When Byron Bay local Madonna Bain was asked to create her dream business for a TAFE project in 2008, she didn’t imagine she’d be working in it a decade later.
“My final project for my fashion design studies was to put together a business case for a potential fashion business,” Madonna says.
“At the time, I loved natural fabrics, and I could see a gap in the market with organic and natural fibre underwear. So I created Eco Intimates as my business case.”
Madonna’s project went on to take out all the awards for that course for the year, but the business didn’t go to market properly until a while later.
“I had a young family and worked in a number of different roles over the following eight years or so, but I still kept Eco Intimates alive as a hobby,” she says.
In that time, the designer worked as an office manager as well as in fashion retail, cafes, freelance pattern making and at a fashion agency – building the skills she needed to launch her fashion business.
She launched the Eco Intimates we know today officially in 2010, managing it alongside a part-time roll out of a spare room in her house.
“I bought a couple of industrial machines and started making all the garments myself,” Madonna says.
“I could make all the woven garments but the stretch garments required multiple machines and a specific skill set, so I outsourced that.
“I then started working with manufacturers in Australia but it was quite restrictive with underwear in that there wasn’t the manufacturing ability that we required.
“Then, in 2013, a friend of mine recommended that I work with some ethical producers in Bali.”
Madonna’s since expanded her manufacturing to Indonesia where she works directly with an ethical producer for her limited runs of undergarments.
“It’s been a learning curve. I started out wanting to grow to be a huge business with a warehouse and multiple staff and production managers and the ability to produce more mainstream but ethical and organic garments,” Madonna says.
“I’ve since realised that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – from an environmentally sustainable perspective but also a sustainable business perspective.”
Producing in Bali also allows the designer to have access to a wider range of sustainable fabrics – of which Madonna opts for a luxurious organic cotton with a small amount of stretch for comfort.
“The main fabric we work with is organic cotton. I love the fabric, I love cotton and to me that’s the optimal ethical and sustainable option,” she says.
“From that I add something special, a panel of lace or some detailing, which is often designer offcuts or remnant lace.
“And my elastic comes from an Australian manufacturer which produces really great quality elastic for underwear and bras.”
When asked what she feels the term eco means today, Madonna says it’s changed a lot since she started.
“I called the label Eco Intimates because to me it meant natural and I wanted to work with natural fabrics,” she says.
“These days eco has a wider meaning and I don’t necessarily claim to be completely eco but rather to make environmentally friendly underwear.
“It’s as natural as it can be but it’s also got to last. And to ensure that it lasts, it’s got to be practical. Making underwear out of 100% natural components doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a well-fitted garment that you love. Eco Intimates is about quality, long lasting, natural garments.”
Britt’s List readers can get 10% off full priced items at Eco Intimates with code BRITTSLIST10 at checkout. Find out more about Eco Intimates and shop here.