Fashion designer helps domestic abuse victims rebuild their lives

Rachael Bews uses surplus retail stock for domestic abuse survivors. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Rachael Bews uses surplus retail stock for domestic abuse survivors. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A new social enterprise that provides women fleeing domestic abuse with a tailored 30-piece capsule wardrobe was inspired by a woman founder Rachael Bews worked with when she was 19.

Rachael, now 25 and living in Edinburgh, met her muse as a student while waitressing in Inverness. The woman had escaped an abusive partner, moving hundreds of miles away with her three children and only the clothes on her back. “She was an incredible person”, said Rachael. “Christmas was coming up and she had nothing but despite the circumstances she was so positive.”

Rachael’s new friend fled her old life with nothing but she cherished a new coat and pair of shoes that she wore to look for jobs and on school runs. She told Rachael that they were all she needed to rebuild her life, and the words stuck. But it wasn’t until Rachael found herself picking up the pieces after an abusive relationship that the idea for the not-for-profit business was sparked. On visiting the support worker assigned to her through Scottish Women’s Aid she noticed a pile of bulging black bin bags full of clothes and shoes. She said: “Those are the garments that most of us take for granted but they were so impactful in my friend starting again.

“I was told that while the donations were well-meaning often the clothes were almost useless after lying in lofts for years”. The often out-of-date items were riddled with moth holes or smelled bad. Rachael was struck too by the symbolism of handing over old clothes to women trying to start again. “I just felt that being given bin bags wouldn’t help with anyone’s self esteem and it broke my heart”, she said.

After remembering her friend’s happiness with her new coat and shoes, Rachael started researching to see if any charities offered the same to other women in clothing crisis. After discovering that almost half of all UK retail stock ends up in dumps she decided to take the matter into her own hands. She said: “Big retailers send stock that doesn’t sell in 12 weeks and clearance stock to landfill sites. Returned stock ends up there too.” She was left shocked on finding out that textiles waste is predicted to be a bigger problem that plastic in the oceans by 2020. And so Alicas was born. Currently working on the three-month pilot that will provide 280 packages of clothing tailored to the size, favourite styles and religious requirements of women who will be referred from Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh and Women’s Aid South Lanarkshire - eventually the service will be rolled out to all 38 shelters in Scotland. Each parcel will include a hand-written note of support and solidarity from Rachael who has secured a free space at the top of London road where she and a team of nimble-fingered volunteers will tailor the new clothes gifted to the charity from high-street retailers. The privacy and safey of the women is paramount to Rachael who will only be given the measurements and preferences of the women she hopes to empower. She said: “The fear of leaving everything behind is a big barrier to women escaping. The Alicas parcel means they can leave and be safe sooner.”