Oxford-based ethical underwear retailer Y.O.U underwear has become a certified B Corp. In fact, as of December 2021, it is the highest scoring B Corp in the UK, and the top fashion brand in the world, according to founder Sarah Jordan.
Certified B Corporations (B Corps for short), are businesses which meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
The B Corp movement began in the USA in 2006 when businessmen Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan and Andrew Kassoy established B Lab. Their new organisation made it easier for companies to improve their positive impact.
The UK is now home to the second largest B Corp community in the world, with more than 500 companies certified as B Corp.
Sarah said: “I set the business up three years ago with sustainability and impact at the heart of it, and to have received this accreditation is a huge achievement that I’m very proud of.
“It’s a challenging process and has taken us about a year to complete as the B Corp assessment covers every aspect of the business, but to come out of that with such a high score validates what we’re doing, as well as some of the tough decisions we’ve made over the past couple of years.”
According to the charity Action Aid, it’s estimated that one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school when they have their periods, seriously disadvantaging them in life. But when Sarah travelled to East Africa in 2016 to undertake charity work as part of the Uganda Marathon, she realised that it wasn’t just sanitary products the girls needed, it was pants too.
“I was shocked at the number of women and children I met who didn’t have access to something we take for granted every day – underwear.”
When she returned home to Oxford she decided to launch a business selling underwear on a buy-one-give-two model. YOU Underwear was born.
But she didn’t just want to sell any knickers, how they are manufactured was important too.
“Conventional cotton is a really polluting crop, and the more I dug into it, the more I realised if we were going to provide underwear, we had to do it in a sustainable way.”
And that meant outsourcing to India.
“We manufacture in India because most organic cotton is grown there, and rather than import the cotton on rolls and make the pants here, we import the final finished products, so our footprint is less. Through the company we
work with there, which uses local co- operatives, we have visibility throughout our supply chain.
Sarah launched the business thanks
to a £20,000 crowd-funding campaign, and despite a few Covid-19 setbacks (when she had to scale back selling
at markets, pop-ups and events), things are going well as online sales are growing.
“We launched two new ranges just before Christmas which include girls bralettes, designed by two schoolgirls in Oxford, and partnered with a designer in Nairobi. We are also branching out into T-shirts and loungewear.
“The biggest thing behind what we are doing is trying to show that fashion can be a force for good and doesn’t need to kill the planet.