Philly’s New Circular Fashion Brand Wants to Save Your Underwear From the Landfill

The Big Favorite, founded by designer Eleanor Turner, attempts to close the fashion loop when it comes to undergarments.

underwear by The Big Favorite

Photography by Breanne Furlong Parker for The Big Favorite

We all know fast fashion is a huge source of waste in the modern world. Moreover, we know that creating clothing sustainably and ethically is a practice that companies often tout in name, but fail to back up in action. Not so with local brand The Big Favorite, which launched this fall with a product lines of comfy unisex basics ranging between $13 and $70, all produced in a completely sustainable process — known as circular fashion — that sends zero waste to the landfill by incorporating recycling and reuse into the product lifecycle.

It all started when Eleanor Turner, a fashion designer who worked for brands like Tory Burch, J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger and co-founded women’s workwear brand Argent, set her sights on undies. “I learned that millions of pounds of undergarment textile waste ends up in the trash or in incinerators every day in the U.S.,” Turner explains, “that’s because it’s the one category that can’t really be donated or resold.”

According to the EPA, the average American throws out a whopping 81 pounds of clothing a year. In 2018, the EPA calculated the recycling rate for textiles at 14.7 percent, meaning that over 85 percent of all discarded textiles — that’s 14.5 million tons — were either incinerated or wound up in a landfill, rather than recycled. Seems like an industry that is begging to be disrupted (like our relationship with food waste, for instance.)

To change the narrative around clothing waste — and underwear waste specifically — The Big Favorite set out to produce basic items with partners out of Peru using recyclable, plastic-free pima cotton fiber, all designed to be a circular system from the start. “We chose pima cotton because it’s a natural fiber which means it’s healthy next to your skin, it’s naturally breathable, and it’s the longest stable fiber of all of the cottons so it’s very soft,” says Turner, “It’s better also for the textile recycling process. This fiber is superior because it’s already longer, so on the other end of recycling it maintains its length, its durability, and its quality, resulting in a better-quality recycled yarn.”

Heres’s how it works: when you buy underwear or t-shirts from the Big Favorite, they’ll arrive at your doorstep, you’ll wear them until you’re done with them, then wash them again and scan the QR code on the garment label — or go to The Big Favorite site and get a pre-paid USPS label. Simply send the items back to them for recycling and they’ll sort the recaptured understuff, sanitize it, shred it, and turn it into new yarn. In return, they’ll offer credits for new items to replace the old, or offer a donation to a climate-positive initiative as an alternative.

Turner, who currently launched the company from Philly this November, explains that the name of her brand actually originates with her great-grandfather’s company. She’s proud to have relaunched the former family business — she didn’t even learn that she had a family history in design and textiles until she was already studying fashion, however.

“I was in school studying fashion at SCAD. I came home for winter break and I found this button that said ‘The Big Favorite’ on it,” Turner remembers, “I asked my dad, ‘What is this?’ He explained to me that we had a family history in textiles and manufacturing — and that in fact my great grandfather was a textiles and manufacturing entrepreneur back in the ’30s! He had a company that made workwear, like cotton denim, cotton-canvas workwear for hardworking Americans. I thought what a crazy coincidence that I’m studying fashion and didn’t know about my family history. And I loved the branding and the name — The Big Favorite is so iconic.”

She stowed the gem away for a later day. And naturally, once the time came when she was ready to launch her own sustainable, circular brand, she revived the name — and the family legacy. Now, she’s excited for the waves the company can hopefully make in the fashion industry.

“When I think about circularity, it’s more than a marketing plot,” says Turner, “When I think  all the garments I’ve designed in my lifetime, and think of them ending up as trash, it’s really sad. People do take the action to try to donate their clothing instead of throwing it away, but at the end of the day a lot of places have such overflow that it ends up in landfills anyway. I wanted to revive this brand to use creativity to solve problems. You have to build circularity in from the very beginning to truly do this successfully. I think that’s where the Big Favorite is looking to own and build that experience — to educate others and to make it super easy for customers.”

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