Lucy Allis takes us through Primark’s new price-friendly range of period underwear, to explore how planet-friendly, sustainable and accessible the new products are.
Period underwear has exploded as a concept in the past few years as a sustainable, reusable and easy product. They look like normal underwear but are designed to absorb period blood in a similar way to pads and tampons. You can buy different thicknesses and styles dependent on your flow, and they are easy to care for, as you just throw them in the wash with your other washing. However, they can be very expensive – the average price is above £20, and they aren’t for everyone. In answer to this price, Primark have launched their own range of period underwear which are available for £6 per pair or £16 for a 3 pack.
One of the biggest positives here is the price. It’s no secret that sustainable products generally are very expensive, making them inaccessible. Period underwear specifically is pretty expensive. For example, a best seller from period underwear brand Modibodi is £20.50. A heavier duty pair from the same brand is £24.00. The essentials set from popular brand Thinx is £64.78 for 3 pairs of their hip huggers, which hold 3 tampons worth of blood. These high prices may put people off buying them, even though the upfront cost is balanced out in the long run because of the reduced cost every month. Therefore, Primark providing a sustainable product for just £6 is a really good option which is more accessible.
A different type of sustainability I’m going to discuss here is social. The marketing for the Primark period underwear is very inclusive and people on social media have praised the company for being open about periods and breaking the stigma around menstruation. The marketing features people with different bodies and different body abilities, making it pretty diverse. The points I’ve already made about price also make this product socially sustainable as the period underwear are more accessible.
The biggest issue here is that this could be a pretty concrete case of greenwashing. Primark is notorious for supporting fast fashion, and hasn’t published much about its greenhouse gas emissions or elimination of hazardous chemicals. So, whilst this one sustainable product is a good start, other aspects of the business are environmentally not good enough.
There is also a huge issue with the disconnect between Primark’s inclusive message and the lack of a living wage for Primark workers, limited control of its supply chain and inadequate policies and safeguards for workers from COVID-19. Primark products are made in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, countries where garment workers struggle to support themselves and their families. This is especially relevant because garment workers often cannot afford period products as they are a ‘luxury’. This makes the whole concept of sustainable period products for low prices a bit hypocritical. So, whilst Primark’s period underwear is marketed as sustainable, there are still some holes in the environmental and social sustainability side.
Next we have the materials. The underwear is made from cotton and polyester. There is a section in Primark’s ‘Primark Cares’ area of their website about how they are trying to make cotton sustainable, but not all their cotton is yet. However, there is nothing in their FAQs about polyester. Polyester is the third most common plastic used on the planet and takes a long time to biodegrade. Despite garments made of polyester using less water to take care of than other materials, the manufacturing process uses a lot of water. Polyester is also a common material found in plastic microfibres that end up in our water and eventually our food. Other brands such as Modibodi or Thinx use certified organic cotton and other materials like bamboo viscose and nylon. Obviously none of these materials are perfect, but the materials used by Primark are slightly less sustainable overall, especially without their cotton being sustainable. So, if Primark’s period underwear is sustainable, shouldn’t they be examining what the product is made of?
Overall, the idea of Primark selling period underwear is great. It’s a sustainable option at an affordable and accessible price at a trusted retailer. However, in practice there are issues with Primark overall which cannot be overlooked. If this is the beginning of Primark choosing more sustainable options, then long may it continue. However, if this is just one product, then it is not enough to compete with the tonnes of clothing and products being churned out by this fast fashion machine.
About the author: Lucy Allis is a sustainability masters student and runs a blog called Waste Makes Waste on wordpress at https://wastemakeswaste.design.blog/, and @waste_makes_waste on Instagram.