices mean that workers are often forced to do overtime and prevented from taking breaks. Nudie and Bravissimo discussed working with suppliers to forecast and plan production so that they could maintain a realistic flow of orders.

Are there any vegan underwear brands? 

Only two of our Best Buys lost no marks for animal rights, top scorer Rapanui and Y.O.U. Both of them were explicitly vegan. Pico, Stripe & Stare, and Thunderpants were not explicitly vegan but were not selling any animal products. The Best Buy companies with lower scores used animal products such as silk, wool and leather but had policies in place to prevent the worst welfare outcomes for the animals involved.

Most of the biggest brands scored 0/100 as they used a range of animal products and had no or insufficient welfare policies in place. Exceptions were Ann Summers and Bravissimo which, while not explicitly vegan, were not found to be using any animal products.

We have a separate article about animal rights and the clothing industry, as well as articles on animal products like fur, down and leather.

Rear view of person wearing large black knickers

What are underwear brands doing about size inclusivity?

We had a look at sizes to see who did the biggest range. 

The larger (and lower-scoring) brands do the biggest range of sizes and the smaller, ethical ones tend to stick to sizes 6-18. 

Of the Best Buys, only Thunderpants and Stripe & Stare go above size 20 – we found Thunderpants items up to size 26 and Stripe & Stare up to size 22. 

For sizes above 30, we only found items available at low-scoring New Look and H&M

When it comes to bras, most of the Best Buys make bralettes only and they don’t sell different cup sizes. The exceptions are Nudea which makes cup sizes A-GG and Y.O.U which has some more supportive bras with cup sizes C-F. Bravissimo specialises in large bra sizes (up to cup size KK) and scored 50/100 which put them in the middle of our table. 

It’s disappointing that the most ethical brands aren’t yet catering to the full range of consumers. The market for larger sizes is growing and we would hope to see the ethical brands expanding their ranges in future.

How much does ethical underwear cost?

The table below shows the prices of the cheapest pairs of pants for women, ordered from low to high. 

Our Best Buys can’t compete with a 70 pence pair of knickers from Primark but a lot of them compare favourably with designer and high street brands. 

One of the lowest-scoring brands, Agent Provocateur, is the most expensive.

Price of women's knickers

Price of pair of women's knickers (ordered by cheapest first)
Brand Cheapest pair of women’s knickers
Primark £0.70
M&S £1.25
ASDA £1.50
Sainsbury’s £1.50
ASOS £2.00
La Senza £2.73
New Look £3.75
Debenhams £4.00
Playtex £4.43
Top Man/Top Shop £4.50
H&M £4.80
Stripe & Stare £5.00
Sloggi £5.50
Ann Summers £6.00
Organic Basics £6.40
Rapanui £7.00
Triumph £7.00
Nudea £7.50
Wonderbra £8.50
Modibodi £8.68
Living Crafts* £8.95
Calvin Klein £9.00
PACT £9.00
Victoria’s Secret £9.00
Howies £9.60
Zara £9.99
Community Clothing £10.00
Greenfibres £11.48
BAM £12.00
Y.O.U £12.00
Underprotection £13.00
Maidenform** £13.99
Thunderpants £16.00
Pico £18.00
Finisterre £25.00
Bravissimo £32.00 (for bra and knickers)
Agent Provocateur £45.00

Prices were researched in December 2023 and January 2024. Some prices were calculated using multi-packs and some items seemed to be permanently on sale.
*Source; **

Price of men's underpants 

Price of pair of men's underpants (ordered by cheapest first)
Brand  Cheapest pair of men’s underpants
Sainsbury’s £0.90
Primark £1.20
ASDA £3.00
M&S £3.60
Top Man/Top Shop £3.66
H&M £4.33
ASOS £5.00
Zara £6.66
Rapanui £7.00
sloggi £8.00
PACT £9.00
Modibodi £9.57
Organic Basics £10.00
Living Crafts* £10.42
Calvin Klein £13.00
Howies £13.00
Community Clothing  £13.00
Stripe & Stare £13.33
Greenfibres £14.93
BAM  £16.00
Y.O.U £17.00
Thunderpants £20.00
Pico £22.00
Nudie £23.33
Finisterre £30.00

Prices were researched in December 2023 and January 2024. Some prices were calculated using multi-packs and some items seemed to be permanently on sale. *Source

How long can underwear last?

The most effective thing you can do to keep your underwear drawer sustainable is to get plenty of use out of each item. But if the experts on the Internet are to be believed, we should be replacing our underwear every 6-12 months.

We thought this seemed like no time at all so we asked our readers about the age of their oldest piece of underwear. We got a whopping 230 responses. You can see the results in the graph below.

Graph showing average age of oldest item of underwear. Peak is around 6-10 years. Information is in the text.
Age of oldest piece of underwear belonging to a sample of Ethical Consumer readers

This may not have been a very representative or scientific survey but it shows that many people get along just fine without replacing their underwear every year or every six months.

The most common answer was ten years but as the graph shows, many of you keep them much longer than that. The oldest item was 43 years and was “Thermal long johns that I knitted in 1980 – regularly worn now for gardening in the winter months!” Some of you mentioned that your oldest items were “fancy pants” and “special occasion bras” that were worn less often but many of you had everyday wear that was over 15 years old. The survey also revealed some different attitudes “OMG! 5+ years, that's so embarrassing.” We hope you’re feeling less embarrassed now.

Companies behind the brand

Private equity firm Regent LP bought La Senza in 2019. 

La Senza scored 0 in our Cotton, Sustainable Materials, and Workers ratings. In 2021, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre alleged that a Burmese factory supplying La Senza was paying workers below the minimum wage and was forcing them to work overtime without pay. La Senza was asked to respond to the allegations but did not do so. 

Regent LP also owns DIM Brands International which owns Playtex, Wonderbra, Maidenform and Berlei

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table.

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This guide features in Ethical Consumer Magazine 207