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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Providing Support for Women in Need

Sep 29, 2012 06:18PM ● By Jon D’Auria

Elaine Birks-Mitchell

In 2008, Elaine Birks-Mitchell founded The Bra Recyclers, in Gilbert, Arizona, to help underprivileged women achieve comfort, confidence and physical well-being, one bra at a time. October marks the third annual Bra Recycling Month (TBR) that she started in 2009 to see how many lightly used and unwanted bras they can collect. Last year, their goal was 10,000 garments, and they received 11,000. This year, they are shooting for 15,000.

TBR is teaming up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and on October 1, they will be kicking off their Bra-volution drive. Collection drop-off points will be open at Dillard’s, Fry’s and other locations to be announced.

Brassieres have the stigma of being a necessary undergarment that can be a stylish, sexy and, as many women will attest, pricey, accessory. The truth is that finding the right bra can help a woman’s posture, her back health, her physical well-being and her confidence if it is properly fitted and well crafted. No one know this more than Birks-Mitchell, who took a leap of faith by dedicating her life to helping women that can’t afford bras within their budgets.

“Men don’t always realize it, but a good bra is such an important thing for a women and it can literally change their life,” she says. “In terms of physical health, self-esteem, pride in how you look and feel and eliminating unnecessary back problems, good bras are essential
to women’s health.”

Birks-Mitchell knew she had wanted to do something with her life that would give back to her community in a unique and uncharted way, so she began researching textile recycling and clothing donation processes and came up with a blueprint for her mission. “I looked
closer at what shelters and donation places needed and discovered the vast lack of bras that were being donated,” she relates. “I knew that I had a bunch in my drawer that I didn’t need and I didn’t know what to do with them. They’re so expensive, but we just tend to throw
them away when we get rid of them. In my own research, I found that no big groups in the U.S. focused on bras. I set up the website and it took off so fast I was overwhelmed, as I started getting bras from every direction.”

What started as Birks-Mitchell’s dream quickly grew into an industry. TBR began by provisioning just two organizations that distributed the bras to the women that needed them. Less than four years later, TBR distributes to more than 64 organizations and has 20 dropoff
locations in America, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. They recently set up a distribution group in South Africa, as well. “When we started off, we would just ship a bunch of bras to different places, but we found that they needed different sizes specifically,” she says.
“They oftentimes needed larger-sized bras because women in transition aren’t eating correctly, are under a lot of stress and aren’t really active. Now we have a form online where they can tell us the sizes they need and we keep a detailed inventory.”

The organization has also been able to help women that have suffered from breast cancer and are facing financial woes on their road to recovery. “There are specific mastectomy bras with inserts in them for post-surgery patients and women have been recycling those. We’ve also been getting special prosthetic bras for the same purpose. It’s hard enough for those women to go through the struggle they had
to endure—we’re just trying to help them get on with their lives and stay positive.”

While Birks-Mitchell’s business is expanding every year, she still needs more help and more bras to be donated, because demand is also growing with the hard economic times. She explains, “I like to say that we’ve started a Bravolution. We’re looking to get more women involved to give a hand and spread what we’re doing through word of mouth and community awareness. I only have so many hands, so I need other women to step up and help the community they live in. I don’t think there’s the awareness that women can truly help someone with something they were only going to discard. Everyone can’t cut a check these days with the way money is in the world, but you can
definitely open your drawer and take out a bra that is never used.”

Location: 3317 S. Higley Rd., Ste. 114- 441. To donate bras, learn more about the organization or find a way to help, call 480-988-2283 or visit

Jon D’Auria is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.