How long do you spend thinking about the underwear that you buy and own?
You’re certainly not alone if your answer is; “Probably not that long.” I considered the process of buying underwear about as enjoyable as filling my car up with petrol. Until I received my pair of Pico trunks.
Project Pico founders Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen and Isobel Williams-Ellis
Pico was founded in 2017 by school friends Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen and Isobel Williams-Ellis. Their mission was to provide ethical everyday items, that can be traced back to their source. They decided to start with the first thing we put on every day, underwear.
Phoebe and Isobel visited every stage of their supply chain, to ensure that people and planet are valued at each step. Ethical Consumer rated Pico highest on their list of 29 underwear brands. They have created what we at Brothers We Stand consider to be a model garment supply chain. And we are delighted to share their beautifully illustrated story with you.
The journey begins in blistering 49.8ºC heat, in south-west Odisha, with the sowing of organic cotton seeds. Members of the Pratima Organic Grower Group grow organic cotton, alongside ginger, turmeric, pulses and cashew nuts. Once sown, there’s a five to six month wait until monsoon season when the cotton can be harvested.
Pratima believes in 'unshackling farmers through ownership and training'. They practise crop rotation, border cropping and composting techniques. This naturally fertilises the soil and keeps away diseases and pests; allowing farmers to escape dependence on expensive and toxic fertilisers. Pratima has supported and improved the lives of 3.5k farmers in this way.
Phoebe and Isobel with the farmers at Pratima Organic Growers' Group
After harvest, the cotton is taken to a nearby ginning unit to be processed. Here cotton fibres are separated from cotton seeds, then graded, and compressed into blocks. The best quality fibres of cotton will be cleaned and spun into a strong yarn. This yarn that will go into a pair of Pico trunks. But nothing is wasted, as lower quality fibres of cotton will be used to stuff mattresses and the cotton seeds used for oil and cattle feed.
"The ginning unit we visited was in Titilagarh. While we were visiting, there was a short, sudden drop in temperature and we found ourselves in the eye of a dramatic thunder storm. We heard cheers from afar for the arrival of rain and were relieved to be told that there was an exceptionally large lightning mast nearby - preventing us all from being struck by lightning." -Phoebe and Isobel at Project Pico
The ginning unit
Next the yarn travels to the Shakthi Knitting unit in Tirupur. The knitting machines are threaded up by hand, then knit the fabric together under the watchful eye of the operator. The machines employ a multitude of bobbins that happily clatter away; 95% are wound with organic cotton yarn and the remaining 5% with elastane. This blend gives Pico pants a little stretch. This factory has an A grade WRAP certification (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), as they are dedicated to safe, lawful and ethical manufacturing.
The Shakthi Knitting Unit in Tirupur
The fabric is now ready to be dyed. Originally natural dyes such as indigo and turmeric were used. Today a synthetic dye is used to give a deeper colour that lasts longer. The water used in the process is piped to the Waste Water Unit. The water is put through a variety of cleaning processes and 95% is returned to a drinkable state. The remaining 5% is left to form a cement cake which can be used as a building material supplement.
Wastewater treatment plant in Tirupur
Now the fabric is cut and sewn into the trunks that you will buy and love. MILA factory is located within 40km of the spinning, knitting and dyeing units. The factory is FLO Fairtrade and GOTS certified and allows anyone to visit with its open door policy. Tailors receive a living wage which is far above the legal minimum wage in India. Interest free loans are available to workers, making it possible for them to buy land and build their own houses.
And that's that until the pants reach someone like me.
Pico trunks are understated, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable. You won’t find these pants in twenty different colours, cuts or patterns. They don't use conspicuous waistband logos, or labels at all. The fit was spot on, and the marginally thicker waistband, integral to the garment, gives an extra sense of warmth and comfort. These are sure to become a classic everyday favourite.
At Brothers We Stand we’re big fans of brands doing a few simple things really well. Go grab yourself a pair, or three, and join Pico on their journey of living better with less.
“We feel we are part of a movement of small producers who are trying to do things differently, producing small batches and telling the stories of their products” - Phoebe and Isobel at Project Pico
Thanks to Isobel and Phoebe for contributing to this piece, for their images, and their continued support of Brothers We Stand.