Y.O.U. is the Company that is proving that YOU can make a difference with nothing but your own underwear
Y.O.U. Underwear are giving women in low socioeconomic communities a chance to live a more comfortable life with their buy-one-give-two business model.
Hi Sarah, from reading your website bio, your story sounds very powerful! Tell us about yourself, where you're from and your brand Y.O.U!
I originally trained in Geography (meteorology and IT) wanting to be a weather forecaster, but after building a website to teach kids about the weather I moved into technology and worked for many years in the ‘tech for good’ space in both charities and educational companies.
My greatest challenge by far has been starting – and growing – my own business. It’s been so exciting to see it grow from just an idea – and wanting to tackle a problem – to a ‘real company’. We’ve now shipped to over 15 countries around the world and have amazing reviews from customers, but I still get excited with every order that comes in!
What inspired you to create your own brand based around ethical and sustainable underwear?
I was inspired to start Y.O.U Underwear in 2016 whilst taking part in the Uganda Marathon. I was brought face-to-face with the problems associated with not having 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! Instead of getting my knickers in a twist about it, I founded Y.O.U with a buy-one-give-two model with the charity Smalls for All.
I learnt about the devastating impact of conventional cotton when researching and planning the supply chain side of the business, so I was also keen to ensure that Y.O.U would have a positive environmental, as well as social, impact.
What does Y.O.U stand for?
Y.O.U stands for Your Own Underwear, because we believe that everyone deserves exactly that. You can make a difference with nothing but your own underwear!
What fabrics do you use and are they sustainably sourced?
Our underwear is made from 100% Fairtrade and GOTS certified organic cotton, which is sourced by our manufacturer in Kolkata, India from local independent cotton farmers.
We also use a small amount of elastane (5%) to ensure that our underwear is super-comfortable and holds its shape. For us, sustainability is a journey, so we’re proud to be 95% of the way there in terms of sustainably sourced materials!
The dyes we use are also low-impact, fibre-reactive and GOTS certified, meaning that they’re much better for workers, the planet and ultimately our customers.
How does your brand use ethical and sustainable practices within the making and transporting of your clothes?
We work with India’s leading ethical and sustainable manufacturer, so can be confident that the growers, spinners and makers who produce our underwear are paid and treated fairly. The factory operates under SA8000 social standards and provides additional benefits for workers such as transport, meals and funding for their children’s education.
Our underwear is also Fairtrade and vegan. People often ask us what it means for underwear to be vegan. It’s not just about avoiding the obvious culprits of leather, fur and exotic skins, for example, but about being cruelty-free more broadly. PETA have outlined that the presence of their certification is a way of recognising ‘progressive compassionate businesses’, and that’s exactly how we would define ourselves!
Who/ what are your sustainable influences? They can be people, brands, etc.
I’m really inspired by brands like Patagonia, Green & Blacks and the Body Shop, which have been some of the pioneers of ethical business practice, showing the world that profits do not need to come at the expense of people or the environment!
How do you personally maintain a sustainable lifestyle in your home life, and do you have any tips?
I do all the usual things – recycling, having reusable bottles and coffee cups, as well as being careful with energy usage – but I think one of the most important things to adopt is a good mindset. It’s not realistic to be perfect, but it’s better to make even 1 or 2 small changes and do the best you can. My advice would be to not let imperfection get in the way of doing something and I would recommend reading Jen Gale’s book ‘The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide’ to help with that.
I’m a conscious shopper and am careful not to buy clothes that I might not wear. I often shop secondhand and try to follow the ’40 wears’ principle to help decide if you really will use it or not. I’m a real believer in the power of consumer demand to drive change, so I shop with ethical and/or sustainable brands wherever possible. Apps like CoGo and Good on You are really useful if you’re looking to find new sustainable brands you might like.
What message would you like to tell consumers about your product and what it means to the thousands of people benefiting from it?
Our products are designed to be as comfortable, stylish and inclusive as possible. Not only is our underwear available in a range of sizes and colours (to suit varied body sizes and skin tones), there are even positive messages hidden inside pair! We also actively promote body positivity through our brand imagery and marketing strategies, only using real models and not airbrushing our images.
You really can make a difference with something as small as your underwear! So far, we’ve donated over 3,550 pairs of underwear to Smalls for All, which will go on to help thousands of women and children in communities in the UK and across Africa that don’t have access to these basic necessities.
What's next for you personally and your brand, any future goals?
We’ve got two new ranges planned; one for teenagers and one which incorporates African designs. Although we’ve had to put this on hold for the time being, this is still very much in the pipeline for later this year, or the beginning of 2021.
We’ve recently pledged to become a circular fashion company by April 2021. This will mean introducing a take-back scheme and working with other companies to make sure all used Y.O.U undies are recycled and don’t end up in landfill. We also hope this will help us on our path to becoming a B-Corporation.
Where can our readers find you online and on social media?
If you want to get in contact, drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org