When tragedy strikes—from leaving a domestic violence situation to a natural disaster—we often think of supporting women with the basics like food, shelter, and hygiene products. But, one support system that boosts self-confidence and helps a woman to start over is a bra.
“I began asking, ‘What do women need when they go to places like a domestic violence shelter or other programs?’ Of course, they need many things, but bras were brought up time and time again,” says Elaine Birks-Mitchell. “People don’t often think about it.”
With this in mind, Birks-Mitchell founded The Bra Recyclers in 2009.
“We’re not a nonprofit, but we help more than 100 nonprofits internationally,” she explains. “We are a social enterprise: a business that is created to make more than just revenue, but make a difference in the community, as well.”
“We believe if you give a woman a bra and the necessary support, she will reshape her life and those around her,” is the social enterprise’s motto.
Technically, The Bra Recyclers is a textile recycling company that specializes in recycling bras. They do this is by collecting gently used bras from community members who donate them or partner retailers. Then, the bras are sorted. Some, are taken apart and recycled to make other products. The best though are cleaned and donated to women locally, nationally, and abroad. Bras have been given to everyone from domestic violence victims rebuilding their lives in shelters, to human trafficking victims, to the homeless. Bras have also been sent overseas during times of natural disasters.
“One of the most poignant things I’ve been told is when a homeless woman shared that a bra can protect her from being raped,” Birks-Mitchell recalls.
Through this process, The Bra Recyclers help to reduce the number of reusable textiles going into landfill and support vulnerable women. Nonprofit organizations receive these bras by filling out a request form on the company’s website. Birks-Mitchell estimates that her organization has donated or recycled more than three million bras.
And, while Birks-Mitchell started The Bra Recyclers, her husband, Johnny Mitchell, Jr., helps her in her endeavors.
“He helps me to bring my vision to reality,” she says.
In addition to donations, The Bra Recyclers work to be involved in the local community. Birks-Mitchell shares that, for example, they have provided bras and fitting services at the Your Best Day Ever event, hosted by the H.E.M.P. Legacy Foundation.
“We have a booth there where we’ll size the ladies, and they’ll all walk away with two to three well-fitting bras,” she says. “We can easily help hundreds of ladies in that one day.”
For those who wish to help, The Bra Recyclers has an ambassador program where different locations or organizations can host bra drives or serve as drop-off locations. In addition to continued donations, they also need help spreading the word about the organization.
“We’ve gone far, but we still have a long way to go,” Birks-Mitchell says. “Retailers continue to throw out a lot of bras, and we need to encourage them to recycle them or at least donate them to a local shelter or similar nonprofit. A good bra can make such a difference in a woman’s life. It can help to provide confidence and a new start.”
To donate bras, community members can mail them or visit BraRecycling.com to find a nearby local drop-off location. Mailing directions can be found on the website, as well.