Thursday, 19 April 2018

Can my pants improve the world and my well-being?

As I replace worn-out items from my wardrobe, I’ve realised the importance of buying clothes that are good for me, as well as the planet and the people who make my clothes. Prioritising my personal style and comfort over feverishly following trends has helped me feel happier with my wardrobe overall, but there is one particular item of clothing where this has been particularly important.

I suffer from vulvodynia and endometriosis, so a bad choice of underwear can be a pain in the bum - literally. Comfort, and soft, breathable fabrics are a necessity, so I had resigned myself to buying packs of basic cotton undies from the high street. They do the job, but at an average price that works out as only a couple of quid per pair, their makers are unlikely to be paid a fair wage, and the cut and shape is usually rather... uninspiring, shall we say? When you are dealing with conditions that sap your energy and your confidence, wearing boring pants isn’t going to help matters. 

I wanted to find some everyday underwear that was made under better conditions, and with a bit more design flair, but at a price that would make it an affordable alternative to fast fashion undies. One day I’d love to do a post about luxury ethical knickers, but for now I’m working on an alternative to the multipack of comfy pants.

People Tree, £7.95
A go-to brand for ethically made clothing, People Tree also make a small range of underwear. These briefs are made from organic cotton with a pretty lace trim. They aren’t quite a full brief, but they don’t ride up or dig in and are a great fit.

Boody, £8.95-£9.95
These sleek and seamless bamboo knickers are a great alternative to synthetic “no VPL” pants and come in a range of styles. I bought a high-waisted brief as well as a regular brief; the high-waisted style gives a great seam-free shape under fitted pencil skirts or dresses. Breathable but well-elasticated bamboo fabric make these pants a great choice for exercising. 

Little Black Pants Club, £7.50-£10.50
Every other month, Alice from LBPC sends you a pair of pants in a paper envelope that folds out into a zine featuring topics like intersectional feminism and garment workers’ rights. I love the cut of her vintage-inspired high waisted knickers, but if you prefer something a little skimpier she’s got you covered there (or not), as she makes a range of styles, and every purchase earns points that you can put towards bespoke items. 

I supported the Kickstarter for Y.O.U’s first capsule collection, and chose these cute shorts from their range of styles. As well as being ethically made (and another great No VPL style), Y.O.U also donate pants to people in need: usually to menstruating teenagers who would otherwise be unable to go to school. 

Considering periods (a perfectly natural occurrence for anyone with a uterus) a “taboo” subject has disadvantaged people all over the world and held them back, either from school, work, or well-researched medical treatment for a common but painful and debilitating condition like endometriosis. “Period poverty” is a problem in the UK, with teenagers too embarrassed to go to school if they don’t have access to sanitary products. Even people who are well-informed and unembarrassed by periods often won’t seek medical help because period pain is considered to be so subjective. It’s all too easy to think that maybe you just have a much lower pain threshold than people who don’t seem to suffer so much. It wasn’t until I fainted during my first official day at my new job and had to be sent home in a cab that I finally felt I had “proof” that my periods weren’t “normal”. It still took three years, and discouraging incidents when I was just dismissed from the doctors surgery with some painkillers, before I got a diagnosis and treatment to suppress the symptoms.

If you’re struggling with painful periods or chronic reproductive-system-adjacent pain, please don’t suffer in silence like I did. Keep going back to the doctors until you have a treatment plan that you are happy with. If you suffer from vulvodynia this post on the Lingerie Addict blog by Catherine Clavering, the founder of lingerie brand Kiss Me Deadly, is a must-read; it was such a huge relief to know that I wasn’t alone. Support and information can also be found at Endometriosis UK.

Being bombarded with information about global injustices can sometimes make me feel that I should be able to push my problems aside and focus on the “real” issues. My health problems are certainly not life-threatening, but they do affect my life, and I soon realised it was impossible to make a useful contribution to the issues I cared about when I was feeling run down and miserable. I have been trying to take my physical and mental wellbeing into account while making thoughtful purchases, and it’s turned out to be a great shopping strategy.

I did worry that I would be limiting my choices by trying to buy underwear that fitted my requirements from strictly ethical or sustainable brands. I actually discovered that I had a great choice of styles to pick from (there are plenty of amazing brands that I haven’t bought from because they didn’t make the *exact* style of knickers that I like, but that other conscious customers would love) and I never had to choose between my personal comfort and my principles. Brands that care about the environment and their workers are also going to care about choosing quality materials and perfecting a well made, well fitting garment. So paying a few extra pounds for a feel-good knickers drawer is well worth it.

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