About a decade ago, I started noticing that certain clothes made my skin itch. Like, a lot. Then my infant son was diagnosed with eczema, painful rashes that covered his arms and legs. I started buying the gentlest detergents I could find and checking fabric content labels on all our clothes. When I started paying a little more for jeans, the gnarly itching stopped.
Was it psychosomatic? Do I stop itching only when swaddled in the finest of denims and cotton flannel tank tops? According to fashion and sustainability journalist Alden Wicker, who runs the website Ecocult and recently published the book To Dye For, your clothes really could be making you sick. A lot of fast fashion is made from polyester, which requires special dyes. Manufacturers then add wrinkle- or stain-resistant agents, or spray fabric for soft-touch finishes. Finally, whole shipments get dusted with fungicides or pesticides to make it all the way around the world without getting eaten by moths.
Over the years, I managed to find clothes that didn’t make us itch. But underwear was a big problem. Breathable cotton underwear is better for your health down there and I just don’t like the slick, slimy feel of mostly nylon or polyester items. But I also like running, camping, rock climbing, skateboarding, and biking. Cotton doesn’t dry fast enough when it’s just sitting on a rock in the sun. This is where Branwyn’s merino wool set comes in.
Branwyn makes what they call merino wool performance sets. I’m a fan of merino wool for many reasons. It’s a naturally renewable fiber that doesn’t leach microplastics into our water, earth, and air. It’s also moisture-wicking, naturally odor-repellent, and shockingly good at regulating your body temperature, whether you’re really hot or really cold. Merino sheep cannot change their clothes when it gets too hot or too cold, so their wool does a lot of the work for them.
Branwyn’s clothes are Oeko-Tex 100 certified, which means every component of the clothing has been independently tested against a list of up to 350 toxic chemicals. This is one of the most widely-known and respected labels for consumer safety; the company also meets a few other well-known independent sustainability and ethics standards, like Reach compliance and ZQ merino certification.
Branwyn sent me the Essential Bralette ($48) and Essential Bikini ($36). I consulted the size chart and both fit true to size. (I suppose it’s important to note here that I’m a small-busted woman and that Branwyn makes a Busty Bra ($58) if you need more support.)
I know the phrase “wool underwear” conjures a mental image of some lumberjack from the 1800s with hair growing through the weaves of his itchy, hot long johns. (I also live in Portland, Oregon, so I could walk by a man like this today.) However, Branwyn’s fabric is 80 percent merino, with 20 percent nylon thrown in there for a bit of comfort and stretch. Thankfully, the nylon hasn’t yet made me itch.