She Plans To Save The Planet—And Women’s Privates—With a Pair of Panties

April 19, 2016Posted by Helaina Hovitz

It’s not easy to be one out of billions of people trying to call attention to a huge problem that the general public doesn’t know about.

But after an off-kilter job interview, that’s exactly the position Tylea Richard, 33, found herself in five years ago.

“It had nothing to do with the job, but on the way out, my interviewer told me, ‘By the way, don’t wear underwear. It’s bad for you,’” she recalled.

The man had spent his entire career working in textiles, so while it was uncomfortable and awkward to hear, his words stayed with her.

“I wanted to know if he was telling the truth or just being gross,” she said.

After doing her homework, the young Brooklynite found out that many of the chemicals and dyes used to treat the fabric that covers women’s most intimate areas have been linked to cancer and reproductive issues.

Additionally, they have been known to produce harmful factory emissions, which leak into the water supply and pollute the surrounding environment.

These chemicals are also perfectly legal to use.


“As usual, the United States is very behind Europe when it comes to chemical regulations, and it’s harder to test clothing when it comes in from other countries. It’s like a big loophole,” Richard said.

“Europe just put a ban on clothing that contains NPE’s, which are known to be a major risk for polluting the water system when we wash them. The clothing is a vessel for these chemicals.”

Statistically, Azo Dyes make up 70% of commercial dyes used in textiles—and according to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, has been linked to serious health risks in humans and damage to ecosystems when released by factories into the water supply.

New research clearly demonstrates that these dyes not only have an environmental impact and a negative affect on the people living around the factories, but on the wearer as well. Recent research is in short supply, but a 1992 study found that exposure to some of these dyed fabrics increases the risk of bladder cancer in humans.

Tylea’s solution: make something better.

With a background—and a day job—working in retail production, she’s in a perfect position to create an aspirational underwear company called Thundress, alingerie line that will bring all-natural fabric to the nether regions of women’s bodies.

With some help from a new Etsy initiative called, Richard—and 14 other entrepreneurs—are learning business skills like public speaking and how to pitch their project.

Currently, she is working with Opportunity Threads, a factory in North Carolina that doubles as a worker-owned co-op, which means all of those workers take part in a profit-share agreement. The factory also focuses on sustainable production and uses organic cotton and reusable materials.

“My pattern makers used to work with Victoria’s Secret, so they know about underwear,” Richard  said. “But when I told them I wanted 100% cotton fabric, they said I was crazy.”

Most underwear is 5% spandex or other synthetic, which makes it stretchy. That may be more comfortable for women, but they don’t breathe as well—which is not good for vaginal health.

Still on the search for a fabric that will work, she’s raised $15,685, more than double her goal of $7,500, on KickStarter, and hopes to have panties for the public in April of 2016.

Greenpeace has also been on the case, and discovered that Azo Dyes, NPEs and others were found in finished clothing from major brands like H&M, Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret and Ralph Lauren. When washed, a significant portion of the chemicals were released and into the water system where they become NPs, an even more toxic and hormone-disrupting compound.

The Swedish Chemical Agency found that along with Azo Dyes, a whopping 240 textile-related chemicals pose a serious potential risk to human life, and half of them are also a threat to the environment.

“There has been little research available on the absorption of chemicals from textiles into the vagina specifically, but that goes to show how severe the lack of research is in this arena,” she said. “The lack of attention to the impact of these chemicals on women’s health and reproduction is dangerous.

In the meantime, women are still wearing chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin—the same way any other medical patch operates. The vagina, like the eyes, mouth and nose, is a mucous membrane, which is even more absorbent than regular skin.

Ultimately, her endgame is to change the way we talk about and educate women on these issues.

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