One person’s discarded unmentionables could become another person’s furniture through a Calgary-designed program to dispose of used undergarments sustainably. It’s not as unrealistic — or gross — as it sounds.
Calgary’s Bota Undergarments launched in late 2022. As well as offering sustainable, size-inclusive underwear options, it was important to founders Rayna Larson and Grace Coulas that their underwear didn’t contribute to the global problem of textile waste. Bota’s first-pair commitment gives its customers the option to exchange their first purchase if the garment doesn’t fit. “We weren’t going to resell [the returned underwear], but we also didn’t really have any way to dispose of it,” Larson says.
Currently, there are limited options for getting rid of used underwear — most thrift stores do not accept it (and rightfully so). “The vast majority ends up in the landfill,” Larson says, adding that waste is prevalent in every facet of the fashion industry, with an estimated 92-million tonnes of textile waste generated each year. “A lot of underwear is made from synthetic materials that take a really long time to break down,” she says.
Their response was the Top Drawer Detox Kit, a first-of-its-kind underwear recycling program in Canada that launched earlier this year. Bota partnered with Debrand, a Vancouver textile recycling company, to create a way for undergarments to be repurposed. “Specifically, for underwear, this means turning your old pairs into things like insulation and furniture batting,” Larson says.
An individual Top Drawer Detox Kit retails for $18; or around $10 when purchased with three pairs of underwear. The kit includes a prepaid return mailer made from 100-per cent recycled plastics and a two-strip sample pack of unscented Tru Earth eco-friendly, plastic-free and non-toxic laundry strips.
“This recycling program was just such a natural fit,” Larson says. “It was an ‘a-ha moment’ when we realized that we could expand by not just reclaiming the wastes from our changes and returns, but really do something that will make an even broader impact.”