During these challenging times, it’s been more important than ever for all of us to pledge our support in whatever way we can to small businesses. As an independent business ourselves, we understand the devastating impact of Covid-19 and want to spotlight our own community of small businesses who are doing great things in a challenging climate. With that in mind, we’ve sat down (virtually) with Jasmine Wickens, founder of The Under_Label - an ethical underwear brand who are creating beautiful made-to-order pieces using sustainable materials. With a focus on working with British manufacturers and a tailored approach to design, we chat to Jasmine and find out a little more about what The Under_Label is about.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came about launching The Under Label?
The Under_Label was formed in response to my personal situation in 2016 - I’m trained in womenswear design and struggled like many to find a creative role in industry, and when I did I was disappointed with the reality of the industry – its negative impact both environmentally and socially. This, with a mixture of bad health issues, led to a stint of unemployment; I viewed starting my own project as a way to work creatively from home under my own terms in order to prioritise my health.
The choice to focus on underwear was solution driven – it was a mixture of personally needing well-fitting, aesthetic and ethically produced underwear, what I could physically create in the space and circumstances provided to me, and what I thought was needed and therefore worth creating.
How do you go about sourcing the materials you use?
As a small business with limited space I choose to purchase in line with demand, it provides flexibility and limits any dead stock that could occur. I always aim to source to the best standard I can at the time, supporting UK businesses whose quality and ethics align with my own, and where possible I aim to go and view the factories or purchase in person.
The fabric I use is from an organic textiles supplier based in Wales; they source from organic mills worldwide and work to high ethical standards. For elastics, I chose to source directly from an elastic mill based in Leicestershire where they’ve been running since 1898; I was able to walk the factory floor and see the whole process take place which was amazing! Other items like threads and metal pieces I carefully choose brands from a well-known East London haberdasher – ultimately the people are as important to me as the product, these small businesses always have a decent team behind them with a warm atmosphere, I feel proud to source from them and that’s so important.
Why is sustainability important to your brand and how do you prioritise it?
As a slow fashion brand everything is underpinned by the idea of sustainability, I believe that transparency is a key element to making people care more for their clothing, how it was made and in doing so be less wasteful. I developed the Under_Label with the goal of encouraging healthier consumer habits by slowing everything down and asking consumers to think about their choices before committing to a purchase. It’s an extension of my values – at the end of the day I am creating waste so I should take every step possible to me to reduce the negative impact throughout the whole product lifecycle. Sustainability is about acting with integrity in the moment, whilst aiming to develop as it becomes feasible…there’s always room for improvement!
What are the benefits of producing made-to-order garments for both the designer and the wearer?
For me, creating to order was always to limit the amount of waste I create – I don’t try to anticipate who my customers are and what they would like to purchase, this could lead to dead stock! For the wearer it gives the option to have the item (bra) fitted to your body, we’re all so different it allows for different band to cup ratios to fit comfortably. I think as well that it becomes more special to know that the item you’ve asked for is being created by the designer and sent directly to you!
What are your views on the underwear industry in general? Do you think it still has a long way to go in terms of innovation, female representation etc?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag really – there’s good and bad as in everything and always room for improvements. Social media has changed the way brands market themselves, I find there’s more diversity being shown by the smaller indie brands which is good to see, but we all still have a long way to go.
What do you think women want from underwear these days and how might that have changed?
Underwear has a purpose, but is also equally an act of expression and self-care. There are women who will prioritise it and others who view it as a necessity – it’s very personal to each woman and there is a product for everyone. I feel like there’s been a shift towards comfort, a lot of materials and structures have softened allowing for a much more natural shape.
How do you work out the prices for each garment - is this a difficult process to get right?
I approached pricing by choosing what I believe to be a very reasonable price point, in line with similar brands and high-street retailers who are producing on a much larger scale, then working backwards and seeing if it’s sensible business wise. I want my products to be accessible by many - It’s a balance between affordability and respecting the time, energy and quality of each product I make. These prices will potentially fluctuate, with the rise or fall of materials and overhead costs, but will always be fair.
What are your hopes for The Under Label?
I hope that I’m able to grow the project into a small business, where I can continue to develop more products and build a space for women to feel comfortable and celebrate diversity. This is slow fashion – so I’m in no rush to do anything and it will take time to nurture it well, keeping people’s wellbeing at its core. I‘d like to begin development on another more luxurious collection of items that I’ve had in mind since the start!
What do you do to unwind?
I enjoy pottering around my flat not doing a lot, lots of tea/wine and food. I run regularly (no phone, no music - just keys) which is quite meditative, long walks as well; I’ve been known to walk to central London from Zone 3 regularly!
All images: Thea Lovstad for The Under_Label