Yorkshire-Based Eartha Underwear on Their Unique Approach to Sustainability
Living North catches up with Emily Turner who launched Eartha Underwear in 2021, which has already won a major award for its unique approach to sustainability
What makes Eartha Underwear different?
Eartha is unique to the underwear industry. It revolutionises the way underwear is manufactured to make it better for the planet, the people wearing it and the people making it. Many companies are only now beginning to explore ways to improve their carbon footprint, yet Eartha has been designed to be carbon neutral from the start. Its unique approach has been already recognised as we recently won a national award judged by more than 40 global experts and activists in sustainability.
At Eartha we completely understand that one style does not fit all, so offer a range of styles including mid-rise and high-waisted thongs and pants, bralettes and socks. Customer feedback has been influential in all of Eartha’s designs and every piece from the latest collection is made to order in Scarborough – and customers can even see clips of their underwear being made.
We love that it’s based in Yorkshire, has that provided its own challenges?
Being based in Yorkshire is wonderful. I get to work with fantastically skilled people locally, including those who sew Eartha’s products, the photographers, models and our dispatch team. I haven’t found it necessary to travel far and wide to have the product made or photographed when there are so many talented people in the local area.
Sustainability is clearly important to you. How have you addressed this within your manufacturing?
Operating sustainably is what Eartha is about. After years of working in the fashion industry and becoming increasingly concerned about its impact on people and the planet, I studied Business Sustainability Management with Cambridge University. This led to my current postgraduate research studies with Leeds Beckett University which focus on sustainability in the fashion industry. My aim is not only to ensure Eartha is operating sustainably, but to also support other businesses who wish to do so too.
In reality, the challenge of manufacturing products that fit my rigorous green standards has been immense. Many major manufacturers have their products made in places which are struggling with pollution, water scarcity, poor working conditions, the use of toxic chemicals and other challenges. This contributed to my decision to move the product sewing to North Yorkshire so I can closely manage Eartha’s supply chain. Each fabric has its own sustainable story. For instance, the seaweed is harvested from the fjords of Iceland in a sustainable and regenerative process. It is pure and rich in essential substances such as vitamins and minerals which can help relieve skin diseases, reduce inflammation and soothe itchiness.
I also only order what we intend to use to prevent waste. Once the fabric has sold out, it is replaced with a new sustainable fabric or colour.
What are the biggest challenges you feel you have faced since starting our own business?
Funnily enough, the challenges I expected to face and the reality were very different. I had concerns whether the price point may be off-putting considering underwear has become very cheap and disposable in the fashion industry. However, there has been a lot of consumer interest in high quality, sustainable underwear and customers are understanding that there is a cost to achieve this. I originally hoped to seek some local funding support but this has been a challenge. I have met wonderful business advisors in the area but sadly, the funding criteria hasn’t included my kind of business.
What advice would you give yourself before starting out, now you’ve successfully launched your collection?
I wanted to have the product made locally from the start, but didn’t initially trust in myself to be able to do it. Most manufacturing is done abroad. Even though I’ve worked in fashion for many years I didn’t know of another company that made their product in the UK. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to find ethically certified manufacturers abroad. I would have set up manufacturing in Scarborough from the first collection not second. I should have trusted my first instincts.
What do you see as the best and worst thing about running your own business?
Receiving positive feedback is so uplifting. There is no better feeling then people sharing positive stories about Eartha. ‘It’s the best bralette for someone with chronic backpain’; ‘in love with it’; ‘incredibly soft and comfortable next to skin and fits perfectly’; ‘I’m so pleased with my purchase and couldn’t recommend it enough’. I encourage people to share what they need from an underwear brand so I can try to design product in response to everyone’s needs. This process is so important.
Being a single parent and a single entrepreneur at the same time can be tough to manage. Juggling family life with the needs of a new business can be challenging.
Where do you see Eartha in five years time?
I am keen that Eartha continues to be based in North Yorkshire. My ideal manufacturing and distribution base will have integrated childcare to provide flexible employment to people with family commitments – just like me.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d share with any budding entrepreneur?
Keep asking your customers what they need from your brand. Design everything for their purpose. Solve problems for them. For instance, many underwear brands sell same size sets yet so few people are the same size top and bottom.
Buy Eartha Underwear’s current range at earthaunderwear.com or on their Instagram @earthaunderwear, where you can also follow Eartha’s sustainability journey.
Favourite place in Yorkshire and why?
The North Yorkshire coast, spending early mornings on the beach with my son and our dog. A great time to play, but also to clear my mind ready for the day ahead.
Where would you tell a visitor to shop in Yorkshire?
There are some wonderful shops across Yorkshire that enable you to refill your everyday items. The Old Weigh in Pickering for example is a treasure trove of sustainable goodness and is helping to reduce the use of single-use plastics.
Where’s your go-to place for a meal out?
The Homestead at Goathland. Spend the day in in this beautiful place then enjoy the amazing food and great atmosphere.
The three things that help you turn off at the end of the day?
My son loves his bedtime stories and always wants at least three! I’m usually asleep before he is.