Thousands of Bras Collected for the Needy
Stacks of bras in brown cardboard boxes fill Oz du Soleil's home in Chicago's Kilbourn Park neighborhood. Red bras. Polka-dotted pink and brown ones, white lace and sheer black bras. Hundreds of them sorted size AA to DD, with an H or even a J thrown in the mix.
When asked why, du Soleil, 44, always has his elevator pitch prepared.
"I collect new and slightly used bras for underprivileged, lower-income girls and women," he tells them. "Usually they ask if I'm serious, and then I just tell them I've sent more than 1,400 bras around the world. ... I am careful about it since people do look at you like you're some weirdo."
Du Soleil collects the bras through his blog, support1000.blogspot.com, which in April surpassed its goal of collecting 1,000 bras to donate. He's now at 3,000-plus and counting.
At $15 to $40, an inexpensive bra is not the type of thing most people think about donating. But many women who show up at shelters or are homeless don't have a bra, and many girls are embarrassed to go to school without one, say advocates.
Paula Gomez, a domestic violence advocate for the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, responded to an ad that du Soleil posted on Craigslist for free bras, which she says are the least donated item. "If you can't afford to pay the rent, you're not going to buy a bra," Gomez said.
Deborah Slowe of the nonprofit IMAGINE Me Foundation said du Soleil donated more than 100 bras to that organization. The foundation focuses on self-esteem issues affecting teenage girls.
"I had girls crying," Slowe said. "Things that are so small that we take for granted are so important to young girls."
Du Soleil, who describes himself as a creative inventor type, said the idea to collect the bras was inspired by an earlier digital art project. He posted a picture of a bra on his blog and wrote a short narrative. Soon female friends started mailing him bras, and du Soleil wrote short bios about them, sans their names. He left the bras in a bag in his closet for 5 years, he said, until his then-girlfriend found them and donated some of them to girls at Myra Bradwell Elementary School.
"I was really moved by the response," he said. "The girls wanted them because most of them had one bra to go to P.E., to parties, to the grocery store, to the doctor. It was about giving them dignity."
When he was laid off from his job as a trainer at Kaplan Financial in July 2008, du Soleil said he decided that while he looked for work he would try to collect 1,000 bras for lower-income girls and women.
Having no idea what type of bras he would need, du Soleil went to Target. He approached a young worker in the intimates area to ask, "What's a good bra to buy?"
"Now, I know the difference between a racer back and five-way," he said.
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