On Monday morning I met with Hannah Parris, the co-founder of a start-up ethical underwear brand called Mighty Good Undies. She is launching the brand with her business partner Elena Antoniou, who she met in Australia, simultaneously in London and Sydney. Actually, Hannah is from Australia. She relocated to London four months ago to follow her husband who moved for professional reasons while Elena, the English girl, remained in Australia. Hannah’s move is a great chance to bring their project into Europe.
Despite the fact that neither Hannah nor Elena are vegans, I was interested in meeting with Hannah because Mighty Good Undies aims to sell a collection of organic and fair-trade cotton underwear in respect of the highest social and environmental policies.
“We live on a finite planet, we share this planet with lovely wonderful creatures, and unless we take sustainability seriously we not only destroy beautiful things and beautiful places but also we destroy ourselves”
Hannah brought a sample of underwear packed in beautiful organic cotton bags. The first range of underwear is basics, well trimmed, in top quality material. The fabric is a mix of cotton and 5% elastin, super soft, with a smooth factory finish. They just make you want to jump in with both feet.
Back in Australia, Hannah was a greenie, involved in the Green political party. She also ran a women’s label of ethical clothing called Audrey Blue which brought her an initial experience with organic and fair-trade textile supply chains. As you can see in the photograph, Hannah is wearing one of her creations. She became interested in ethical fashion and, as an academic, she did a lot of research about sustainability. For your record, Hannah has a PhD in economics. She wanted to do something which helps people to live in a more sustainable world. She looked around at all the different systems. She thought that a lot of progress had been made in food, in transport, in energy, in housing but not very much in clothing. It turns out that the garment industry raises an enormous ecological and social environmental issue.
“Fashion is incredibly superficial but the industry is a large part of our lives. We get dressed every single day”
One of her motivations was for organic and cotton fair trade to become a mainstream product easily accessible in the same way as organic and fair trade coffees or teas. To allow people to get these products she thinks it crucial to make them easy to find. Clothing can be quite expensive so she wanted to have something pretty small, relatively cheap to buy that people can try and experiment with in private. So she decided that underwear could be a very effective vehicle for promoting organic and fair trade cotton.
“My brand is not about cutting edge design it is about clothes that women can wear everyday”
Eco fashion at the moment is still very much in the luxury market. It should become available for more women at a more realistic price. Less luxury and more mainstream.
Hannah doesn’t use Australian cotton because it’s not organic and it uses an enormous amount of water and pesticides and the lack of facilities would mean that the cotton would be sent overseas for processing anyway, undermining any benefits of local production.
In comparison India has fully integrated supply chains that grow and sell organic cotton using fair trade processes. Hannah works with two organisations, Chetna Organics, an internationally recognised supplier of organic and Fairtrade produced cotton, and their production partner, Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills.
Cotton used by Audrey Blue and Mighty Good Undies is certified by the Global Organic Textile System GOTS which controls every stage of the process and requires the factories to respect strict environmental and social rules.
Mighty Good Undies is running a crowd funding campaign at the moment, which ends in 9 days. The target is to raise $30,000 AUD, approx. £15,ooo. To date, $17,644 has already been collected. Then the start-up will be able to launch a proof of concept with 3 or 4 styles of undies, to show people what can be done at this quality level. A small retailer and a whole seller are already convinced and on-board.
At the beginning the products will be sold online and through small retailers. However, the target is to reach big retailers to scale up. Organic cotton desperately needs to be widespread. There are more and more farmers who are willing to produce ethically. The issue is the demand for the product. However, people are becoming increasingly aware of the garment supply chains and are looking for ethical options.
Mighty Good Undies has been accepted to go to the Berlin Ethical Fashion Show, the world’s biggest ethical fashion show, held in June. So the coming months will be very busy. The brand should succeed in its crowd funding, then convince some retailers and whole sellers at the Berlin show and finally invest in the infrastructure to launch its first production.
You can be part of Mighty Good Undies’ success story by pledging their crowd funding and #switchyourunderwear now!