free the girls

Free the Girls: How the Secondhand Bra Market Empowers Women

  |   By Holly Jackson

It starts with an overstuffed closet. You sort through your clothes that you haven’t worn in a year and bag them up, then trundle them over to your local used clothing store. But do you know what happens to your clothes once you drop them off?

The secondhand clothing market has saturated the world with our cast-off clothing. While those odds and ends might not have value to us, they represent popular and even high-end clothing options in other countries. What would happen if we started feeding this market strategically or with a purpose? Free The Girls asked this question as well: the result is a charity that helps turn former sex trafficking victims into entrepreneurs.

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Used bras hold more value than other items in the secondhand clothing market. This fact is how Free the Girls helps women transform themselves from victims to budding entrepreneurs. Women donate gently used or never worn bras to Free the Girls, who supply them to women as a sort of start-up inventory. This valuable inventory helps them raise the funds that make up the foundation of their business.

Free the Girls

We think of bras as something that everyone has access to on some level. In other countries that are less developed, others see bras as a luxury item. Obtaining one shows that you have status since bras are usually not manufactured locally and come from long distances. You may not see value in that uncomfortable bra you only wore once that sits in your drawer. But a woman in another country might see it as an immensely valuable item. Selling these bras also allows women to sell to other women. This helps keep them safe from former pimps and predatory men.

The average participant in the Free the Girls program stays for two years. Those two years enable each woman to learn business skills. They build up a foundation selling bras supplied by Free the Girls and solidify their housing situation for themselves and their children. Free the Girls supports more than just basic existence, too. They also try to set women up with healthcare options and mental health support if they need it. Many victims of sex trafficking also struggle with sobriety, so Free the Girls tackles that as well for each beneficiary.  

Free the Girls

The results speak for themselves. Free the Girls has become a popular program for lingerie boutiques and brands to work with during charity drives. This means that most lingerie consumers have had some exposure to the charity already. The women in the program see life-changing results: many are now fully employed property owners who send their children to school. Their existence may seem basic to our eyes, but represents an entirely new life for them and their children.

You can donate bras to Free the Girls by mailing them in or by finding a local bra donation drive in your area. Hosting a bra drive is also another great way to participate in the program. For more information, check out their website.


Want more ideas on where and how to recycle used bras? Read Elisabeth's post here.


All images: Free the Girls

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