Let’s talk about unworn bras this International Women’s Day
In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace, and it has been recognized as such ever since.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to take a look at a charitable initiative close to our hearts, and the woman who started it all.
If there is one thing we know, it is that most women have practically unworn bras in their lingerie drawers. Sometimes it could be a question of not really knowing what size to choose and not knowing where to go for an expert fitting. Sometimes it might be an online purchase that just doesn’t fit right. Maybe it is a super cute bra that doesn’t work with the clothes we wear.
Whatever the reason, many women find themselves with practically unworn bras unnecessarily taking up space in their lingerie drawers. These are often good, perfectly usable products.
Jeanette Kruger, a South African woman living in London, was clearing out old bras for which she had no use and was surprised to find there was no charities willing to receive and rehome them. Some charities would simply throw them away. Others would put any bras received into the fabric recycling programme, which means they are shredded and spun into new fibres.
But bra construction is a complex specialist skill, which makes each bra worth so much more to women wearing them than the sum of its parts. Jeanette knew that if she was in South Africa, there would be thousands of women who would want the bras, and there would be an instant grassroots network to carry the bras to them.
So in September 2015, Jeanette founded ZABRA – AfreeBra initiative together with a friend living in South Africa. The quest to get rid of a few unwanted bras turned into a charitable initiative which collects bras, pants and vests for women who can’t afford to buy their own.
The work ZABRA was doing resonated with an international community, and more and more people got in touch wanting to help. An international network of CupHolders sprung up, arranging local collection points all over Europe. Asia and North America. Today there are more than 100 CupHolders volunteering their time and passion to support the initiative. They rely on CupBearers to help transport the bras, either to South Africa directly, or to Jeanette in London, who would then arrange for the bras’ onward journey.
ZABRA doesn’t distribute the bras directly to the women who need them – instead they work with a large number of charities on the ground, mainly in South Africa, but also the rest of Africa, the UK and the Middle East. Bras collected by ZABRA have been sent to refugee camps in Syria, Greece, Macedonia, South Sudan, and Lebanon. They have found new homes at orphanages and shelters in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and they will soon also be distributed in the Gambia.
Any charity that works with vulnerable women can ask Jeanette for bras. And she has many stories of the charities and initiatives she has worked with, from the charity supporting more than 10,000 women in a squatter camp in South Africa, to the hostel for women rescued from human trafficking.
One of her stories is about a woman who set up a pop-up lingerie shop in a refugee camp in Greece. Through sheer grit and determination, she managed to bring more than 1,000 bras to the camp and secured the permissions to offer the women in the camp a unique experience for someone who has nothing. She gave each woman in the camp a ticket which could be exchanged for a bra and a pair of pants in the “lingerie store” she had set up. Through her thoughtful endeavor, she was able to give the women in the camp not just the underwear they so desperately needed, but also the power to make a choice – something often stripped away by the sudden poverty experienced by refugees.
The gift of choice is very important. Some of the end recipients of the collected bras will have been living in abject poverty, with all their energy focused on survival. They have never before been in a position to choose whether they wear a bra or not. It has simply been a garment for other people, living different lives. Through the charities ZABRA works with, they are finally given the choice to decide for themselves. For some of the women the bras become treasured possessions, because they are theirs, to keep forever.
ZABRA has now been active less than three years, and in that time Jeanette estimates that they have delivered more than 36,000 items, the equivalent of about 2 tonnes of bras. Together with a friend, Jeanette packs bras most weekends and ship around 10 parcels of bras each week, and there is always demand for more. She coordinates the collections and transport on the side of a full time job in Business Development. There is no money involved in the work ZABRA does. All the time and passion and even transportation is donated willingly by passionate supporters of the initiative.
Anyone who wants to get involved can contact Jeanette via the facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/AfreeBra/, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can ask us and we would be happy to pass on all the details.
You can also look around to see if there is anyone in your vicinity who might be in need or have connections to women in need of your gently used bras. Like Jeanette, you too can change women’s lives, one bra at a time.