Give Your Best is a peer-to-peer online donation platform. People can upload clothes and refugee women and children in the UK can shop for free. Founder Sol Escobar told us how a lockdown Instagram project became an award-winning ‘tech for good’.
Sol, what gave you the idea to set up Give Your Best?
I had been volunteering for several years, supporting refugees in camps in Northern France and in Cambridge where I live, right up until the first lockdown in 2020.
When all support stopped, charities closed and marginalised people became more isolated, I felt the urgency to do something.
Over the summer of 2020, I was supporting a household of women seeking asylum in Wales. They mentioned how they had no access to clothing with charity shops closed.
Without bank accounts, they couldn’t shop online, plus the meagre £37 a week to cover all expenses meant they couldn’t afford clothes.
I decided to round up my friends and family to get an assortment of clothing sizes, put a collection together to purchase toiletries and send them a parcel.
Little did I know that my social media post would go viral, we’d raise £1,000 in less than 24 hours and I’d be inundated with offers of clothes. I realised I couldn’t just send them everything I had, nor did I want to refuse the kind offers from women wanting to help.
I asked what they thought about me taking photos of the items I had received and uploading them to an Instagram page so they could choose what they liked.
They loved the idea and said it was like going shopping online, which they hadn’t done in years, but they also said something that hit me: “Don’t go through all this trouble for us. We’re in no position to refuse anything that you give us”.
I remember thinking how even after they get their refugee status and start rebuilding their lives, they would carry with them the sense of only being worth what they’re given, rather than being worth their own choices.
I decided to empower women one item of clothing at a time, to give them choice and to help them express themselves and feel good.
How can people donate clothes?
In August 2022 we launched our bespoke platform, a first of its kind, which we built with the help of a ‘tech for good’ grant.
Before that, we hosted our free shop on Instagram and our volunteers had to process every item manually. I don’t know how we managed to process 10,000+ items that way.
Our platform is very easy to use. It allows the donor to take a photo of an item and upload it to the site. They can track the status of all their donated items in their account too.
When an item is ‘shopped’ by a member of our community they receive a notification letting them know who shopped it and where to send the item (either to the shopper directly or to us to forward on).
We encourage donors to turn their package into a gift, to add a little note of support and perhaps some chocolates or menstrual products. Our shoppers always tell us how much it means to them to receive notes of support from strangers; a lovely connection is created.
We partner with larger charities and organisations such as the Red Cross or Citizens Advice, who refer their clients to our services.
People wanting to access the free shop must register first, telling us who referred them. Their applications are reviewed by our team and then approved or rejected.
We have now processed over 17,000 items donated and shopped for free since we launched and over 1,000 women and children access our shop regularly.
Another way people can donate clothes is to request a Give Your Bestie. Our team of Besties are more than 250 volunteers across the UK, who act as collection points.
They process items on our behalf, take pictures, upload items to our platform and ship them off.
We receive between 20 to 50 bags of clothing via our Besties every month.
Why are you so passionate about specifically supporting women who are refugees and asylum seekers?
As an immigrant myself, I am very aware of the double standards that exist between my journey from South America to Europe.
Living in six countries before setting in the UK, which is often seen as adventurous, and the journey of those fleeing for their lives, who are seen as criminals.
That has never sat well with me; I have always been interested in that dichotomy, as well as integration, cultural diversity and languages.
I am a linguist and have been a lecturer in languages and cultures for many years.
After I started volunteering in Calais supporting refugees, I realised how much misinformation there was and how misrepresented refugees were in the media. I felt privileged to know them and their stories, and I was in awe of their bravery and resilience. If I can play even a tiny part in making their journeys slightly more bearable, I will.
You’re also committed to sustainability, circularity and tackling donation waste. What ignited that?
It started with sorting clothes donations and realising how much waste is produced in an industry that is supposed to offer a sustainable option.
A couple of years ago a report highlighted that only about 30% of what is donated to charity shops gets resold. The rest ends up in a landfill and most people I talked to had no clue.
Brands were exposed for burning returned clothes. Another report calculated £140m in wasted clothing ends up in landfill each year in the UK, while 5.5 million people live in clothing poverty.
I had been trying to reduce my food waste with apps such as Olio and it occurred to me that there was no tech solution for clothing waste beyond reselling platforms.
Next year we will be launching a partnership programme to involve clothing brands and retailers in improving their circularity and social impact by partnering with us to redistribute their unsold stock and returns via our free shop.
Tell us more about the Good Fashion Show you created as part of Sustainable Fashion Week.
I had the idea early in 2022 when we were invited by Third Sector Magazine to do a fashion photoshoot where our ‘shoppers’ were the models and they modelled clothes they shopped for free via GYB.
Five of our shoppers became models for a day. They absolutely shone and we ended up on the magazine cover.
It was such an empowering experience for them to be centre stage in such a positive way, that I thought I wanted to take it a step further and do a fashion show.
It took us four months to plan and it was the best day ever. We wanted the women in our community to be seen for the beautiful fashionable women that they are, to be celebrated and empowered; and boy were they!
As they walked down the runway, a voice-over played with their voices talking about who they are, where they come from, their hopes and dreams and what fashion means to them. It was incredibly moving and impactful.
“It was the most amazing experience of my life. I was so happy and felt so excited but a bit nervous! But the love from everyone when I came out made me feel calm and happy.”
Good Fashion Show model
We also partnered with 15 sustainable brands that dressed the models and gifted them the clothes, it was a celebration of sustainability, refugee women and fashion for good.
How can our readers support you?
There are several ways for people to get involved. Upload to our platform any items in your wardrobe you no longer wear.
We accept all matter of clothes in all sizes, shoes, accessories, also baby and children’s clothes and toys.
If you can’t upload them you can request a Bestie via our website. Or you can become a Bestie yourself, we’re always looking to expand our network.
You can also volunteer with us. We are currently expanding several of our teams so we have many vacancies, especially for those with experience in the fashion industry.
You can sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media and also donate to our fundraising. We’re always in need of funds to cover shipping costs.
Finally, tell people about us. The more people know we exist and donate clothes to us, the more we can help women and children access clothing with the choice and dignity they deserve.