Even as a self-proclaimed sustainability-junkie, the most eco-friendly thing I can say about my lingerie drawer is that some of the bras in it have been with me for, erm, two decades (gross, I know!). I buy mostly secondhand clothing to lower my environmental footprint, but TBH, it had never really occurred to me to worry about the intimate apparel I purchase. Until, that is, a pitch for the world’s first plant-based bra came across my desk–along with some not-so-great details about how my not-so-plant-based bras are impacting the environment.
The pitch in question was sent by a new brand called Kindly, which lingerie manufacturer Gelmart International created and recently launched at the world’s largest retailer: Walmart. It’s not the first company to attempt to bring sustainability to intimate apparel, but it is the first to do it on such a large-scale, and with accessibility at the core of its ethos.
This is a potentially game-changing distinction because most efforts to innovate around sustainability–especially in the apparel space–begin at the higher-end of the market, says Yossi Nasser, CEO of Gelmart International. And while adding eco-friendly options to the industry in any capacity is progress, Nasser explains that these eco brands tend to be too small to truly effect change. “When any new innovation comes to the marketplace, it starts at the top where there’s the least amount of volume and impact, and then it trickles its way down to the masses,” he explains. “[As a large manufacturer], we found a way to start from the bottom up, which puts pressure on the rest of the industry to follow suit.”
Those smaller, top-of-the-pyramid sustainable efforts also tend to price out many consumers, simply because they are made in smaller batches and are therefore more costly to manufacture. Nasser explains that the brand’s partnership with Walmart has made it possible for them to secure discounts throughout the supply chain due to the volume they’re producing to fill the retailer’s many, many stores. “It’s still not the cheapest bra out there, but the market hasn’t really seen innovative bra technology at a price point like this, so we feel like it’s exceedingly disruptive,” he says. (All Kindly bras are under $14.)
And while Kindly’s bras haven’t solved for every sustainability problem entirely, the company has taken a step they say solves for one of the least eco-friendly aspects of your bra: Most bra cups are made from foam, which is not biodegradable. After years of trial and error in development, Gelmart developed bra cups made instead from sugarcane, and it’s those which you’ll find in styles offered by Kindly. The rest of the bra–along with Kindly’s panty offerings–is made with recycled materials in order to further reduce their impact.
“In my 40-plus years working in the industry, this was the most challenging project I’ve worked on,” says Eve Bastug, chief product officer for Gelmart International. “It took us three years to work toward a cup that is over 80-percent plant-based. There is still work to be done, but our team is taking the steps to create a more sustainable future with beautifully-crafted products that people can feel good about wearing.”
Nasser, too, admits that this iteration is not the perfect solution to sustainability in the intimate apparel space. Sugarcane harvesting has its own environmental issues, after all, including deforestation. But Kindly’s sugarcane is sourced through the Braskem Responsible Ethanol Sourcing program, which means it’s held to certain eco standards. In any case, Nasser says that while they are confident in their current product’s value as a sustainable alternative to mainstream options, the company will continue to develop from here.
All of this sounds…cool, right? But if you, like me, were curious about how a plant-based bra compares to a regular one, keep reading for my hot take on Kindly’s newly launched line.
Kindly’s initial offerings aren’t the kinds of lacy getups you’d wear to seduce your partner on an anniversary; instead, Gelmart International’s CMO, Caroline Limpert, notes that the company’s design focus is on comfort for everyday wear. As such, the brand’s current styles include a wireless T-shirt bra, a V-neck bralette, and a seam-free X-back bralette. Each comes in a variety of colorways and, sizes run from 34A-40DD, with additional sizes promised later this year.
The brand sent me one of these new bras to try in advance of launch, and I have to admit to being dubious before it arrived. Bra fit is so personal, and there’s a reason I still wear bras older than some of you reading this piece–I like the fit and feel too much to let them go!
But since its arrival, the only times I’ve wanted to take the Kindly bra off is to begrudgingly wash it. It’s as comfortable as promised, and it also gives my chest shape it hasn’t naturally enjoyed in maybe a decade. (In other words, it holds the girls up–nice and high and tight.)
I’m not yet going to toss my outdated bras in favor of this new one, but not because it’s not superior–I just don’t want them to land in the dump. But if I need to buy new everyday-wear bras moving forward, I think it’d be hard to argue for any other option given the price point, fit, aesthetic under clothing, and sustainable materials, of course.
And I’m excited to watch the brand continue to innovate, as they do not plan to rest on their laurels having just cracked the cup code to this extent. The brand is motivated to break further ground in order to offer consumers options they can feel better about buying, while also setting an example for the rest of the industry. Loungewear, activewear, and basics are on the Kindly radar, too, and it’s no coincidence that these target categories include the items women wear most often.
“The Kindly brand is about being kind to your wallet, kind to your body, and kind to the environment,” says Limpert. “[These initial launches] are just the beginning for us.”
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