Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s, or treating yourself, lingerie is a seriously sexy gift, made even sexier when it’s sustainably and ethically manufactured right here in New York.
A Thrilling Challenge
Over the past few decades, as the public demand for sustainability has increased, the market for slow fashion has blossomed alongside it. Eschewing the seasonal trend-based model, slow fashion focuses on high quality, enduring articles made with ethical labor practices. While much of the public attention has been placed on exterior clothing, the emergence of a sustainable lingerie market has been a little more hushed. Ulster County resident and fashion designer Layla L’Obatti is at the forefront of this movement with her company Between the Sheets Lingerie, which produces undergarments, loungewear, and sleepwear in New York City’s Garment District.
As a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, L’Obatti learned to loved working with delicate fabrics like lace and silk and was drawn to technical challenge of designing intimates. Due to the smaller scale and skin contact, lingerie design leaves little room for error. “The challenges of meeting fit expectation and quality are bigger and smaller,” she says. “You are essentially working within design challenge.”
After graduating, L’Obatti worked in the industry for several years designing intimate apparel for major department store brands before growing tired of the profit-driven paradigm. “I kept overhearing backdoor conversations about driving price down,” she recalls. “The margins we were working with were already huge. We were making lion's share of the profit.”
She spent months searching for a skilled manufacturer, which she ultimately found in New York CIty’s Garment District. And after undergoing a rigorous application process to become a registered manufacturer, in 2010 L’Obatti launched Between the Sheets (BTS).
L’Obatti has used the same sustainable suppliers since the beginning: FSC-certified micro-modal from a renewable energy-powered factory in Italy, lace from one of the last US suppliers, silk from New York. The BTS line ranges from the Matchplay Collection of comfy jersey-knit loungewear to the Classic collection of lace-trimmed silk slips and robes to the sheer panties and bralettes of the PetalPlay lingerie collection.
“Sustainable fashion often gets a bad rap for not looking as ‘cool’ or as fashionable in some way, because a lot of the lines have basics that they stick with,” L’Obatti says. “We try to add little details that elevate the basic design to make it more interesting, like the raw lace trim on our pajamas.”
L’Obatti draws most of her design inspiration from her own firsthand wearing experience of fabric and trim. “With things like our Sheer Romance chiffon and lace collection, it’s a matter of putting the materials on a design form and just playing around, creating new shapes,” she says. Most of the collections come in a selection of timeless colors like peach, ivory, red, and black, which never go out of style.
Made to last, L’Obatti avoids low quality materials with a short shelf life, like elastic. “You can always replace a ribbon waistband, but not an elastic,” she says. “I’m trying to bring repairability into what we do. At home, I mend all our clothes.”
As a certified B Corporation, BTS complies with rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, monitored by a third-party organization. The company is also subject to New York’s wage laws and oversight by the sweatshop tax force. As member of One Percent for the Planet, BTS also donates at least 1 percent of its annual revenue to support planting trees around the world.
In addition to creating well-paid work, L’Obatti also hopes that her lingerie and loungewear will do good to whomever buys it. “The traditional idea of investing in clothes that are seen hurts us, because we end up not doing things for ourselves,” she says. “By investing in intimates, you are saying, ‘How I feel, for myself, underneath everything else is just as important as the face I present to world.”
Avoiding the historically gendered and heteronormative marketing of lingerie, L’Obatti aims to use inclusive language and avoid pronouns in her marketing. “Whoever wants to wear our lingerie can wear it,” she says. “Our intimate apparel is not specific to women.”
With regards to Valentine’s Day and buying lingerie as a gift for your partner, L’Obatti gives somes words of advice, “If you are sure you know your partner and their desires, then it’s probably okay. But if you have any question about it, you shouldn’t.”