We love lace- it's pretty, it’s light, it's flexible. Our Femme Power Colletions really harness these properties to make super comfy ‘feels like you’re not wearing a bra’ bralettes and matching pants that look hot.
It’s not just the design that’s important to us. Little Black Pants Club is run by a bunch of Eco-Feminists, so we’re really passionate that no Femme bodies were harmed in the making of our products.
All our underwear is manufactured (stitched together) in our London studio, and our technicians are paid London Living Wage. This is really important to use because earning below living wage means you can’t afford to live on your wage! We find it heartbreaking to hear about so many people working in fashion- making the brilliant clothes that we all love, but their lives are stressful and miserable because their wages are so low. We want to show that fashion can be part of a world where people enjoy their lives and their work, so we’re committed to paying our technicians living wage.
But can we guarantee that living wage in our supply chain?!
Well the short answer is No! We don’t own a lacemaking mill :-( although we’d really like to, and we’re working on lots of community projects that might make that possible in a few years. So we’re not in control of the conditions that our lace is made in. The best we can do is to source what's known as ‘deadstock’. It means the fabrics that are left over when another brand has finished their production. Because mass production relies on MOQs (minimum order quantities) usually 100 bras plus, to keep prices low, a small amount of leftover fabric is useless to a big brand.
Most brands ‘mass produce’ their clothing lines, so they need to buy large quantities of lace. At the end of a production run there might be a couple of rolls of a certain colour or style leftover. Back in the day that fabric would have gone to landfill- I’ve heard a lot of stories of fashion students going to the alleys behind the big London fashion houses and raiding their bins for rolls of luxury fabrics.
Nowadays there are people who have built their businesses around sourcing those leftover fabrics and selling them on to smaller brands like us who make ltd edition and small runs which can utilise those left over rolls.
This is by no means a perfect solution, but it's a good starting point; to make our business model of small scale local production work. It also reduces waste because we’re not committed to buying large quantities of lace that you guys might not even want!
What about the environmental impact? Well deadstock is a way of using up a waste stream, and because we’re making to order, we’re only making that lace into underwear that people will actually wear!
But in terms of using ecologically beneficial fabrics- it’s not a great solution! Again- until we have access to lacemaking machinery our hands are a bit tied. There are very few mills that are trying to make lace more sustainable. We support them where we can- for instance, Chanty lace in Germany make a lace with a percentage of organic cotton in it.
Here we have a slightly different issue- is the benefit worth the cost? This lace costs roughly 3x what our deadstock laces cost, which obviously puts our prices up, and means less people can afford our products. We’ve already stripped our prices right back- there’s no profit margin, we run super low marketing costs compared to our competitors etc, so there’s not much room for extra material costs. The organic cotton content in the Chanty lace was only 17%, which feels like a fairly minimal impact for the increase in cost.
We’ve also been in touch with a mill making recycled polyester lace. At first we were very excited about this lace, but when we looked carefully at the literature, the polyester being recycled was a bi-product of lace production rather than a post consumer waste stream.
I totally support production waste being spun into a new fibre and incorporated into a lace product, but it feels like that should just be part of normal lace production! If I start to sell that lace as ‘revolutionary recycled fibre lace’ I think I’m tricking people into thinking that polyester can be collected and recycled after a garment has been used and discarded, and it's totally not that! Which feels like greenwashing. Not to mention- the MOQs would put just one order of this lace at £10K plus, meaning a big investment, that’s possibly not delivering the impact we’d hope. You'll remember our earlier commitment to living wage- we asked this supplier if they guarantee a living wage to their employees. They said the conform to Italian Labour laws. So that's a No.
The truth of polyester fibres, especially blends like polyester and elastane, is that they can’t be recycled back into fabrics. The technology just doesn’t exist. Swedish Stockings, who are a great eco brand, recycled their tights into industrial insulation- it’s definitely prolonging the usefulness of the fibre, but it's still a linear model.
I feel like we owe our people a truly circular solution for beautiful functional laces. Which is why we’re not letting the obstacles- High MOQs, lack of innovation in industry, increased costs, prevent us from pushing for radical change. As designers who’ve been working in made-to-measure underwear for yonks, we have tonnes of knowledge about how industry could be adapted to meet the complex needs of underwear wearers.
We believe the best way to drive that innovation forward is by access to machinery to test and develop our ideas. To be part of our struggle to get community owned machinery in Brixton to support eco-femme R and D by brands like us- Sign up to our Newsletter.