Underwear, in various interpretations, was pretty much the first object of clothing adopted by humans to cover their bits.

Pull on knickers, pants, shorts or “unmentionables” made their debut in the 13th century. They were often made in the privacy of one’s home from breathable linen fabrics and designed with an open crotch. Although many an undergarment was worn in secret, it wasn’t widely accepted for women to ‘wear the pants’ until the mid-1800s.

By the Industrial Revolution, with the invention of the cotton gin and water-powered spinning mechanisms, cotton underpants became the latest craze. People could even buy them in stores!

From the 1920’s to the 1970’s undergarments became less bulky and restrictive, transforming over the decades from a camisole/underwear combo all the way to the butt baring thong.

Along with this evolution came the introduction of new materials like rayon, nylon and polyester, bringing a whole new spectrum of color to the lingerie game. These synthetic fabrics made underwear manufacturing faster and cheaper than before. While the 19th and early 20th century woman only owned a couple pairs, the average American woman of today owns 21 — and can purchase them for as low as 5 bucks a pop.

Enter H&M, friend of the trend-driven apparel junkie and makers of this cute pair of shortie briefs. Although a $5 bucks a pop bargain that’s hard to pass up, with fast fashion underwear there is much to be revealed – and it just might get your panties in a bunch.

Made in Bangladesh

H&M is regularly criticized for seeking the cheapest labor, so it’s no wonder that a great majority of their garment factories are located in Bangladesh. The country is the second-leading apparel exporter behind China, but with the lowest wages in the world.

Despite signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in response to Rana Plaza’s deadly collapse, many of H&M’s Bangladesh supplier factories still pose a threat to workers. Many do not have sufficient fire exits nor keep their facilities up to code.

In fact, there was a factory fire at one of H&M’s suppliers in Gazipur just last year.

Outside of safety concerns, H&M’s Bangladesh factories also have been in violation of child labor laws and firing women for getting pregnant.

When you buy better, your fashion choices can lift instead of trap women into a cycle of exploitation and poverty

Made with Conventional, Un-certified Cotton

Conventional cotton is a thirsty crop. Did you know that it takes about 360 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for just one pair of underwear?

Add in the herbicides and chemical fertilizers sprayed on each cotton boll, not to mention the water sources that they contaminate, and you may consider going commando.

Additionally, without credible fair trade certifications or an organic origin, knowing what it takes to come by cotton can get a little shady. While H&M is known as the largest buyer of organic cotton, in 2010 it was found that 30% of their organic cotton products were made with GMO cotton.

The good news is that H&M has been working with farmers through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to develop water-conserving, sustainable growing methods. They are also known to use some recycled cottons in the making of their apparel.

When you buy better, cotton is grown with respect to our land, waterways and field workers.

Finished with toxic dyes and chemicals

It takes numerous toxic chemicals to make just one pair of machine-made underwear. The apparel industry has access to 8,000 chemicals and use them at will to turn raw materials into finished garments. Unlike the US, many of these chemicals are banned in Europe.

After being called out in 2012 by Greenpeace for having toxic industrial chemicals in their clothing, H&M promised to be completely toxic chemical free by 2020. They’ve since been the first fast fashion company to eliminate PFCs – a chemical linked to cancer. Although they still have a way to go to reach their goal, the company is being transparent about their chemical use.

In addition to small traces of cyanide, azo dyes that can release cancer-causing amines, and heavy metals have been reported. A culmination of these chemicals can have negative effects on the liver, endocrine systems and can cause infertility problems.

When you buy better, there are less chemicals deposited into our water streams and our bodies.

Encourages overconsumption and waste

H&M produces more than 2,000,000 lbs of clothing per week. That’s a lot of cheap clothing made to last for one season. Often times charity shops cannot re-sell fast fashion garments because they were not built to last.

The EPA estimates that while the textile recycling industry recycles 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste per year, 85% of used textiles end up in the landfill.

When you buy fewer better things that last, you divert fashion from filling up landfills.

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  1. The problems are exacerbated in the low-price, quick-turnaround segment of the market known as “fast fashion,” which encourages cheap production and a throwaway mind-set.

    1. Hi Maria, thank you for your note! You make a great point. We’ve lost our love affair with our clothes. The race to the bottom of cheaper faster has perpetuated an expectation to pay less and buy more. Yet, we’re happier when we buy fewer, better things!

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