Why Should We Be Concerned About Plastics In Our Underwear? The Big Favorite Founder Explains

It’s no secret health and environmental concerns abound regarding the widespread use of plastics in everything from food packaging to water bottles, but what about undergarments? Concern over the use of synthetic materials in underwear has risen in recent years as exposure to PFAs found in plastics has been linked to everything from cancer to fertility issues. To make matters worse, underwear is historically not a circular product—it gets worn by one person and then thrown away, adding to the tremendous amount of fashion waste in the landfills. Eleanor Turner, founder of The Big Favorite, identified these problems while working for big name fashion brands, inspiring her to create a plastic-free circular brand focused on producing high quality base layers in a manner friendly to both the environment and human health. Here’s what Turner had to share about why taking plastics out of underwear and other clothing items is so important.

Olivia O’Bryon: Can you tell us a little bit about how The Big Favorite came to be? What motivated you to start your company?

Eleanor Turner: The Big Favorite was originally established by my great grandfather in the 1930s as a brand selling reliable cotton workwear for hard-working Americans. It was acquired by Dickie’s in the 1960s. In 2020, I decided to revive it as a throwback to my family roots and to take on fashion’s waste problem. After spending over a decade working in fashion for brands like Tory Burch and J.Crew and co-founding women’s workwear brand, Argent, I learned that 70% of American fashion ends up in landfills in the developing world and 11 million pounds of undergarments go into landfills here at home every day. The shocking statistics around fashion’s waste issue sparked tons of research in textile circularity which actually represents a huge business opportunity. The global recycled textile market is estimated to reach $8B by 2026. The Big Favorite’s goal is to set a zero-waste standard for American basics, beginning with the perfect first layers like undershirts, underwear and soon to be woven pieces, that are high quality and thoughtfully designed for recyclability.

OO: What does it mean to be a circular brand? Why does this matter?

ET: Circularity is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. That means we source regenerative cotton and facilitate a take-back program for all of our base layers at the end of their lives, rewarding customers on future purchases. Not only is it great for customer loyalty, but it keeps waste out of landfills and turns it into new usable material. The Big Favorite is experimenting with different approaches to reuse, and we are bullish on preparing for a future where recycling post-consumer cotton is a valuable part of the circular economy. Over the next decade, it will become increasingly difficult to grow natural fibers due to climate change which makes the business case for keeping existing materials in use for as long as possible and investing in companies and infrastructure that champion circularity.

OO: Why should people be concerned about plastics in their undergarments?

ET: Not only is 100% Pima Cotton better for the recycling process with its longer staple fiber, but it’s better for human and planet health. Over time, the undergarments industry, and the fashion industry at large, has opted for cheap plastic, or synthetic, fibers and fabrics. These synthetics are the number two cause of microplastics in our drinking water. When we ingest them and wear them against our skin, they can cause major health issues like cancer, hormone disruption, and infertility, among others. They also don’t allow our skin to breathe, which is one of the most important properties of underwear and base layers in maintaining healthy body functions for both men and women.

OO: Why is pima cotton a good alternative to synthetic fabrics for undergarments?

ET: Surprisingly, Pima Cotton isn’t typically used in undergarments, but its characteristics make it a perfect match for the category. Pima is a superior, high quality cotton with a longer staple fiber that lasts longer than traditional cotton. It is the softest cotton in the world and is incredibly breathable which makes it especially suited for base layers, undergarments, and anything that needs to sit against sensitive areas. We’ve leveraged the structure of knitwear, as opposed to weaving, to achieve natural stretch without needing the synthetic blends. Pima’s longer staple fiber and our 100% content also makes it ideal for the textile recycling process. Current end-of-life solutions require pure content devoid of blends that could gum up the shredding machine. When Pima is shredded into shoddy (the material that gets spun back into yarn), the fiber can maintain length which nets a stronger recycled fiber at the end of the process with less breakage.

OO: What is The Big Favorite doing in addition to going plastic-free to support workers and the environment?

ET: Our goal is to meet the needs of consumers while making our products in a better way. We only work with factories that pay fair wages and make attainable upgrades to their factories in an effort to lower their environmental impact. For example, our fabric suppliers clean and reuse water waste through an osmosis process and ensure waste water is not released directly into waterways. We also offer our products in an “Undyed” colorway, which uses zero dyes and requires fewer resources than traditional dyes. Our “Natural Dye” pieces are hand-dyed using foraged materials like charcoal and coffee grinds with zero harsh chemicals and finished in recollected rainwater.

OO: What is your long-term vision for the brand? Do you think bras will ever become part of your offering as well?

ET: The Big Favorite’s mission is to make landfills a thing of the past and demonstrate that creativity is the antidote to compromise. Our long-term vision is to develop quality, reliable products and creative supply chain solutions around textile reuse and recycling so that consumers don’t have to compromise. On a product level, that means developing new recyclable categories. We’ve had requests for 100% Pima Cotton bras, biodegradable products, and garments made from recycled and upcycled materials straight from our TikTok audience. We are so excited to be launching a line of upcycled shirting as our next layer on 11.22.22. We want to become the go-to brand for the next generation of eco-conscious consumers who do not compromise on quality, style, and sustainability.

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