Why Fashion Matters: The Bra

Why is it that the bra is so overlooked?

When 33% of women have bought the wrong bra size at some point in their life and discard it immediately, the bra has become one of the biggest items of clothing with the shortest life span. Too, research has shown that 20% of women admit that lingerie they have bought on impulse has not been worn at all, having a huge impact on clothing waste disposal and with not many knowing as to whether a bra can be recycled or not, bras end up in landfill rather than being re-used elsewhere.

Many Western consumers that have donated their unwanted garments to charity shops, which sift and sort the garments, keeping some to sell and exporting others to the developing world. This reuse of clothing is beneficial from an environmental perspective but can have long-term negative effects on the development of local economies that receive these Western imports.

While local market traders might make a profit from selling this foreign product, the local textile and garment-making industries struggle to compete and the development of a robust skilled workforce – and the higher wages that go with it – stalls. A number of major charities and NGOs are working to diminish these economic repercussions and ensure that local markets and domestic textile and garment producers are nurtured rather than hindered by Western donations.

Most women will admit that at least a couple of unworn and unwanted bras hide away in the dark recesses of their wardrobes. That neon number that seemed a good idea at the time; that practical beige one you replaced two years ago but never threw out; that gift from an ex-boyfriend – we all have them. Rarely do these bras make their way to charity shops because most women believe there is no market for second-hand underwear.

This is incorrect. Used bras are actually very much in demand in Africa, particularly in Senegal where Oxfam has launched a campaign to encourage donations. Constructing and manufacturing bras is a complex process and difficult to replicate without access to the latest factory technologies. For this reason, bras donated from the developed world do not put local makers out of business as there are no local makers of bras.

There are, of course are plenty of skilled makers, and in Senegal it is these entrepreneurs who have created a whole new cottage industry repairing, or ‘up-cycling’, bras into desirable and fashionable products, which they can then sell in markets at prices generating profits of up to fifty percent. Senegalese women are keen to buy these bras not only for the comfort and dignity they provide but also as a stylish accessory. Frequently worn over top of other clothes, the bra has become a fashion staple.

UK based charity Against Breast Cancer has a bra recycling scheme which takes your unwanted or unloved bras and through their network of bra banks raises vital funds for pioneering breast cancer research. The bras donated help support small businesses in Africa through their textile recovery project (giving these bras a new lease of life) as they are too expensive to produce locally. The charity receives approximately £1 for every kilo of bras collected and these vital funds enable them to continue their research against breast cancer. Find one of their bra banks in your area by going to the charity’s website.

Smalls For All is another UK charity which accepts your new or “gently worn” bras. It uses old, donated bras to help those living in orphanages, slums and IDP camps in Africa. They also carry out educational projects to help children in schools. If your old bra is too worn to donate, the charity will organise for the bra to be recycled. They can then use the material and metal to raise money. The money is put towards buying people they help new knickers, as well as provide them with bras. Find out how to donate your bras by visit them here.

When a bra provides support for a woman it saves her back pain, when a bra covers a woman, it can provide dignity and when a bra is donated is can provide a small wage for a community – so why is it that the bra is so overlooked?

Images courtesy of: Poppy Thorn & Jocey Thomson

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