Women Behaving Badassly is a round up of women across the country doing things that kick ass. From starting their own businesses to creating non-profits and even making a living through unconventional careers, these ladies are all making positive contributions to the world. They deserve to be recognized and their achievements celebrated. Let's all take a few minutes to marvel at these inspiring, empowering, badass women making their mark on the universe.
Introducing: Dana Marlowe, Founder of I Support The Girls
I Support The Girls collects and distributes donated bras and feminine hygiene products to homeless women and girls across the globe. Human rights advocate Dana Marlowe founded the organization in 2015.
What you're doing is of vital importance, but little information is available about issues facing homeless women. How did I Support The Girls (ISTG) get started?
It was a happy accident. After getting my rear in gear with fitness, I started losing weight and had to get better fitting bras. They don’t warn you that weight loss has fun side effects like needing a new bra size and the potential to start a global non-profit. So, as I was getting sized at a Soma Intimates store in suburban Washington DC, I realized I had a surplus of perfectly good, but ill-fitting bras in my drawer at home. The sales associate shared four words that changed everything: homeless women need bras. Blew me away.
When I got back home with my new bras, I reached out to a local shelter in DC, and asked if they could use my still-good bras. The answer was a resounding YES! I asked if they needed anything else that people don’t think about donating and this man shared that the women who frequented the facility also asked for menstrual hygiene products. I realized that my ignorance was no excuse not to help. I put a request up on Facebook innocently asking for friends and family to drop off their bras and maybe throw in a box of maxi pads. It went gangbusters. Fast forward just over two years later, and we’ve donated over a million bras and menstrual products to homeless women and girls since that initial drop in DC in 2015.
How did you decide on the name I Support The Girls?
I mean, the double entendre is kind of spot on in this case. We are figuratively supporting women and girls, and also literally supporting their “girls” — or, breasts.
Love it! So let me ask, when bras are donated, is there a way to ensure that women receive ones that fit properly?
That ends up becoming a really engaging event, as women assume they know their sizes, but situations change. The size you wore last year, ten years ago, just might be different now. Some of our affiliates and charity partners (homeless shelters, domestic violence organizations, etc.) host events where we can bring in professional bra fitters and get sized. Other times, women have to select what fits the best, like a sports bra. We have a lot of trust and respect, so we will let women pick the size that works best for them.
It seems that many homeless women and girls go long periods of time without having a bra, or a bra that fits properly. How long does a donated bra generally get worn for?
Many women we meet wear their bras for as long as possible, regardless of ripped seams, popped out underwire, and holes. It breaks my heart, but sometimes they just don’t know when their bra may be available. Some women have worn them as long as 8 and 10 years and others no longer have their decade old bra and have resorted to using cracked, old leather belts for support. I Support the Girls encourages women to find a few bras in their size that fit well, and as supply permits, we don’t just limit one per customer.
Are there certain age groups or demographics of women that are most in need of bras?
We have frequent requests for training bras for young girls and marginalized teens who are homeless, as well from women in all cultures, regions, and cities.
Most recently, we have been helping send bras and supplies to those women who have been displaced from natural disasters, like hurricanes. We have also fielded requests from women who have had mastectomies who need specialized bras.
You mention that women from all over are in need of bras. Are there specific regions or areas that are most in need of donations?
Where there are people marginalized, like women experiencing homelessness, there is a need.
What type of outreach is done to get more people involved with ISTG?
We have a pretty active social media presence, and try to make more puns than possible on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re looking for people to donate financial contributions and products, and for companies to engage with corporate social responsibility collection drives. A lot of people reach out to us via Facebook after seeing us in a Marie Claire article or hearing a segment on NPR and say: ‘I HAD NO IDEA!’ and reach out asking how to give. I enjoy public speaking at conferences or to groups and raising awareness about these issues and breaking down menstrual taboos.
Are there other ways people can help support ISTG besides monetary donations?
Donating money is always the best to help run our infrastructure. We welcome anyone to reach out and ask for help on how to host an event to collect bras/menstrual hygiene products or have an event at their workplace. Many corporate social responsibility departments love this idea instead of their other events. Many manufacturers of bras and menstrual hygiene products have stepped up and donated by the hundreds of thousands. Companies like LOLA, Soma, SheFit, AdoreMe, Tampax, Always, Kimberly Clark Corporation, and more have helped.
Running an organization like ISTG has to be time-consuming. What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?
I’m in a role I never thought I’d be in. I wasn’t prepared to just wake up in the morning thinking that my day would consist of sorting bras by size, sandwiched in between a call with a bra manufacturer and then dropping by a women’s shelter in the afternoon. Each day is different, and for a planner like me, it’s hard. This isn’t my full-time job, it’s a time-consuming side project that I find rewarding. Yet, I’m passionate about my day job. My company, Accessibility Partners, supports companies and government agencies by making technology accessible for people with disabilities. I have trouble juggling some of the demands of client conference calls when a nice neighbor comes over with a dozen bras. It’s a difficult thing to manage time when few things can be pushed to later.
Has running ISTG taught you anything that surprises you?
At our core, people are good. The majority of folks that have stepped up and donate bras and tampons are strangers from all over the world. My PO box is constantly filled to capacity from strangers sending me their gently worn bras and sealed packages. Total strangers have stepped up to enable us to hit 350,000 bras donated and 1.2 million menstrual hygiene products donated to 350 charities in two years. As far as what surprises me…I never expected to walk into a Soma Intimates boutique and walk out with a non-profit. That’s kind of a shock, but in a good way.
I’ve also been surprised about some of the negative attitudes people feel towards homeless people, and not comprehending that few people are homeless by choice. I’m shocked by the judgement that people feel if women just worked harder or "sucked up" awful circumstances, they could have a better situation. Moreover, the same attitudes come in the way of others asking, "Why bras? Why not just money and food donations?" Yes, they are important, but there’s no mutual exclusivity here.
What's something you've learned about yourself while running ISTG?
I’ve had more interaction with women experiencing homelessness the past two years. I’ve learned about life and appreciation from many of them. I have gotten really good at looking at a roomful of tampons or a floor covered in maxi pads and closely guessing the quantity- akin to the jellybeans in the jar game.
As a mom, business owner and philanthropist, how do you spend your time outside of ISTG?
I enjoy early morning dance raves, rocking out at indie music festivals, and even exploring in the creek behind my house looking for salamanders with my boys. One of my favorite indulgences is traveling to foreign countries with my husband and kids where I don’t speak the language or recognize the food on my plate.
Do you have any daily rituals or things you do to stay centered?
I have to break up the tedium of emails and phone calls. I love listening to indie music to discover new bands. I’ll pop on headphones and go for walks. My friends are convinced I don’t sleep, and probably it’s due to my special mornings playing football with my sons at 6:50 a.m. while waiting for the school bus.
In your opinion, what are some other major issues women face today that should be a priority in our country?
There’s so much hidden that truly affects the everyday aspects of women’s health. We should focus more on pay equity, menstrual equity, body positivity, and increased mental health awareness. Having a woman know and appreciate her worth and value, both at home and at work, are crucial. Luckily, 2018 is the year of loud and woke women.
Amen to that! Vocally is all about loud and woke women. So let me ask, who is/are your biggest hero(es)?
My biggest personal inspirations and heroes are from various times throughout history, but they include: Harriet Tubman, Madeline Albright and J.K. Rowling. All powerful women who looked injustice and unfairness in the face, and made their mission their own.
If you're interested in contributing to I Support The Girls, visit the website here to learn more.