The Bra Voyage

THE BRA VOYAGE: from your lingerie drawer to employing a survivor of trafficking

Free The Girls collects bras to help provide job opportunities to women rescued from sex trafficking in developing countries. But, do you really know what happens to your bra after you donate it to Free The Girls? The process of handling bra inventory is no small feat and involves numerous people across thousands of miles. Follow the journey in this pictorial blog, “The Bra Voyage.”

THE BRA DRIVE. Since 2010, women have been collecting bras for Free The Girls. Women donate gently-used and, often, rarely-worn bras. Donations can be mailed directly, taken to a local bra drive, or dropped off at one of our third-party drop-off locations. Since 2010, over 500 bra drives have been organized either in conjunction with another event (girls’ night out, bunco, church craft show, etc.) or over a period of time. Almost 100 businesses, schools, or churches have put out a bra bin and invited women to drop off bras anytime. If you choose one of the drop-off options, consider donating a dollar to help defray the cost of shipping the bras to Free The Girls inventory sorting facility in Indiana.

THE BRA MAIL. Free The Girls receives bras from all over North America at its inventory sorting facility in Chesterton, Indiana. Sorting donated bras is the mission of Duneland Community Church in Chesterton. The church office receives at least 10 packages every day from USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL carriers. Those boxes are stacked in a storage room of the church until there is enough inventory for a “bra packing party.” Bras can be sent to us at this address:Free The Girls; 1552 Pioneer Trail; Chesterton, IN 46304 or click here for a generic mailing label.


THE BRA PACKING PARTY. Every 4 to 6 weeks, Free The Girls volunteers in Chesterton, Indiana come together for a “bra packing party.” Boxes are opened, the contents are piled on tables, and bras are sorted and boxed into uniform-sized moving boxes suitable for overseas shipping. Volunteers sort through the piles of bras to sort out three categories of items.


1. NON-BRA ITEMS. For example, we have received underwear, socks, stuffed animals, picture frames, books, beauty products, school supplies, knick knacks, and assorted other non-bra items. These items are donated to a local charitable thrift store. If you have non-bra items you’d like to donate, please explore local charity organizations in your community.


2. UNSELLABLE BRAS. Donated bras that are in poor condition are sorted out, boxed up separately, and color coded so they can be sent to the textile recycling company, The Bra Recyclers, who helps us ensure that no bra ends up in a landfill.


3. NEW BRAS. Donated bras that are new with tags, or surplus/overstock bras donated by industry partners, are sorted and boxed separately, color coded, and set aside for our program in Uganda which requires new bra inventory because of local regulations prohibiting the importation of used undergarments. Industry partners interested in donating bra inventory may email us at to request a call back from our National Director.


THE BRA HAULERS. The majority of the bras sent in to Free The Girls are simply repacked into uniform-sized moving boxes suitable for overseas shipment. The boxes are then stacked on pallets and shrink wrapped. Then we arrange with volunteer truckers (join our volunteer trucker email list by emailing to pick up pallets of bras and take them to LR International in Chicago.


THE BRA SHIPPING SPECIALISTS. Paul Jarzombek and his great crew at LR International receive and store pallets of bras for us at their huge warehouse near O’Hare Airport in Chicago, IL. The bras are warehoused at LR International until we have enough to fill a 40 foot shipping container. Then LR International goes to work making all the logistical arrangements for shipping the bras overseas.


THE BRA BOXES. Once we are ready to ship, LR International preps our boxes of bras for shipment. First, boxes of bras are staged (as shown in the picture). Next, because the contents of the boxes are used clothing, the boxes must be fumigated. 

THE BRA CONTAINER. The next step involves packing the boxes of bras into a 20- OR 40-foot shipping container. Because LR International wants to help us maximize the space in the container and keep our shipping costs low, the boxes are taken off the pallets and carefully stacked one by one into the container. This means as many as 670 boxes — or 150,000+ bras — in a 40-foot container! Once the container is packed, it is loaded by crane on a rail car and taken to a dock where it is again lifted by a crane and stacked with hundreds of other containers on a cargo liner. 

THE BRA DELIVERY. Upon departure from the United States, the journey can take anywhere from 8 weeks (for a container headed to Central America) to 5 months (for a container headed to inland Sub Saharan Africa). After the boxes of bras arrive at their destination and clear customs, they are ready to be unloaded. While a few boxes may deteriorate during shipping, requiring the contents to be loaded into large plastic bags, the majority of the boxes are simply unloaded directly from the container and into a large delivery truck which takes them to our in-country storage facility.

THE BRA PROGRAM. The boxes of bras are delivered to our program location where they are unloaded into a secure storage facility–typically, a large, steel storage unit.  The storage facility is padlocked to keep the inventory safe until it is distributed to the women in our program. Before a woman begins selling bras, she receives hands-on training from our in-country staff to ensure that she has the knowledge, skills, and other tools necessary to be a successful entrepreneur. 

THE BRA SELLERS. The women in our program receive a bag of bras (about 100 bras) as their initial inventory for resale and personal use. Whenever a woman is running low on bra inventory, she stops by and purchases additional bras at a price well below the local wholesale price. As the women’s businesses grow, so does their customers’ demand for bras and, as a result, many of the women in our program purchase additional bra inventory by the box (about 220-240 bras)!

THE BRA STORE. So what does a bra store look like? It can take on many forms. Some women, like Ofelia pictured here, set up along the streets near their homes. Each woman is given the freedom to choose how she wants to sell bras. As a result, the women come up with very creative ways of displaying their inventory, attracting new customers, and maintaining repeat customers.


THE BRA-VELOUS RESULTS. For women like Ofelia, selling bras not only offered her a way out of human trafficking, but allowed her the chance to get healthy, live independently, go back to school, and take care of her family. At Free The Girls, we offer the average woman the opportunity to be a part of something big and we make getting involved simple: Donate a bra. Give a former slave a job. 


Photos courtesy of our supporters including Soroptimist International of the Kachinas, Duneland Community Church, LR International, and Project Purpose.

* * * A Bra Voyage Power Point presentation and detailed script are available for use by third parties at bra drives and anti-human trafficking events. Request electronic files from your event concierge or email * * *


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