A bra is a terrible thing to waste. Instead of letting unused bras sit in drawers or go to landfills, two Gilbert residents have started Bosom Buddies Bra Recycling to direct the supportive undergarments to women who can’t afford it.
A bra is a terrible thing to waste.
Instead of letting unused bras sit in drawers or go to landfills, two Gilbert residents have started Bosom Buddies Bra Recycling to direct the supportive undergarments to women who can’t afford it.
The company was the brainchild of Elaine Birks-Mitchell, who was looking to support the community after moving to the East Valley from Minnesota more than three years ago.
“We were just asking about, 'What is a big need in the shelters?’” Birks-Mitchell said. “And they said, 'We always need bras.’”
Birks-Mitchell looked online for groups that collect bras, but only found businesses in Europe. So she and her husband, Johnny Mitchell, Jr., took matters into their own hands.
“It’s one of those businesses that if you had told me a year ago I’d be recycling bras, I would have looked like you like you were crazy,” Birks-Mitchell said.
But that’s exactly what she’s done on top of a full-time job for about 30 hours each week. The business started in October and has already collected 2,000 bras from 14 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
Bras are sent to a Queen Creek business address or collected at drop-off points. The best 10 to 15 percent are reserved for local nonprofit groups and the rest are sold to exporters.
Exporters distribute bras to women in developing countries or take them apart to recycle components, including using the cloth for rags.
One of the most entertaining parts has been people’s reactions, Birks-Mitchell said. She had two different men call her after seeing a Bosom Buddies sticker on her car just to see if it was a joke.
Both men and women get it after she explains the principle.
Women tend to have some bras laying around that no longer fit, aren’t comfortable or that they didn’t try on at the store and can’t take back — several bras have been donated with tags still attached, Birks-Mitchell said.
“We want to give that lift or support to deserving girls in the community,” Birks-Mitchell said.
Shelters say Bosom Buddies is filling a need.
“Typically we get a lot of clothing donations, very rarely do we get undergarments,” said Jennifer Dangremond, spokeswoman for Central Arizona Shelter Services. “When we do, it’s usually undies and socks. The bra thing is very helpful.”
CASS serves 1,200 women a year and about 40 percent have minimal personal resources, like clothing, Dangremond said.
That can add a hurdle to job hunts.
“You need to have the right thing for the interview and you need to have the right couple things until you get that first paycheck,” Dangremond said.
Barbara Castillo, volunteer services manager at Florence Crittenton of Arizona, echoed that sentiment.
Castillo’s group serves about 1,200 girls a year through services like group homes and transitional living.
“To have a nice-fitting bra is a really good feeling, and the girls who come to us come with very little,” Castillo said.
Bosom Buddies supports three shelters now, but Birks-Mitchell hopes it will grow into a national business that donates to shelters around the country.