If you buy bikini briefs or boxers from the startup the Big Favorite, when the underwear eventually wears out, the company wants you to send it back. The brand is aiming for true circularity: After your undies are cleaned and sanitized, the cotton will be recycled into yarn that can be used in new products.
“We’re looking to change the way people see their worn-out undergarments and teach them that instead of [being] trash, it can actually be a future resource,” says founder Eleanor Turner. (The brand itself is also recycled—Turner is reusing the name of an undergarment company led by her great-grandfather in the 1930s.)
While recycled content is becoming more common in apparel, it often comes from sources such as plastic bottles, which can be turned into yarn for jackets, rather than from a brand’s own used products. A handful of companies, from Levi’s to Patagonia, are pushing consumers to return old products so they can be refurbished and resold to extend their life. But the secondhand market obviously isn’t an option for underwear, which just ends up in the trash. Turner says that about 11 million pounds of T-shirts and underwear are thrown out each day in the United States—an estimate based on the fact that the average American throws out 81 pounds of clothing a year (per EPA data) and the startup’s guess that T-shirts and underwear account for 15% of someone’s wardrobe.