BoGo Bras: Giving livelihood to survivors of human trafficking

An enterprise from Georgia, USA sells bras to help women survivors of human trafficking in Africa.

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One of the types of BoGo Bra available for sale. © BoGo Bras

Almost a year ago, Emily Wilhoit was a senior student at the University of Georgia when she got involved with a Colorado-based nonprofit called Free The Girls. This nonprofit helps survivors of human trafficking reintegrate into society by way of economic independence and freedom. The nonprofit collects bras and then gives them to the survivors they help. The women then sell these bras to their community. Through giving the women and girls livelihood, the nonprofit is able to help the victims rebuild their lives with pride.

One of the programs that Emily was involved in was facilitating the distribution of bras. When she held a bra drive in her university in Georgia, she was able to collect over 1200 bras when she actually only expected 300. However, she found that at some point, most of her friends who were donating bras already ran out of bras to give, so she thought of a way for Free The Girls not to solely rely on donations — BoGo Bras was conceived. For every BoGo bra purchased, a brand new bra goes to a trafficking survivor who can then sell these to their community.

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The e-commerce model that the brand practices in order to not rely on donations for Free The Girls. © BoGo Bras

INKLINE talked to Emily Wilhoit, the founder of BoGo Bras, an e-commerce enterprise that aims to be a sustainable platform that could empower women survivors of trafficking.

INKLINE: How did the idea come together after wanting to fill that gap of not relying on donations of bras?

Emily Wilhoit: I called my dad and was like, ‘hey, what do you think of this idea? Like a buy-one-give-one model type thing?’ And he was like, ‘Oh I love that!’ And he’s been running his own business for 10 years and it’s like an e-commerce business so he kind of knows the ropes and has a lot of good contacts for helping build websites and graphics and all these other things. He helped me get it off the ground.

I: How are you helping Free The Girls in this?

E: Free The Girls collects used bras but a lot of countries don’t allow the importation of used clothing for different regulation reasons. So Free The Girls is limited to what programs they can set up in different countries, like right now, they’re in Mozambique, Uganda, and El Salvador. For instance, a lot of the places in Africa like Kenya or the Dominican Republic — all these different places, Free The Girls can’t go in there.

And their inventory isn’t just large enough so the idea behind BoGo is people can now ‘donate’ a bra without giving up the bras that they already wear every day. The more BoGo grows, the more this inventory grows, and the more programs Free The Girls will be able to set up around the world, so their opportunity to help people grow, which I thought is really important.

I: How did you get involved with Free The Girls?

E: I kind of found out about them last year, maybe April of 2016. And it all went very fast from there. I thought, ‘Oh that’s so cool everyone has bras they don’t wear that they can donate so I’ll just set up a bra drive by my school.’ I went to the University of Georgia, which is pretty big. We have over 5,000 students on campus and the Athens city is really big, so I held a bra drive. I was just expecting maybe 300 bras as I had just promoted it myself over the week. I made a Facebook event and I very shamelessly put the word out there to anyone and everyone I can meet. I texted all my friends to change their profile pictures, graphics, and I invited so many random strangers in Athens on Facebook to this bra drive event.

I was just expecting maybe 300 bras as I had just promoted it myself over the week. I made a Facebook event and I very shamelessly put the word out there to anyone and everyone I met. I texted all my friends to change their profile pictures, graphics, and I invited so many random strangers in Athens on Facebook to this bra drive event.

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The brand has only been operating for a year now, but it has gotten immense support from the community in Georgia. © BoGo Bras

I ended up getting over 1,200 bras. I was shocked… Throughout the year, we put out different event types fundraiser for Free The Girls, and raise more bras. And when school started, that’s where BoGo came about, when I started thinking of graduation. Watching my dad when I was growing up, running his own business at home and being able to take us on family vacations and to just be home and be able to play with us and hang out … that’s what I wanted when I graduated. But corporate America will get you.

I was kind of thinking I wanted to still be involved with Free the Girls, but you know, I don’t really know what my place is going to be. Then also just thinking of jobs, so that’s where it came about, like along with the other ideas. … It’s doing what you want to do and making it work so that’s kind of how that all started and now it’s really great. I’ve had different interns throughout the year. Right now, I have eight interns and we’re all working together to help grow BoGo and get it established.

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Emily and her dad, who helps her in running BoGo Bras. © BoGo Bras

We also have an ambassador program called BoGo Getters and they’ve been amazing. They have been around since the beginning of things and the fact that they stuck with me through this year is ridiculous because it’s just been a roller coaster. I’m getting married in just a few weeks, I just graduated in May, and I got a job and doing BoGo. Life has been crazy but they have stuck with me and they are just the sweetest people. They’re so encouraging and they have so many great ideas and they just have such a heart for these people. I just love them.

I: What is it about your work with BoGo Bras that you found most satisfying? 

E: I love the fact that we offer the opportunity for people to help people. I feel like, especially with issues like human trafficking, it only gets confusing but it’s really discouraging when you look at the numbers. The fact that the numbers just grow exponentially and also the demand for girls — it’s really discouraging to look at these numbers and look at these little kids who are just being sexually exploited every day and every hour for other people’s pleasure. That really breaks my heart.

I felt this too over the course of learning about this issue, it’s like there’s no way I can make a dent in this. Like there’s no way that I can do something with an issue of this magnitude. But with BoGo, you can, and you’re actually making an impact. When you buy a bra we donate one, so women are able to then start their own business selling these bras which is amazing. They are able to go and provide for their families.

They’re able to get encouragement by the fact that they can run their own business. They gain confidence and they are able to be told that they are more than just their bodies, which people have been telling them just for however long they’ve been on the streets. And so I just love extending the opportunity, being able to know that there is something you can do and that it is actually helping people.

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One of their classic styles in a wide array of bras to choose from. © BoGo Bras

I: You’re heavily involved with Free The Girls now when giving out the bras. Do you plan on creating your own operations for donation with BoGo?

E: It’s only been a year and we’re still kind of finding our fitting. I love Free The Girls, and I’ve had a great relationship with them. We are on very good terms and I want to help them. I was saying that other countries can’t accept used bras and Free The Girls’ inventory is so heavily based on used bras donations, so if more opportunities show up, both Free The Girls and me are in this just to help women and do our part in human trafficking.

If an opportunity came up where BoGo can help set up some kind of program in another place I think that would be great but also still help Free The Girls. Everyone’s on the same page on wanting to help people. I don’t really know how things are going to shape out and whatever happens, is okay. I’m just doing my best in helping these women and just seeing what that turns into. Ideally, I love for one day for survivors to be making the bras that we’re selling, which would be amazing.

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