Moral Manufacturing: How Hanky Panky Reduces, Reuses & Recycles

Every day is Earth Day here at Hanky Panky.

Skeptical?  Hard not to be, when “greenwashing” is so rampant you have to consult the Greenwashing Index before buying dishwashing detergent or tampons.

Well, visit our showroom in Manhattan or our production and warehousing facility in Queens and you will see, as I did in my first week here, that the company that makes The World’s Most Comfortable Thong® is—and always has been—as serious about environmental stewardship as it is about beauty, comfort and quality.

On a meta level, Hanky Panky has a smaller carbon footprint because it manufactures locally and sources nationally (except for the microfiber used in Hanky Panky BARE styles, which we import from Italy). We also use 100% recycled paper and board for our award-winning product packaging, and 100% recycled paper for all of our printers and copy machines. Our designers sketch their initial designs for new products on the back of photocopies, a practice that Gale Epstein, our President & Creative Director, started in 1977, when she used a copy of an early line sheet to write down the recipe for a delicious Eggplant Caponata from Lida Orzeck, our co-founder and Chief Executive Officer.

Lida Orzeck's Eggplant Caponata Recipe (With Gale Epstein's Annotations)

Lida Orzeck’s Eggplant Caponata Recipe (With Gale Epstein’s annotations) on back of one of Hanky Panky’s early line sheets.

But it’s on the micro level that you really begin to see how deep-seated the culture of environmental citizenship is here at Hanky Panky. Don’t look for paper towels in our office bathrooms, for example, because we don’t stock them. Why not? Because paper towels’ low fiber content makes it a relatively poor recyclable, so much of the 13 billion pounds of paper towels used every year in America ends up in our landfills. Hanky Panky employees instead carry their own personal hand towels to the washroom, as the Japanese do, or dry their hands on their jeans. (If you are stuck with paper towels in your office bathroom but want to reduce waste, Joe Smith’s TED Talk, “How to use a paper towel”, is funny and useful.)

To give you an idea of what Hanky Panky does on a day-to-day basis to reduce, reuse and recyle, I interviewed staffers in Production, Quality Control, Shipping, IT and other areas. Here is what they said:

Bernaldo, Senior Plant and Production Manager, Queens, NY:

When I started at Hanky Panky, one of my top priorities was reducing fabric waste. Recently, we invested in a more expensive cutting machine that dramatically reduced the amount of fabric scrap generated in the manufacturing process. And we shred and recycle the small amount of fabric we can’t put to use in products or packaging.

Rodney, Technical Production Manager, Queens, NY:

We work very closely with our sewing contractors to reuse cardboard boxes, plastic bags, paper hangtags and even rubberbands. When a contractor drops off finished goods, we put aside the box and plastic bags and reuse those same materials the next time we deliver fabric cuts to the contractor for sewing. And when the contractor brings back the sewn product, he or she reuses the same boxes and bags. So it’s a cycle of use and use again.

Working with a company that recycles as much as possible strengthened my belief in recycling. I am an active member in my township’s recycling programs, and work at it here at Hanky Panky, too. I have always lived with my grandmother’s saying ringing in my ears, even till this day: WASTE NOT WANT NOT. This applies to preserving our environment, too.

Theron, Warehouse Logistics Manager, Queens, NY:

 All manufacturer-distributors use pallets in shipping, and most pallets are made from wood, which of course comes from trees.  Used pallets also take up a lot of space in landfills. Rather than purchasing new pallets, we reuse the pallets we receive from raw material shipments and, when possible, make minor repairs to extend their useful life.

Michael, Head of IT, Manhattan, NY:

The company’s computing systems used to run on a large number of physical servers. Each server not only required its own power source, it also produced heat, which required cooling, which required more energy. We moved everything over to virtualized servers, which are exponentially more energy efficient. We also pay a vendor to recycle our ink cartridges, electronic equipment and desktop display screens.

Used ink cartridges and other "technotrash" from Hanky Panky's Manhattan office are collected in this box and turned over for recycling to GreenDisk, an outside vendor.

Used ink cartridges and other “technotrash” from Hanky Panky’s Manhattan office are collected in this box and turned over for recycling to GreenDisk, an outside vendor.

Luis, Professor of Prototypes, Manhattan, NY:

In the sewing department, where we sew the first samples for the design team, we reuse thread spindles, boxes, and plastic hangers. My assistant, Pan, who has worked for the company for 29 years, is affectionately called “Mrs. Box,” because she makes everyone on our floor reuse old boxes before making new ones. Pan also comes up with ingenious ways to reuse boxes, e.g., for shelving. Also, we take very good care of our sewing machines so they last longer. Sometimes we still use the vintage Singer that Gale used to create the first Hanky Panky pieces 37 years ago!

Pan, affectionately dubbed “Mrs. Box”, strictly enforces the office rule to reuse cardboard boxes before building new ones.

Gale’s vintage Singer industrial sewing machine, lovingly maintained and still used on occasion.

Spools for lace and trim are set aside and reused for remainders.

Ricardo, Maintenance, Manhattan, NY:

A lot of us bring our food from home and we all wash the communal dishes, silverware and glasses. For staffers who get take-out lunch, we recycle their plastic bottles, forks, paper bags and aluminium foil packaging. The wastebaskets at employees’ desks are only for paper, which I collect at the end of the day for recycling. Listen, Mamí, you are not the first or last employee who sometimes forgets our rules and leaves a Diet Coke bottle in her trash can. But, don’t worry, I’ll remind you again and again until you get it right.

Where did Hanky Panky’s culture of environmental responsibility come from?  The top, of course. When Gale and Lida started the company in 1977, most businesses didn’t have environmental compliance officers or budgets for green marketing. But Gale is a self-described “fanatic” when it comes to conservation:

When we started Hanky Panky in 1977, there was little general acknowledgement of the fledgling environmental movement beyond a fanatic, myself included, core. With the advent of the internet’s rapid dissemination of information and the growing amount of refuse generated by our “disposable” society, more people and corporations are aware of their responsibility to put things in order. We are in a position to educate our employees to make a difference. Ideally this creates a ripple effect.

And what can other entrepreneurial designer-manufacturers do to operate their own businesses in a sustainable way?  Some advice from Lida:

Unfortunately, it is rarely cost effective to do the right thing in terms of sustainability. Even recycled paper for printers costs more than non-recycled paper. However, practicing conservative fiscal policy is responsible behavior that can have a positive impact on the environment in the long run. The apparel industry is frequently defined by excess but a company can choose the alternative in a variety of ways without reducing the value of the brand. One of the ways Hanky Panky reduces waste is to be guided by the following principle:  Measure twice; cut once.


About Hanky Panky

In 1977, designer Gale Epstein created a hand-made lingerie set for her friend, Lida Orzeck, crafted out of embroidered handkerchiefs. The original designs were the inspiration for the company name, Hanky Panky. Blending traditional with modern glam looks, Hanky Panky is a fashion favorite of countless celebrities.
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