Did you know that soft, comfy and durable underpants can come at a pretty hefty environmental cost? It’s an issue Bank Australia customer Brendan Lo is all too familiar with – and one he’s set about tackling with his ethical undie enterprise.
“Plastic bottles? On my bum? That can’t be comfortable!”
Brendan Lo is used to hearing this kind of feedback. Why would anyone want to wear underpants made out of plastic when they could swathe their behind in soft fluffy cotton or bamboo?
But when Brendan, founder of SmartAss Undies – undergarments emblazoned with motivational quotes across the backside – started researching environmentally-friendly materials and manufacturing techniques, he quickly found himself disappearing down a rabbit hole.
“Bamboo and MicroModal fabrics are all the rage,” he explains. “But the more I researched, the more I discovered that it takes huge amounts of chemicals and water to turn these hard, fibrous plants into soft, durable fabric. Then you consider how much land needs to be cleared to grow these crops...”
Brendan set his sights on using recycled materials instead. Namely, recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Single-use plastics.
“There’s a million single-use plastic bottles being chucked out in the world every minute,” Brendan says. “Very little of it is being recycled into new products.”
This is where SmartAss Undies steps in. Brendan is taking a problem and turning into something useful. And while converting plastic into something resembling a natural fibre takes a fair bit of energy, it means less waste is going into landfill – or worse, the ocean – and nothing needs to be plucked out of the ground to create it.
But putting plastic bottles to good use isn’t the only thing Brendan’s doing. He’s also partnered with the team at HalfCut to help save the world’s rainforests. “I committed to shaving half my head when I signed up for HalfCut in August,” Brendan says. “Jimmy, HalfCut’s co-founder, reached out about a collaboration. That was when we decided to donate 50% of SmartAss Undies’ profits to reforestation projects.”
For Brendan, it’s all about making a difference, and as a business, how he can make a bigger difference. That means looking for alternatives; finding products and suppliers that are actively seeking to minimise their environmental impact while maximising their social impact.
It also means making the switch from banks and super companies investing in fossil fuels, and spending your money on products with a low impact. “Every service we use, every decision we make, if there’s an alternative to businesses that aren’t taking action, then it’s a simple decision,” Brendan says. “How awesome would it be to see more organisations take on models like Who Gives a Crap and Patagonia who are improving the planet while reducing their impact?”
Brendan’s rolled his superannuation into an ethical super fund, and is a shareholder with Enova community energy. He’s been a Bank Australia customer since 2015. “Rather than just providing the finances to do things like buy cars or houses, Bank Australia is supporting businesses, industries and small community groups to do more,” Brendan says. “They’re putting action and money into helping people.”
The idea of printing motivational quotes across the backend of his undies is to prompt the wearer to remember what’s really important: kindness, respect and not getting caught up in things that don’t matter.
“You see that message when you put them on, take them off, wash them, hang them on the clothesline,” he says. “Reading that quote on your underpants, that’s lighthearted and a bit cheeky, reminds you not to sweat the small stuff, to seek out new things, and remind you of what’s important in life.”
Find out more about SmartAss Undies.
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