Selling Bras In Uganda

When we started our job creation program in Uganda last year, we had over 20 women, eager to sign up and start selling bras.

Working in a developing country means working within an ever-changing set of governmental parameters. In Uganda, this meant we could only import new bra inventory. This model didn’t fit within our typical job creation program that utilizes bra inventory made up of gently-used bras that are donated by women around the world. However, thanks to the generosity of several industry partners in North America, we were able to put together an initial shipment of close to 60,000 new bras.

Although there were still a number of hurdles we had to overcome during the transport and import of that shipment, when we finally started giving inventory to the women, it seemed we had crossed off every possible impediment on the list.

We were wrong.

Soon after the women started selling bras, there were new laws passed locally that made it illegal to sell anything in the street markets unless you were a registered shop. The process and cost for each woman to become a registered vendor presented a new, and very significant, road block. By February of 2015, Free The Girls was facing the hard question of whether or not the program could continue in Uganda. Less than a half dozen women were regularly buying bras and few of them had established a registered shop.

Just one month later–and thanks to the ingenuity and determination of our program partner and in-country staff person–the Uganda program has overcome the problem and turned dreams back into reality. By establishing a single, permanent store location and registering the shop with the government, Kwagala Project can offer women part-time, commission-based employment. Simply by re-imagining how to work within the local regulations in Uganda, Free The Girls job creation program was reborn. Six women regularly work at the new Free The Girls store, and our in-country staff person is exploring possibilities for opening a second location to provide job opportunities for even more survivors.

This spring, we shipped another pallet of bras to Uganda of new bra inventory thanks to industry partners like Yellowberry and Intimacy. (In fact, the bras in this most recent shipment were, in large part, made up of bras donated by our newest industry partner Intimacy {bra fit stylist}. Intimacy has 16 stores in the United States that not only donate returns, surplus and other overstock inventory, but serve as third-party drop-off locations.)

So what does this new program model look like? Like a lingerie store. The Free The Girls store is a beautiful place, as chic and stylish as a Western lingerie store. And while our business model may look different in Uganda, we are pleased that it embodies the mission of our work–creating budding entrepreneurs and providing economic empowerment for survivors of sex trafficking. We are so proud of what has been accomplished in Uganda, and even prouder of the women who are working there to support themselves and their families.

 

Are you a lingerie industry person who would like to know more about donating new surplus and overstock bra inventory to support our Uganda program? Email our inventory manager at dropoff@freethegirls.org

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