The co-founder of a new social business enterprise is the first to admit that selling ethical underwear isn’t the most glamourous enterprise.

Paul Johnston, 42, co-founded Smarty Pants with Martin Burns, 46, after discovering that underwear is one of the top items requested at homeless shelters.

The business was founded with a purpose-focused approach of adopting a buy-one-give-one model. For each unit of underwear sold another is donated to charity – chiefly Crisis UK.

“It’s just another way to help maintain dignity for anyone that finds themselves homeless,” Paul explains. “Selling pants might not be the most glamourous business, but that’s probably why there is such a need for it.

“We call it a social impact business because there are tangible results. We really want it to grow and see how much we can help.”


The initial concept for Smarty Pants was born from an idea Paul toyed with some 20 years ago. After relaying this old idea to his friend and work colleague, Martin, and finding inspiration from Bombas (an organisation that donates socks using the same model), the pair decided it was worth giving it a go.

Smarty Pants launched in January of last year as a passion project for the pair who also work full-time at a popular supermarket chain. Due to the pandemic, however, the business had to be shelved.

“Because we work in food retail the pandemic had a huge impact on us,” says Paul, “so the business slowed down for a while – but now we’ve decided to push on.

“Crisis UK agreed to collaborate with us early on, making them our charitable obligation as such. They do a project called Crisis at Christmas; our products will be used predominantly as part of a gift pack for homeless people who are given a hotel room for the night.”

As well as the charitable aspect of the social business enterprise, Paul and Martin wanted to invest in an ethical element of their brand.

Smarty Pants are made from 95% bamboo fibres, making it more environmentally friendly than cotton from the way it’s grown to the process of cultivation. Bamboo requires no irrigation – needing a third of the amount of water to grow than is necessary for cotton.


“Martin and I are both fathers of two, and climate change is a topic that most people are passionate about now,” Paul highlights.

“It’s an old cliché, but you want to leave the world a little better than what it was when you stated. If we can incorporate a more environmentally friendly product within the business model then why wouldn’t we?

“We’ve sold over a couple of hundred units in the last few weeks and the feedback has been more about the quality than anything else. The bamboo product feels like silk, similar to mole skin – it’s a very luxurious silky soft feel.”

The self-funded social business enterprise, based in Glasgow, is a project that Paul hopes will continue to evolve, especially through collaborations with more charities.

“We believe everyone, no matter their circumstances, deserves to put on clean underwear and we created a platform to enable everyone to help in a simple way.”