How Recycling Your Clothes Can Bring Dignity to Refugee Women

This year for Global Recycling Day we want to highlight an inspiring social impact business from our community. Give Your Best is a digital platform where people and brands can recycle clothes online so refugee women and children can shop for free with the agency and dignity they deserve. Founder Sol Escobar is currently on a Hatch Accelerator programme and talks through her inspiration for launching the business, as well as how people can get involved. 

Give Your Best

Give Your Best is an award-winning peer-to-peer online donation platform, the first of its kind, where people can upload clothes they would like to donate so that refugee women and children in our community can shop everything on the site for free.

I had been volunteering for several years supporting refugees in camps in Northern France as well as in Cambridge, where I live, right up until the first lockdown in 2020. When all support stopped, charities closed and already marginalised people became more and more isolated, I felt the urgency to do something.

So over the summer of 2020 I was supporting a household of women seeking asylum in Wales, I was in touch with them and they mentioned how they had no access to clothing with charity shops closed and without bank accounts they couldn’t shop online, plus the meagre £37 a week to cover all expenses meant they couldn’t afford clothes.

This is when I decided to round up my friends and family to get an assortment of clothing sizes to send to them, get a little collection together to purchase toiletries and send them a parcel. Little did I know that my social media post would go viral, we’d raise a thousand pounds in less than 24 hours and I’d be inundated with offers of clothes.

This is when I realised I couldn’t just send them everything I had, nor did I want to refute the kind offerings from other women wanting to help them. So I call them, I ask them what they thought about me taking photos of the items I had received, uploading them to an Instagram page and they could choose what they liked and was their size, and I’d send them those items.

They loved the idea and said it was like going shopping online which they hadn’t done in years, but they also said something that really hit me:

“Don’t go through all this trouble for us, we’re in no position to say ‘no’ to anything that you give us”. 

I remember thinking how even after they get their refugee status and start rebuilding their lives they would carry with them the sense of only being worth what they’re given, rather than being worth their own choices, and it was there and then that I decided if we could empower women one item of clothing at a time, to give them choice, to help them express themselves and feel good, then why not?

That’s how Give Your Best started, as an Instagram project during lockdown, and now we’re a full-fledged social enterprise with over 300 volunteers. 

How to donate your clothes

Our platform is very easy to use, it allows the donor to simply upload photos of an item they want to donate, directly from their phones and they can track the status of all their donated items in their account too. When one of their items is ‘shopped’ (for free) by a member of our community they receive a notification letting them know who shopped it and where to send the item (either to the shopper directly or to us first to forward to them).

We encourage donors to turn their package into a gift, add a little note of support, perhaps some chocolates or menstrual products. Our shoppers always tell us how much it means to them to receive notes of support from strangers, there is a lovely connection that is created. 

Another way in which people can donate clothes if they don’t have the time to upload the items individually is to request a Give Your Bestie. Our team of Besties are more than 250 volunteers across the UK who act as collection points and who process items on our behalf, taking pictures, uploading items to our platform and shipping them off. We receive between 20-50 bags of clothing via our Besties every month. 

We partner with larger charities and organisations such as the Red Cross or Citizens Advice who refer their clients to our services. People wanting to access the free shop must register first, telling us who referred them and their applications are reviewed by our team and then approved or rejected. 

Since launching a little over two years ago we have received over 20,000 items donated and shopped by more than 2,500 women and children.

Our community grows every day and our entire shop, no matter how many uploads there have been, sells out on a daily basis. The demand is huge and we struggle to keep up. We really need to get the word out that we’re an alternative to donate clothes directly to those who need them in a way that is empowering.

We’ve been featured in The Guardian and Channel 4, and described by British Vogue as an innovative ‘Depop for donations’. We take all sorts of womenswear, shoes, accessories, maternity, children and baby’s clothes, toys, and more.

Sustainability

Recycling your clothes through Give Your Best is a sustainable way to clear out your wardrobe, which sadly cannot be said for many of the alternatives. It started with volunteering: sorting clothes donations and realising how much waste is produced in an ‘industry’ that is supposed offer a more sustainable option than throwing clothes away.

A couple of years ago a report emerged highlighting that only about 30% of what is donated to charity shops actually gets resold, and the rest ends up in landfill and most people I talked to had no clue. Brands were exposed for burning returned clothes, another report calculated £140m in wasted clothing ending up in landfill each year in the UK while 5.5 people live in clothing poverty.

I had been trying to reduce my food waste with apps such as Olio and it occurred to me that there was no tech solution for clothing waste beyond reselling platforms or swaps. There was no solution that bridged the gap between waste and those who needed clothes most. 

This year we’re also launching a partnership programme to involve clothing brands and retailers in improving their circularity and social impact by partnering with us to redistribute their unsold stock and returns via our free shop. 

Supporting refugee women

The impact for the refugee women in our community is huge and manifold: the choice, agency and empowerment they get from the service as well as the support and community they get from donors.

In an interview with Vogue, our now board member Basma who first came to us when she was seeking asylum in 2020, said: “Being able to pick what I want to wear, clothes that suit my taste and style, allowed me to feel dignified and normal again. I felt like an equal human being.” 

But the impact is equally important for our donors, who tell us constantly how much it means to them to be able to give their clothes a second life with women who really need them. The connection created when a donor sends a package to a woman who is their same size and has the same fashion sense but lives in a very different situation to them, is really special. 

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