Scottish start-up will re-purpose surplus fashion into bespoke wardrobes for domestic abuse survivors

As consumers demand increasing social and environmental responsibility from retail industry, ALICAS will gift bespoke parcels of unsold fashion to women who find themselves in clothing crisis.

Last Thursday, Scottish entrepreneur and CEO of ALICAS, Rachael Bews, took to the stage surrounded by business, fashion, third sector and enterprise leaders to launch a rallying call for her innovative new social venture pilot with global ambition. As half of new clothing in the UK is sent to landfill or incineration, costing retailers more than £60bn each year, ALICAS offers an exciting sustainable solution to one of fashion’s most pressing environmental issues.

ALICAS has been founded by the 26-year-old from Ross-Shire after she fled an abusive relationship and accessed the services and support available for survivors. Bews found herself in a room at Women’s Aid with a pile of bin bags in the corner – only to hear that they were filled with donated, second-hand clothes which would be offered to fellow survivors of domestic abuse who had left everything they own behind in flight from their situation.

Bews was moved by the image, and reminded of a survivor, Ali, whom she had met years before and who had also fled her abuser. Ali had told Bews that as long as she had a good coat and pair of shoes, she could take her children to school and apply for work with dignity as she rebuilt her life. The stark reality of that was etched in Bews’ memory, and years later, it is Ali’s Coat and Shoes, which provides the inspiration for her innovative start-up, ALICAS.

The ALICAS TAGSTO10K drive for 10,000 items of clothing with their tags on, which can be turned into 300 bespoke clothing parcels of 30-item capsule wardrobes for 300 survivors of domestic abuse, is looking to enlist a raft of designers, retailers and members of the public to help achieve its target by Christmas.

“Clothing is important – it’s essential – and yet in some situations women are forced to flee an abusive partner with nothing. We applaud the mission of ALICAS in complementing the work that is already undertaken by Women’s Aid groups up and down the country in supporting women and children often in crisis situations. We also congratulate Rachael on the work she is doing in using her personal experience as a powerful driving force for change.” – Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid

ALICAS has launched, supported by Scottish Women’s Aid and Shakti, who will distribute the parcels through referrals from their local support workers for domestic abuse survivors. Bews has received start-up backing from the Royal Bank of Scotland Entrepreneur Accelerator; The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), The Hunter Foundation; Scottish Institute for Enterprise; The University of the Highlands and Islands and UnLtd.

The first ALICAS parcel was delivered to a 19-year-old domestic abuse survivor in the central belt of Scotland this summer, with clothing gifted by Navabi, a premium plus size brand retailer. Navabi is not only ALICAS’s first retail partner, but is currently preparing to fulfil several other parcels, as well as supporting with the venture’s future development. Bews is in ongoing discussions with several responsible designers and retailers regarding future partnerships.

Beautifully packaged and complete with a hand-written note of support and solidarity, ALICAS parcels are gifts, not hand-outs, and as such are designed to help survivors retain their dignity, identity and confidence. Each wardrobe is suited to size, style, and religious or cultural needs.

Those keen to support ALICAS can also do so through its product range, including t-shirts, totes, cushions, sweatshirts and mugs. By purchasing an item from ALICAS’ sustainable merchandise collection, conscious consumers will contribute towards the cost of picking, packing and distributing each parcel – enabling supporters to ‘buy a t-shirt, and gift a wardrobe.’

The first collection in the ALICAS range comes from independent Scottish fashion designer and illustrator E J Cassidy, who used her personal experience with domestic abuse and the misrepresentation of survivors as primary inspiration for her major honours collection at Heriot-Watt University, earning her a V&A Design Champion position.

The ‘Spirit Animal’ illustrations are inspired by trauma therapy symbols and their vibrancy is accentuated with a colourful A incorporated into each design. Consumers can choose from elephant (family), zebra (anonymity) or leopard (fierce) designs. The t-shirts, totes and cushions are all 100% organic, using ethical ink and ALICAS is reducing its own textiles waste and carbon footprint by using a UK-based print on demand service. The ALICAS ‘Spirit Animal’ collection is available from alicas.com.

Rachael is one of twenty Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellows who are currently partaking in a years’ worth of intensive business training. Backed by Scotland’s First Minister, Unlocking Ambition is a £4m challenge fund created by the Scottish Government as part of the Programme for Government ‘A Nation with Ambition’.

RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship