Every so often, aside from the daily routine of sorting items, pricing and looking after volunteers, I catch on to something that is unique and which also relates to the work that Oxfam does worldwide.

We have a twitter account for my shop (@oxfamnpton) and we were recently tagged into a conversation about “braskets”. It appeared that a local Women’s Institute group called Northampton Martinis have been busy turning old bras into flowering pots that you can hang. They then place them in various parts of Northampton. I read into this and found that the story had been covered by the local BBC and that it has its roots at the  Chelsea Flower Show in 2009.

At this point, I had an idea to promote braskets, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

It also made me also think back to a donation drive Oxfam launched back in 2012 to encourage women to donate any unwanted bras lurking in their wardrobes to Oxfam shops around the country. The was after a survey was done in Senegal that found that bras are the most popular items from the textiles we send over there. Oxfam supports a social enterprise in Senegal called Frip Ethique and lots of the clothing we can’t sell in shops in the UK gets sent there. The best thing I learnt is that 0% of donated clothes gets sent to landfill, which is so important. The initiative also employs over 40 people – many of them women – who are able to support their families and communities.

Northampton volunteers stopping the traffic with their bra bunting

The Big Bra Hunt was launched, and we had hundreds of bras dropped in to our shop. I even made a basket saying ‘Drop Your Bras Here’ (thankfully women didn’t literally!) but overall our shop collected about 1,500 bras! The Bra Hunt got my staff together quite well, and a few of us created some bunting made of bras and arranged a photo call for the local newspaper. We ended up holding up the bras outside the shop and managed to stop the traffic with many cars honking their horns. The story appeared on Page 3 of the paper the next day!

You can learn more about Frip Ethique in the video below where television presenter Miquita Oliver visited the social enterprise (which is still running well today).

Flash back over, and coming back to present day, this brasket idea got me thinking about doing another bra appeal to re-emphasise the importance of donating a bra to Oxfam and how it can support and empower women in Senegel. The campaigning side of me was in action!

Pat tends to one of her braskets

As a little experiment, one of my volunteers, Pat, made an effort to create a brasket. She calls it ‘Prototype 1’. Pat is an avid gardener and took on the task of making a few more. It was a Monday and we put out these braskets on the notice board on the pavement with a poster explaining what it was about. The idea was to get people to stop, look and talk about it and the reactions we got straight away were interesting. Many took pictures of it including workmen who clearly wanted to show their own partners. Every day we had to water them but thankfully our Pat lives nearby and took ownership of them.

I let this run for over a week, before the bra eventually started to sag from the rain. The message was intended to remind people why we need donations like these and it was great to see my volunteers get behind the idea – especially Pat. On the back of this I had a customer share ideas about quirky ways to plant flowers – coming soon #FlowerPotBoots!

Braskets on display in the shop window

Rather than pack it all away, I decided to keep some of the braskets in the window, this time with some artificial flowers (less maintenance). I can’t wait to show the Northampton Martinis what they have inspired and I have offered to do a talk and presentation at one of their monthly meetings.

Thank you for reading – do send some feedback as I would love to read your comments!

Vimal