“Your Own Underwear”, is what Y.O.U. in the brand name stands for and this is exactly what this company is all about – to help you make a difference in the world with nothing but Your Own Underwear. Sarah Jordan, founder and CEO of the award-winning brand Y.O.U. Underwear is trying to change the world one pair of pants at a time! For every pair of underpants purchased, Y.O.U. Underwear donates two pairs to Smalls for All, a charity that provides underwear to women and children living in poverty in the UK and Africa.
Y.O.U. Underwear are committed to fairness, transparency & humanity. The press and customers are noticing the brand’s ethos and green credentials – they have just been included in the SmallBiz100 Saturday calendar 2020 list and -amongst others -also featured in the Pebble Magazine.
The designs are made for a wide range of sizes from 8 to 18, are simple yet stylish and functional. Every piece of Y.O.U. Underwear is made from Fairtrade and GOTS certified organic cotton that is PETA-Approved vegan. Sarah and her team work with a SA8000 certified manufacturer in India who shares their desire to create positive social and environmental change.
I caught up with Sarah online, and here she shares with us how she managed to build a successful yet conscious business AND find the time to add a handwritten message inside every single order!
Can you tell us a little about you and how you came up with this business idea?
“Running an underwear business is something I certainly never thought I’d end up doing! I was inspired to start Y.O.U on a trip to Uganda in 2016, where I came face-to-face with the problems associated with not having underwear. I saw the number of women and children who were being excluded from school, work and even their communities – especially during their periods – all because they didn’t have underwear.
In some communities it is estimated that 1 in 10 girls miss school on their periods due to a lack of underwear and sanitary products. Without proper period protection, they’re left with no choice but to miss school – up to 12 weeks a year! That’s why I decided to incorporate a buy-one-give-two promise into my business model and when I started researching underwear manufacturing I discovered all the issues with conventional cotton and the wider fashion industry. Manufacturing sustainably and only using fully certified organic cotton then become part of how we work too.”
What are the core values behind your brand?
“We’ve got five core values that sit at the heart of the business. The first is the donations side of things – donating underwear might not sound like a lot, but for women and children in many communities the gift of an item of underwear can have a massive difference, in terms of school attendance, access to opportunities and community inclusion.
We also seek to use sustainable materials wherever possible. Our underwear is made out of GOTS-certified organic cotton, which is much better for people and the environment than non-organic cotton.
We believe in ethical manufacturing – the idea that you cannot exploit people in one part of the world to empower them in another. That’s why we work with India’s leading ethical manufacturer, which operates under SA8000 certified standards and is Fairtrade certified.
We also seek to minimise waste. Our underwear comes packaged in a re-usable organic cotton bag, and we also use biodegradable mailing bags. We’ve signed up to the 2020 Circular Fashion Scheme, so we’ll soon be implementing a take-back scheme for our underwear, which will allow our customers to send their used undies back to us for recycling, rather than throwing them away.
As an underwear brand, we’re committed to ethical marketing and always use ‘real’ models (our friends and family!), and also never airbrush our images.”
What makes your brand ethical?
“We consciously follow ethical practices when it comes to the manufacturing and marketing of Y.O.U underwear. We work with a Fairtrade and SA8000 certified manufacturer, so we know that the workers are treated fairly. In addition to the basics – such as no child labour and working hours/minimum wage compliance –the factory provides things like overtime compensation, incentives and Freedom of Association for all its workers. They’ve also got a number of extra initiatives of their own, providing transport, meals and health planning for workers, as well as funding for their children’s education. We visited the factory in May 2019 to witness the operations for ourselves and meet the team!
Four out of five women have low self-esteem when it comes to their bodies. This is why all Y.O.U underwear is designed to be comfortable and stylish across a broad range of body sizes and shapes, and why we use a diverse range of people in our photoshoots (we had sizes 8-18 and ages 18-80 in our last shoot!) and actively promote body positivity through our brand imagery and marketing strategies.”
With the circular economy in mind, where products are designed to last longer and eventually come back into use as new materials rather than going to landfills – how do you see your brand responsibly managing the products post-consumer use?
“We’ve signed up to the 2020 Circular Fashion Pledge and have been working with a research group to devise a strategy for the implementation of our take-back scheme. We will go live with this in the next year; the scheme will allow our customers to send their used underwear back to us for recycling. Because our underwear contains such a high percentage of organic cotton, we will be able to recycle them in a fibre-to-fibre process, creating new viable fabrics for future use! It’s our hope that none of our products will ever end up in landfill.”
How does Y.O.U. Underwear stand out from the competition?
“I would say the main thing from a customer perspective is the design and superior quality of our underwear! We get so many lovely positive reviews, and it’s clear that our customers really love the look and feel of our products. It can be hard to find underwear that’s both comfortable and stylish!
Our buy-one-give-two model is another aspect that really helps us to stand out. We hope that operating sustainably and ethically will become the norm for all businesses in the near future, and so we will not be able to stand apart from the competition on these grounds alone. We’re proud to be the only underwear company donating two pairs of underwear for every pair we sell!”
Why should consumers opt to buy organic/fair trade/ethically made clothes?
“Clothing made from organic fibres is much kinder to people and the environment than non-organic alternatives. Conventional cotton is one of the world’s most polluting – and thirstiest! – crops, with its production relying heavily on the exploitation of people and natural resources. Not only does it use vast amounts of water and pesticides, it’s linked to human rights violations across the globe. According to the UN, up to 200,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. There are no such risks associated with organic cotton. In 2018 more than 60,000 Indian cotton farmers committed suicide due to spiralling debt caused by the reliance on genetically modified seeds, fertilisers and insecticides (equivalent to 1 death every 30 minutes). By contrast, organic growing systems help to replenish and maintain soil fertility and biodiversity and allow farmers to be released from their dependency on artificial chemicals.
Organic fibres are often better for you as well! Pesticide residues can still be present in the final garment, so organic is a much better option for people with sensitive skin. This is particularly true with underwear, the items we wear closest to our skin.
Fairtrade provides legitimacy and protects against fluctuating prices, which benefits the most vulnerable people in the supply chain. Shopping Fairtrade means that you’re choosing brands that are helping to pave the way towards empowerment, rather than exploitation.”
What challenges do you face concerning the consumers and the demand?
“Although not top of the range, our underwear is more expensive than that sold by many standard high-street brands. So sometimes it can be a challenge to persuade potential customers that it’s worth it to spend more money on something that will last longer and is also better for the planet and the people that make it!”
What is your vision for the future of Y.O.U. Underwear?
“This year the business has gone from strength to strength; we’ve seen a steady increase in sales and have managed to significantly increase our impact/donations. I hope Y.O.U Underwear continues to grow and becomes even more sustainable and ethical as it does. We’re currently working towards achieving B Corp status, which requires us to analyse every aspect of our operations to find new ways of operating sustainably. I also hope to branch into new products and locations and find ways of maximising the positive impact we can have through our give back model!”
You can find more about Y.O.U. Underwear and their full range of products on their website – www.youunderwear.com
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They are also stocked in a shop in New Zealand, a number of other online platforms, and appear at various pop ups and markets around the UK.