Rachael Bews, 25, of Edinburgh, has founded ALICAS to distribute good quality garments to women in crisis to help boost their confidence and pride as they try to rebuild their lives.
The enterprise also seeks to reduce and repurpose the thousands of tonnes of new clothing that are incinerated or sent to landfill by retailers because they have not sold and no longer have any financial value.
Soon, a 19-year-old woman will receive the first of 300 capsule wardrobes to be distributed across the Central Belt, with the clothes due to arrive from German retailer Navabi by the end of the month.
Each parcel will contain 30 items of new clothing of the right size wrapped in tissue and ribbon with the package to include a hand-written note of support.
Referrals for the clothes are being made by Scottish Women’s Aid and Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh.
Ms Bews said she was partly inspired to set up by a friend who moved to the Highlands with her two children to escape domestic violence.
She said: “This woman had moved hundreds of miles with her children but she was so positive and determined to change her life. I always remember her saying that two things really helped her through – having a good coat and a good pair of shoes. They meant she could drop her kids off at the playground with dignity and go for job interviews and feel confident.
“ALICAS simply stands for Ali’s coat and Ali’s shoes. I had probably taken these garments for granted in the past but I realised what a big impact they could have on a woman’s life when everything else was in such turmoil.”
Ms Bews recalled one of her own case worker sessions at Scottish Women’s Aid when they sat in a room “chock full” of bin bags.
She said: “I was told they contained all their clothing donations. Although the donations were very well-meaning, the clothes were often old, they were poor quality or had sat in the loft for a long time. Also, being handed a bin bag of someone else’s clothes when you have been through this horrendous trauma doesn’t do much to instil self-worth or help you to retain your dignity.”
ALICAS recently launched its Tags to 10K campaign which hopes to generate 10,000 items of new and unused clothing, with the tags still on, to gift 300 parcels of 30 items to women in clothing crisis. Ms Bews also hopes to work with a number of corporate partners to build donations and will run a clothing drive at the RBS headquarters at Gogarburn, near Edinburgh, in September. Donations are also sought from members of the public.
She said: “We have all been swept along by fast fashion. It is quite easy for us to buy things that we forget about, that we take home, that we try on, don’t like and put back in the wardrobe.”
Earlier this month, it emerged the French Government is planning to ban fashion companies from throwing away unsold clothes and compel them to donate the garments to recycling organisations or charities for reuse.
Meanwhile, it emerged that British label Burberry, destroyed unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6m last year to protect its brand from being stolen or sold on cheaply.
Ms Bews said she wanted to create ‘virtuous circle’ for clothes that are moved off the shop floor and into long term storage, then ultimately destroyed through incineration or put to landfill.
She added: “It is important for us to have the tags still on the clothes because what we are doing is giving a gift – not a hand-out. Women will be receiving a gift from a friend, so that is why it’s important for it to appear new.”
Ms Bews, who has been selected as a Royal Society of Edinburgh Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellow, said she will personally put together the first parcel sent out by ALICAS – and handwrite the note to the teenager who will receive it.
“It will be a huge milestone, for ALICAS as well as myself. I will be thinking of her as she receives the parcel.”
A Navabi spokeswoman said: “Clothes shouldn’t be a barrier to leaving an abusive relationship. We’re very proud to have put together the first-ever package of clothing for ALICAS, supporting a 19-year-old woman as she moves forward with her life.”
To donate, visit www.alicas.co.uk