Undies entrepreneur Brendan Lo doesn’t see himself as a smart arse, but his take on some old bit of wisdom is a bit cheeky.
Lo’s father was a religious minister, his aunty was Buddhist and his mother had an innate wisdom that followed no particular belief system. ‘As you grow up, your parents say things to you and you sort of brush it off – you’re sort of only half listening – and then one day, something happens and things click.’
Lo says that click has stuck. ‘I’ve always looked out for quotes, whenever I read something, or if I see a little message that resonates with me, I write it down.
I really see memory as something that’s very fragile – you can have these great insights…
‘I’ve had a couple of near-death experiences, where you just go, okay, what really matters? What’s important in life? And then the next day, you’re like, “oh, what am I going to have for breakfast?” and “oh, there’s the washing to do today”, and it all seems to fall out, it just disappears, evaporates, and you need something to trigger it again.
Lo, who is trained as an occupational therapist, says he started thinking about a ‘billboard’, a place where he could put those messages where people get to see it each day – on their undies. ‘Literally, at three o’clock in the morning * brain fart * I woke up thinking, undies, everyday people change their undies!
A routine with underwear
‘There’s a whole routine with your underwear – you’ve got to take them off, you’ve got to wash them, you’ve got to hang them out, bring them in, you’ve got to fold them and got to put them away.
‘So I thought maybe that could be a place where I can put a message that triggers something in the mind to help you come back to things that are important to them, to stay motivated to stay grounded. To stay focused on what really matters. And that’s really where Smart Ass Undies was born.
Lo says that is where the journey really began. ‘I thought “what will I make them out of?” I felt like they had to be sustainable, it’s got to be a natural fibre. I went on this whole journey and started investigating different fibres and every time I scratched the surface, I discovered complexities. Originally I was looking at bamboo or micromodal. And then I discovered the Frankenstein process that those materials have to go through.
Bamboo is the fastest growing grass in the world, but to convert it into a soft supple fabric requires a lot of not only mechanical, but high chemical processes.
There is no product, no matter how we create it, that doesn’t have an impact. Plants are great. I love plants and I support the planting of plants, but the reason why I moved away from natural fibres is because the demand for natural fibres, is seeing deforestation occur, because people are clearing land to grow these mono-crops to meet our consumer needs.
‘I just started getting a bit dizzy. Then I met my manufacturer, and he said, “Well, let’s talked about waste”.’
Undies made from PET – plastic drinking bottles
Lo says he found out that you can recycle Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the stuff that all our plastic drinking bottles are made of – and turn that into a high-performance fibre a synthetic that performs better than a natural fibre. ‘So natural fibres absorb moisture. For underwear, you don’t want that. You actually want them to breathe and to release moisture.
‘The technology now can shape a fibre and it actually channels water away. I just, fell in love with the idea that I can we can take a problem of plastic waste and turn it into a solution.’
Lo says he was concerned about plastic and toxicity. ‘I didn’t want to create something put out there that was going to have any negative health impact on people. I’ve been in communication with some toxicologists about plastic, and they said the reality is, any person who’s wearing underwear that stretches, 99 per cent likely to be wearing petrochemicals anyway.
‘Studies are done on plastic bottles and leaching toxins into water. The real risk is where the plastic is at 60 plus degrees Celsius. That’s when it starts to release toxins – the actual structure breaks down in place. If you’re wearing underwear and it’s 60 degrees, it’s not your underwear you have to worry about.’
The demand for natural fibres creates deforestation
Lo says one of the main impacts of growing the fibre is that most of those fibres, cotton, bamboo, the best place in the world to grow them is where there are warm temperatures with high rainfall. ‘That, unfortunately, happens to be around the equator which is where we have the most significant rainforests. So we see deforestation occurring. A big part of my mission is to be part of the solution to climate change.
In one more step to help the planet, Lo will be giving 50 per cent of the Smart Ass Undies profit to the conservation and preservation of forests.
‘There are just crazy numbers of deforestation. The reason why I support HalfCut and Rainforest 4 Foundation. Fifty per cent of our profits will go to supporting the initiatives to plant trees, and particularly the mission has been to save parts of the Daintree.
It’s a long way from occupational therapy to undies, but Lo and his family who live in Modanville, have made their home the base camp for Smart Ass Undies. Lo says the venture has been more challenging than he thought it would be. ‘I’m a one man band and I just wanted to get a message to stick. I think information and messages stick better in our minds when they’re attached to some humour.
‘I have always say that my messages come from age-old wisdom mixed with a little cheeky humour. ‘There’s some of the masters in there and we throw the word “ass” and “shit” in there with the messages. My mission has never to be offensive – we’re a little cheeky, but we’re never nasty.’
To find out more about Smart Ass Undies, visit: smartassundies.com.