My ECO STORIES with Y.O.U Underwear
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Welcome to My ECO STORIES, our interview series, where we chat to different fashion and textile industry practitioners about their thoughts on sustainability and the future of fashion.
We spoke with Jess Riggs the Head of Sustainability from Y.O.U. Underwear. Classically stylish and made from super-soft organic Fairtrade cotton, their underwear is ethical and gives back with every purchase. As a B Corp and Living Wage Employer, they embody sustainable practices.
Can you talk a bit about your practice?
I’m the Head of Sustainability for Y.O.U. Underwear; is a small, sustainable underwear brand for men, women, and girls. We are the highest-rated U.K. and Fashion B Corp in the world. For every pair of underwear from our core collection we sell, we donate two pairs to the charity Smalls For All, which distributes underwear to vulnerable people across the U.K. and Africa.
Much of my work revolves around pushing our sustainability agenda forward, but it’s a small company, so I also do a few other things! That includes helping with new product development, building our sustainable marketplace, and designing the website.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability is holistic. Yes, it involves having a lower environmental impact, but it also considers the treatment of the people who make your clothes, the amount you’re producing, the end-of-life options, size inclusivity and ethical marketing - among other things!
How do you make your practice sustainable?
We manufacture our underwear in India’s leading ethical manufacturer and use GOTS Certified Organic and Fairtrade Cotton that is mainly grown by the owners of the factory. Along with GOTS Certified Low Impact dyes.
At the start of 2022, we implemented a circular fashion scheme that allows us to collect and recycle underwear, socks, and tights. We accept any brands, not just our own, and recycle the textiles through TerraCycle, to reduce landfill. Our end goal is to have a fibre-to-fibre recycling scheme.
How do you reduce your impact as a company?
Y.O.U. is committed to Zero Waste principles; at the moment we are
we are cutting out single-use plastic, minimising our waste and impact. We package our underwear in a beautiful organic cotton bag that can be reused. Our mailing bags are made from 100% recycled material with biodegradable additives, which means microorganisms can break them down in the natural environment. In our latest initiative to reduce waste, we’re working with YagoEco, a small jewellery brand who have turned our green plastic mailers into earrings. We will collect our old packaging from customers and hope this project lets us further our zero-waste commitments. We plant trees for every sign-up to our mailing list and aim to educate people on sustainability via our social channels and blog.
How did you find becoming a B Corp?
It’s a challenging process that took almost a year from submission to certification - but well worth it! It requires a lot of thinking and helped us identify areas to improve and celebrate the initiatives we already had going. It’s been great to be a part of the community, too the collaboration and kindness we’ve been met with has been fantastic. I’m excited to see B Corp become a more recognisable certification - like Fairtrade. B Corp Month in March was a significant step in this direction - I was the weirdo taking pictures of the B Corp shelf in my local Waitrose!
Overall, I would recommend it to anyone. We were a team of three at the time, and we managed to get the highest score in the U.K. You never know what you might achieve!
C.E.O. and Founder Sarah Jordan in the Oxford shop
What advice would you give to someone starting or turning a brand responsible?
I think the key is embedding the Triple Bottom Line - people, planet, and profit. If you create or redesign, your business model to consider all three on an equal footing - you’re starting in the right place.
Which small businesses do you love at the moment, and would like to recommend?
I really love Leiho; they’re a sustainable sock company that donates essentials to homeless people in the U.K. for every purchase. Their socks are really comfy, and I love all their colours and designs. We now stock them at Y.O.U. Underwear and our values are so aligned - Style, Comfort, Sustainability and Social Responsibility!
What are the company’s future sustainability goals?
Looking forward, we’ve committed to being Net-Zero by 2030 and have started to measure where we’re at and where we need to be. We also want to remove elastane from our underwear and are looking into new innovative materials, researching natural dyes, and ways to further our circular fashion model. We’re committed to five S.D.G.s and ensure that they’re in place throughout our work - whether it’s supporting quality education and gender equality through donating underwear or providing responsible production and consumption.
What is your hope for the future of fashion and textiles?
I hope that large (fast + luxury) fashion brands recognise the need for degrowth and start producing less and paying their workers more! I think it’s vital that textile recycling becomes accessible to all brands and consumers.
Written by Bethan and Jess @theecostories