Knickey CEO Cayla O’Connell on reclaiming the male gaze, representing all female-identifying bodies, and ethical clothing production.
By Madison Patterson.
As fashion brands and designers around the world call for change in the fashion industry, one label that’s been fighting the green fight from the start is sustainable underwear brand Knickey.
Sleek simplicity and genuine comfort are Knickey’s calling cards: “It’s supposed to be your everyday basic undie, and very much a replacement for the Hanes and Fruit of the Looms of the world, and also the Victoria’s Secrets of the world,” says Knickey co-founder and CEO Cayla O’Connell. “We really value the elevated everyday experience.”
But most importantly, their underwear is environmentally elevated. Every piece is made of organic cotton in fair trade factories, they’ve got an underwear recycling program, and ship their items in plastic-free containers made from recycled materials.
The best part? Greenwashing has no place in the business.
Greenwashing is a term used to describe when companies use green buzzwords and savvy PR techniques to appeal to eco-conscious consumers, while not necessarily backing up their claims with action. O’Connell spent years in the fashion industry, from retail to styling, as well as years navigating jobs in the sustainability sector. Knickey was a creation born of her passions’ intersection. Alongside delicate fashion photography, Knickey’s website features in-depth tracking on its supply chain, yearly impact reports, and more details about how, where, and by whom their underwear is made. Their standards ensure that only GMO-free organic cotton is used, chemicals harmful to human and environmental health aren’t used anywhere in production, and that living wages are secured for the garment workers, all of which is on Knickey’s website and can be found easily, not hidden at the bottom of a page in a subcategory.
“It’s just good business,” O’Connell says. “Disclosure is an important part of credibility.”
Concerns about the lack of transparency in the production of fashion has been of growing concern in recent years. Investigations have revealed many much-loved fast fashion brands like Boohoo and H&M use words like “sustainable,” and “responsibility,” despite having made very little investment in true green practices. While some brands claim to feature sustainable pieces or collections, overseas work standards and production methods often fall short of what most would consider truly sustainable or ethical.
“Greenwashing has taken on a life of its own,” O’Connell says. “It’s capitalizing on sustainable initiatives and consumer interests to benefit brand sales … It’s creating a narrative that isn’t substantiated.”
Popular words like “sustainable” are unregulated in the fashion industry she says, which leads to greater confusion in the market. That’s why O’Connell and Knickey’s other co-founder, Lauren Sagadore, included sources, links, and certifications on its website. Leave it to an underwear company to make citation feel sexy.
But beyond just an impact on the earth, Knickey also focuses on the issues that matter to its consumers, whether that be fostering discussions on women’s reproductive rights, acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, educating on the harmful chemicals that women can absorb through fast fashion underwear, or using diverse models of varying body types. O’Connell says Knickey focuses on “reclaiming the male gaze and trying to make sure we’re representing all women, and all female-identifying bodies, and any human who wants to purchase our underwear, frankly, as they want to be seen. I think inclusivity has a lot to do with that.”
Although Knickey has only been around for 2 years, O’Connell hopes its impact extends far beyond the consumer. “I hope we’ve influenced other companies, she says. “We believe rising tides raise all boats.”