Yesterday, Dana Marlowe, founder of Support The Girls, explained how she got to the point where she realized she could help Women in Need. In part two of my interview with Dana Marlowe, we get into how she took her a-ha moment and got online with it.
So you have this moment, Homeless Women Need Bras and you know that you want to donate bras and feminine hygiene products. Then what happens?
So I put it on my Facebook page. I was like, “Hey, I just learned about that homeless women need bras. I’m going to be donating 16 bras to this shelter. I also learned about the need for maxi pads and tampons. I know there’s a big menstrual taboo and if it’s upsetting up on my Facebook wall, well like deal with it. There’s nothing taboo about having a period. There is something that we need to focus on: dignity. I’m not here to have a debate as to why people become homeless but if I can make a difference and donate some tampons I’m going to do so.” I basically said I will collect for two weeks and I will donate at the end of July. (This was July, 2015). I went out for a walk with a friend the next day. I was telling her what I learned and she looked at me and she said, “Dana, I have so many bras. I didn’t know I could donate them. My body type has changed so much with my kids. Would you take mine down too?” And then my post was shared and re-shared and then it was shared on my local listserve—my women’s listserve, my community listserve, my moms listserve. Everyone was like, “oh would you pick up from my house?” I wound up spending my lunch breaks picking up what I call doing porch pickups. I would count them, sort them, wash them.
All on your own?
Yeah. Schools, churches, and synagogues all said, “Hey we can do this? We can put out a box and collect bras and tampons and maxi pads.”
So it just picked up this momentum.
Yeah, and it spread. More and more organizations were doing collections. Finally, Halloween in 2015, I did the donation that I had just collected—over one thousand bras and over seven thousand menstrual products. The Washington Post had heard about it and were like “Can we interview you?” I was like sure why not, if it raises awareness on providing dignity to the marginalized population of people in need. And they ran it in their weekend section above the fold! After that happened my inbox went bonkers. I was shocked that people still read the paper. I couldn’t keep up with the emails, the messages, the Facebook, the texts. It was out of control how many people it resonated with who said, “I have bras I can donate.”
Was it always called Support The Girls?
So right after it got popular, I was like I need a name for this project. You know, some people collect stamps; I didn’t want to be known as a bra collector because you know it sound a little too fetish-y. I called it Support the Girls. I thought I was super super clever. I was patting myself on the back even though everything’s always been done before.
So now you’ve got a sea of people who want to donate their bras and donate feminine hygiene products on top of your dayjob.
Yeah yeah yeah, it was not normal. I manage a very busy inbox anyway because of my day job. At the core, there were only about a dozen of the same questions people were asking and I wanted to be able to respond back to them. So the paper came out Saturday and I was leaving Sunday to fly up to Boston for a disability accessibility conference that I was speaking at. And I was overwhelmed. So I got up at 4 am; I bought the domain Isupportthegirls.org. I bought an email address. I got the WordPress package. I typed up my frequently asked questions. I typed up some resources. I typed up some background links to the articles. And then I typed up a how-to for my husband. I woke him up at 6am. I was like, “I need a really big favor, honey. I just sent you twelve emails. I need you to create me a website before I land in Logan.” And he goes, “I don’t know how to make a a website!” And I go, “I know. It’s on a platform called WordPress. I feel like if fifth graders can do it, so can you.”
Okay, you’re my superhero. Was he able to do it?
He did it by the time I landed.
So now you have a working website and then what happened?
I spent hours writing back to everybody that night from my hotel room instead of preparing my presentation. While I was in Boston, people started asking how can I do this in my community?
So what was your plan? Obviously, you’ve built a business, but a business built on donations requires a different approach.
I had to kind of buckle down and build out the infrastructure for the organization. I wound up picking a woman locally first who is in her 60s. I worked with her on tips, what to do, what to not do. She collected a thousand bras! She hit it out of the park. A woman from Indiana, Rachel, reached out. She said, “I want to collect 3500 bras before I turn 35.” This was a year ago; she turned 35 last month. She’s a stay at home mom who had extra time and needed something to while her daughter’s at pre school. And she collected 3500 bras in 88 days.
Oh my god!
And then I had a woman in Cleveland do it and I had a woman in Knoxville. My whole focus was to empower women in their community by collecting these items locally. It was a win-win because everybody felt good: the person who was donating their four bras and a box of maxi pads felt good for donating, and obviously the the end recipient. It’s an amazing feeling to have someone give you new bras and have that dignity and know that you don’t have to worry for that next month when you have your period.
Again, it’s so incredible that all this came out of you needing to take care of yourself, going bra shopping, and being told four magic words, Homeless Women Need Bras.
Look, I work a fulltime job. I have a family. If I can do this, I kind of feel like anybody can kind of follow their passion. There’s nothing that particularly unique or special to what I was doing. I don’t have access to bajillions and bajillions of dollars. This was just doing good. It was very simple. Everyone understood the message immediately.
How did you come up with the logo?
I found this women in Buenes Aires. It’s very hard to tell a graphic designer, I want an S and a G and I want it to look like a bra but not look like a bra. She goes, “I work with a lot of organizations and this is one of the hardest requests.” If it looks too much like a bra with cleavage or sexualized, I’m gonna have a hard time with the pre-schools, elementary schools, churches and faith based organizations; they’re not going to want to put a logo of a bra or a tampon. So she created the logo.
Do you have a staff??
We have no staff. We have no money, Marcelle. It’s just people doing good. To date, we have 45 affiliates on Support the Girls: Chicago and Knoxville and Detroit and New York. We have support the girls Australia and Support the Girls Thailand and Support the Girls Taiwan.
That’s amazing you have so many people who care.
You know sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees? I’m literally sitting at the bottom of the trees going how do I make this more sustainable? My theory is anybody can do this, right? Part of the reason this is so successful is my friends are helping me—they share their ideas, their input, leading me. A bra company is donating 1500 bras lovely bras. We’re working with the largest domestic violence shelter in the country, [which] happens to be in New York. Support the Girls is donating these 1500 new bras to the shelter. One of my requirements when I donate is to tour the shelter because only way I’m going to get smarter and learn more is by meeting the people who receive the products and meeting the people who work in homeless shelters and domestic violence organizations and community based centers, correctional facilities and jails, low-income public schools. We’re in over 150 some odd shelters and domestic violence organizations. To date we have donated collectively 85,000 bras and nearly 400,00 menstrual products in basically over a year. Because: people are good.
It’s because you’re good and the driver of what brings out the good in people.
I don’t know sometimes I think I’m a total bitch.