Head to your underwear drawer and you’ll probably find that most of your undies and bras are made with polyester. For fast fashion underwear makers, polyester is kind of a miracle fabric - it’s super cheap to produce and convenient for consumers because it doesn’t wrinkle or fade much.
But that cheap polyester comes with a hefty price tag in the form of pollution. Polyester is essentially a form of plastic. It’s cheap, so it doesn’t last long, and once you’re done with it, it takes hundreds of years to break down.
The best green alternative is recycled polyester, which uses plastic bottles and makes those into a fabric. In terms of health though, it definitely doesn’t tick the boxes, with studies showing its potential to leech toxic chemicals into your skin.
For a long time, cotton was the best alternative for people wanting a natural fabric for down there.
Cotton underwear has long been gynaecologist-recommended. But traditional cotton is the world’s dirtiest and thirstiest crop - it needs a lot of pesticides and water to grow, so it’s not an ideal fabric for the planet-conscious among us.
At magi, we believe we’ve found a better option to both polyester and cotton, not only for your intimate areas - but the planet as well.
Enter: hemp. Hemp has been illegal for a long time because of its association with cannabis and marijuana, but its legalisation has brought to light multiple benefits of using the fabric.
We believe consumers should be equipped with enough information to make responsible choices for their bodies and for the planet. We’ve compared the three fabrics, so you can know which choice is right for you:
Which fabric is the strongest?
Polyester is a pretty strong fabric and is known for having strong fibers that don’t wear down very quickly.
Hemp is one of the strongest and most durable natural fibers in the world - it holds its shape and doesn’t become distorted or worn out if it’s washed and worn many times.
Cotton is not as strong - it quickly loses its shape and is prone to shrinking.
Without doing a test of the fibers, it’s safe to say polyester is a strong synthetic fiber, whilst hemp is a strong natural fiber.
Strength is a really important fabric quality to take into account when buying underwear especially because underwear needs to be washed and worn often.
Choosing a strong fabric can determine how long you wear your clothes for and the lifetime of the fabric after you’re done with it - i.e. when it’s resold, recycled or upcycled.
Which fabric is the healthiest for down there?
Gynaecologists have long preferred cotton underwear to polyester, but because hemp isn’t really a mainstream fabric, it hasn’t entered the conversation in terms of health.
Cotton is breathable, but hemp actually has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which means it works to reduce the bacteria which underwear is usually a breeding ground for.
Polyester, on the other hand, traps heat, moisture and bacteria (yuck), making infections much more likely.
There are a few brands emerging in the market who have infused their fabrics with silver as an antimicrobial technique. Silver is a biocide and kills germs, but more studies need to be done on its effectiveness and whether or not it kills good bacteria as well.
Which fabric is the most comfortable?
Cotton and hemp are the best options in terms of pure comfort because of their breathability. But hemp has a great advantage over the others - it gets softer and more comfortable the more you wash and wear it. So in terms of long term comfort, hemp is the clear winner.
Which fabric uses the least amount of water to make?
As the world heats up, the supply of clean water will slowly diminish. Cotton is a highly water-intensive crop, needing almost 10,000 liters of water to grow and process just 1kg of fabric.
By contrast, hemp needs 2,000 liters of water for 1kg of fabric. The difference, though, is that hemp can be grown anywhere in the world, meaning it doesn’t need as much irrigation and can rely more on rainfall.
Polyester is a little harder to compare, as it’s a synthetic fiber and doesn’t use water in the processing stage. In a hypothetical situation, polyester would need 0.1% of the water cotton needs to be produced.
Which fabric is the most breathable?
With activewear, “moisture-wicking” fabrics are often promoted as an advantage of the product. Most activewear is made with polyester, which has the ability to wick moisture from your skin - but it’s not all it’s hyped up to be.
This process actually tricks your body into sweating even more, because it removes the sweat from your skin before the sweat can cool your body down.
Polyester fabric also has toxins that your body can take in when your pores are open during sweating. So it’s safe to say polyester isn’t the best choice for underwear breathability.
Cotton is a breathable fabric by nature and is a great option for keeping your body cool. There’s a caveat, though - unless you’re opting for organic cotton, your cotton underwear probably isn’t the healthiest for your body, regardless of the breathability. Hemp has similar breathability properties to cotton - but it’s up to four times more absorbent and still feels dry to the touch.
Hemp hasn’t been a mainstream fabric in fashion thanks to the illegal status of cannabis in most places. However, it’s being legalised - and this is great news for the sustainable fashion industry.
In sustainable fashion, it’s always important to do research and weigh up all the options - with fabrics or otherwise. Read the fine print of sustainable underwear brands, and decide which one is best for you and your needs. We hope this helps.