Having to imagine yourself in the position of moving away from family, friends, a job, and a social life, all to flee an abusive partner is impossible to many of us.
Ali’s life changed forever when she had to uproot her life and the life of her 3 kids to move hundreds of miles north to Inverness for this very reason.
Rachael Bews was 19 when she first met Ali.
“I became quite friendly with Ali and the more I got to know her, the more curious I became about how she managed to stay so positive and so strong in that situation.
“She said to me that the only thing that kept her going was having a good coat and a pair of shoes.”
It was from this friendship that Alicas was born.
Alicas, named from Ali’s coat and shoes, is the brainchild of Rachael, a business created around the idea of giving women who have fled from abusive partners handmade parcels of tags-on, high quality clothes.
As unthinkable as it may seem to many of us, a report by The Scottish Government found that 1 in 5 women have suffered abuse at the hands of a partner.
When it came to Rachael, now 26, having her own experience with an abusive partner, Ali’s story and words were hammered even harder to home.
“I just remember that [Ali’s story] really sticking with me at the time, that those two simple garments was the difference between her being able to carry on with her life.
“When I found myself fleeing an abusive partner, it was Ali that I thought of.”
The life-changing ordeal led to Rachael using the support of Woman’s Aid and her experience of the support group, while incredibly helpful, left her with questions about the way in which women are able to live a normal life after fleeing.
“I was in this room which was just full of bin bags and one day I asked my support worker “What’s the deal with all these?” And she said it was clothing donations from members of the public to help the women that they support.
“They could be giving a bag of clothes that maybe a 60-year-old woman was wearing to a woman in her early 20s, it just wouldn’t work. It’s all about making women feel comfortable going about their day-to-day lives.”
The identity and sense of belonging that comes with clothes that is one of the big motivators for Rachael.
“Having someone just completely destroy your clothing and your identity, it’s such a degrading experience and it completely limits your own independence. Clothing is a huge part of self-esteem and that’s another reason why it’s so important that this is available.”
Rachael’s compassionate heart was not the only reason for her unique business idea, which launched earlier this year.
The sustainability of fast fashion is what Rachael describes as “appalling”. By 2030, it is expected that waste in the fashion industry will reach 148 tonnes, with the burning of surplus stock, which is commonplace, contributing even further to the carbon footprint.
“The leftover clothing stock is taking up huge amounts of space in landfill, they’re responsible for a large amount of the microfibre and microplastic waste in the ocean. Clothing retailers really have to up their game.”
Rachael’s main aim is to bridge this gap; millions upon millions of surplus stock, to hundreds of thousands of women in vital need of practical and fashionable clothing.
Alicas gift boxes are tailored-made to each referral, with each box being made up of 30 tags-on, fresh, and new wardrobe staples. The company have handed out 2 boxes already, both of which were to women in Scotland.
“Our first parcel went to a 19-year-old woman in the Central Belt, and our other parcel went to a woman also in the Central Belt whose partner had destroyed all of her clothes. It really hit home, this woman basically had to make herself homeless in order to get into temporary accommodation.
When I know that there’s the real human impact of what it is that we’re doing, it’s the reason I get up in the morning, it’s what keeps me going.”
From tops, to dresses, to even absolute basics like socks, bras and underwear, Alicas have now launched a public appeal campaign to help fill their stock inventory to 10,000 units.
#TAGSTO10K was launched by Rachael and her team in the hope of being able to fill and distribute over 300 boxes throughout Scotland by the end of the year.
Rachael said: “We’re empowering and relying on members of the public who have items of clothing in their wardrobe that they’ve never worn and can’t return, with the tags still on, to donate these items to us.
“We’re also asking for donations of any wardrobe basics, so if you’re out shopping on the high street, if you could throw in maybe a packet of socks or underwear or tights, something that maybe costs a couple of pounds but really makes a big difference to us being able to do our work.”
The future looks bright for Alicas. Having just moved into a new premises, business is moving up in the world, and is gaining more and more support from the public every step of the way.
“We’ll be working with 12 new support agencies come November which is insane, and we’ll be having our volunteers come on board as well to help manage stock donation and picking and packing parcels. You know, it’s not about me, it’s very much all about the people we’re able to support and all of those people who want to come in and give that support to you.
“It’s about that pay it forward, pay it back idea, the sense of solidarity and empowerment.”
While Alicas supports women in these positions with clothing, it is not a support agency. If you find yourself or anyone you know in this situation please call Scotland Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234, or if out with Scotland, you can contact National domestic Abuse Hotline on 0800 2000 247.
For more information on donating to the #TAGSTO10K campaign or volunteering with Alicas, visit alicas.co.uk, or follow @alicaslove on Twitter and Instagram and search Alicas on Facebook and.