By Savannah Crocker
Every woman who experiences a traumatic event deserves to feel safe and protected. That is why Elizabeth Stribling co-founded the Undergarment Society, which provides bras and underwear for women in need, including those who are homeless and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Bras and underwear are basic necessities but are often overlooked when considering the needs of homeless women and survivors, Elizabeth says. Those who have experienced trauma are given access to clothing and food, but there are not often new bras or underwear for women to wear in hospitals or shelters after they arrive.
“These bras are more than just something you wear,” Elizabeth says. “They are a source of empowerment for these women and give them a feeling of dignity in their awful situations.”
Middle school teachers and classroom neighbors Elizabeth and Eliza Chandler both read an article about a woman in another state hosting a Mardi Bras party, where she asked women to bring bras and underwear for women in need, and they decided to rally their friends to host their own party with a purpose. Elizabeth had recently taken her daughters to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and says she was looking for a way to help women.
“It really made us think about how much we take them for granted,” Elizabeth says. “If mine are bad I just go and get new ones, and it’s pretty expensive to spend the money on quality bras.”
The friends held their first small Mardi Bras in Eliza’s house in 2017 and collected more than 300 bras and pairs of underwear and then donated them to local shelters.
“That’s when we realized that nobody had done anything like that,” Elizabeth says. “The shelters struggle with volunteers using their own money, so it really sparked the idea to keep it going after the first party.”
Elizabeth and Eliza loved the positive feedback from their friends after the first party, so they thought they would get together four times a year. After spreading the need by word of mouth, the Undergarment Society has helped organize 42 parties in Charleston just two years.
“We call them a party with a purpose. We ask people to host these events for us, but they can have them in their own venues and invite their own guests.” Elizabeth says. “It’s like your monthly book club, but instead of bringing the hostess a gift, you bring a bra for a woman in need.”
The Undergarment Society works with nine nonprofits in the Charleston community, and it is constantly adding to its list. The nonprofits include My Sister’s House, an organization that provides services for victims of domestic violence; Florence Crittenton, a home that provides shelter to young and at-risk pregnant women; and Doors to Freedom, a shelter that gives resources to sex trafficking survivors.
“After doing this for almost two years now, I have learned that there isn’t one single demographic or body shape for the women we are providing for.” Elizabeth says, “They need underwear of all styles, sizes and occasions.”
This year, the Undergarment Society plans to launch a new resource called the Us Bus. In order to make donations more efficient and dignified, the Us Bus will provide a place for volunteers from the nonprofits to browse sizes and provide a professional approach to donations.
“One of my bigger long-term goals and dreams is to branch into education because it is so close to my heart.” Elizabeth says, “I would love to be able to provide job training and tuition assistance for the women we assist.”
Elizabeth finds that the most rewarding part of this organization is the high level of energy and passion from those who host the events and understanding just how important the work she is doing is for the women.
“The work we’re doing gives these women a chance to start over after trauma.” Elizabeth says, “It is so crucial for them to feel a sense of dignity in their everyday life.”
How to Get Involved
On March 2, the Undergarment Society hosts its Mardi Bras party at Triangle Char and Bar in West Ashley from 12 to 4 p.m. If you’d like more information on how to donate or volunteer, please email Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.