ALICAS: Helping victims of domestic abuse dress with dignity

Imagine how it must feel to have nothing to your name and have another woman’s discarded clothes, handed to you in a bin bag. For victims of domestic abuse and violence, this is the reality of life. But ALICAS charity is on a mission to change this.

Rachael Bews is the woman behind ALICAS, a for-profit-for-good organisation that aims to give women in distress their self-esteem and confidence back. It provides women in need with a capsule collection of 30 essential pieces, each chosen to fit her size, cultural and religious needs.

It’s a brilliant idea. Like me, you probably were shocked to find out the UK government charged victims of forced marriage for helping them escape. If you watched BBC2’s Inside the Foreign Office, you’ll have seen how one girl was struggling to even get her passport, never mind money.

Added to that is the horrendous fact that 139 women were killed by men in the UK in 2017, with 76% of them knowing their killer.

Women stay with an abusive partner for many reasons, but embarrassment and low self-esteem is often cited. Added to that, many men control the purse strings, meaning these women have no way of supporting themselves or their children.

Using her own experience

Rachael, 26, knows this well. She fled an abusive relationship herself and when she went to Women’s Aid, she discovered a pile of bin bags filled with donated, second-hand clothes.

Some of the pieces had been sitting in lofts and attics for many years, said the organisers, and while the donation was well-meaning, they could smell a little musty and be old-fashioned.

ALICAS founder Rachael Bews

Years earlier, Rachael had met a woman called Alison Grant who had suffered domestic abuse. She had fled from the north-east of England to Inverness with her three young children, leaving everything she had ever owned. In Inverness, her aunt bought her a red coat – her armour. Together with a pair of shoes and a slick of lipstick, Alison felt she could face the world in that coat, faking that everything was okay until it really was. It gave her back her self-esteem and sense of worth.

“I left with my final shred of dignity and I held on to it with my coat and my shoes,” she said.

“The damage to your self-esteem is the greatest cost to women who are living in emotionally abusive relationships.”

Clothes maketh the woman

Standing in the room surrounded by bin bags, Rachael could only think about Alison’s words, about the importance that clothes can play in your life.

“I was lucky that I managed to take most of my belongings with me,” she said. “Yet many women flee with nothing but the clothes on their back. When I saw the well-meaning, but often inappropriate clothing donations women relied on, I knew I had to do more.”

She began researching and discovered that half of new clothing in the UK ends up as landfill or burnt, unsold and adding to the environmental problems we have (did you see the Stacey Dooley documentary on fast fashion and the environmental damage our passion for new clothes is doing in countries such as Indonesia? Shocking.)

It led to Rachel launching ALICAS – ALI’s Coats And Shoes, in honour of her old friend – to work with designers, big brands and retailers and encourage them to donate their unsold items to create a working wardrobe for women with nothing. Her first parcel went to a 19-year-old woman in Scotland’s Central Belt.

How does ALICAS work?

It’s very simple: women in a refuge fill in a detailed form with details such as their size, age, the colours they wear and any clothing preferences – do they wear skirts or trousers? – and ALICAS then puts a capsule collection together to suit.

Each collection is nicely wrapped and comes with a message of support.

I can’t begin to imagine how much that must help – to know that you’re not alone and you’re not second-best, as so many of these women have been told throughout their relationship; to know that you’re worthy of having something nice.

It’s not just big companies who can help, though. Anyone can give something new with the tags on. It’s a great way to help a woman in need, especially if you’ve been given some clothes for Christmas that you either don’t like or are the wrong size. The chances are they’re now in the sale, which means you’ll only get the sale price if you don’t have the receipt while the store pockets the extra profit (this happened to me a couple of years ago with a pair of PJs from my mum. They were the wrong size but because she didn’t have the receipt, I only got 30% of the original price back. I’d much rather have donated them to somewhere like Alicas.)

Anyone can donate tags-on clothing to ALICAS. You can also follow them on @alicaslove.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse or violence and need help, the National Domestic Violence Helpline is free. Simply call 0808 2000 247.

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