Case File No.6: The W.I.N Team
File under: #Domesticabuse #Fundraising #Fashion #Charity #Ethicalfashion
There’s a group of women in my neighbourhood who everyone knows. They’re like local celebs these W.I.N ladies. Certainly, for the past couple of years I’ve been living in South Woodford I’ve been aware of Christina Harvey and Nikki Christie requesting and collecting second-hand clothing and parenting paraphernalia to give to a nearby women’s refuge via their popular Women In Need (W.I.N) Facebook group. They do an amazing job. Such items are essential because many residents have fled domestic violence and arrive with nothing. Christina knows this more than anyone because she spent time in a hostel with her own mother as a child. But because things like underwear and sanitary products can only be accepted new, cash is needed to pay for them. Enter Georgie Chambury Burke, the third pin to their triangle, who, along with Christina, has developed and launched a fashion line that ploughs all profits into subsidising extras. Not only that, it hammers home the message that domestic abuse is never acceptable. Given that an astonishing one in four women will be subjected to it at some point of their lives, these T-shirts and sweaters bearing the W.I.N logo are essential for keeping the conversation going. Worn by celebs, social media influencers and locals alike, the brand is growing steadily and I’ve watched it spread across the internet in the last few months. But in a market that isn’t short of a sloganned tee or a bag with a message, these ladies tell me how they’ve gone from modest local operation to sending their products global. It just goes to show what you can achieve with the goodwill of a community behind you.
You seem like a tight unit, were you friends before you became ‘W.I.N’?
Christina Harvey: When staff at Hestia [the women’s refuge branch of a London community services network] started posting speculative requests for bits and pieces on our area Facebook group, myself and Nikki volunteered things separately. But when we each saw how inundated they were with offers, we both stepped up to help. Talking online, we wondered if there was something we could do together, within our community, to take the pressure off the already stretched refuge staff, so it went from there.
Nikki Christie: Then we met for coffee to check the other wasn’t a lunatic.
Christina Harvey: After that we formed another, more streamlined online group (now W.I.N), taking away a huge chunk of admin from the refuge. All they have to do now is fire us a message telling us what they want — maybe a child’s jacket, a pair of lady’s trainers — and we can usually lay our hands on them quickly. With new women arriving at the refuge every couple of weeks, the demand is constant.
Georgie Chambury Burke: For as long as I’ve known Christina she’s been collecting second-hand donations for survivors of domestic violence, we live close to each other and our little boys attended the same pre-school. There were a number of times when women and children would arrive at the refuge and it was hard for Tina to meet their needs through second hand donations, and naturally she would talk to me about it, so I suggested fundraising.
Why is this charity and this cause important to you?
CH: Domestic violence is an issue close to my heart. As a child, I lived in a hostel in Glasgow for several weeks when my mum was escaping an abusive relationship with my brother’s dad. I was only four so it was a long time ago, but I still have memories of him hitting her and shouting. The refuge we stayed at wasn’t as nice as Hestia’s — it was dirty and smelly and I remember the doors didn’t lock — but it kept us safe and put us on a different path when we left. I guess I’ve come a full circle. The thought of children going without and getting caught up in such horrors really gets to me, so now I do what I can, while I’m in a position to do so.
NC: I don’t have a link as personal as Christina’s, but I can empathise. I was at home with a baby when I first came across Hestia. And while I have a nice life, a nice husband and nice family, you don’t have to stretch too far to imagine how difficult it must be for these women. Whatever your circumstances, you want what’s best for your kids.
There are pushing 2000 members in your Facebook group, it’s a wonderfully supportive community and every request is met positively; but how demanding is it of your time?
CH: We can be as involved as we want. We aren’t bound by anything but generally I’m on the phone or driving up to the hostel once a day. I have a three-year-old so I have to fit it around him.
NC: I don’t drive so I coordinate a lot from this end; different times of the year are busier than others. Last Christmas we ran a winter coat appeal so you could barely get into my spare room for coats when people dropped them off. It was so crazy we all needed a lie down afterwards! I’m going back to work soon so I’ll still be involved but probably have less time to commit.
CH: Also, because we have no space to store things over longer periods of time, we have to be quite responsive. It’s hard saying ‘no thanks’ to really good buggies on spec, or big coats in the middle of summer, say, but we’d get into trouble with our husbands if we started hoarding. Plus, we’ve learnt to have faith that our needs will be met when we put a call out to the group. Our community is reliably generous.
Do you ever meet any of the hostel residents?
CH: Not really, we aren’t qualified to deal with their emotional needs so often it’s just in and out when we drop things off. But I did, by chance, happen to meet a woman I’d sourced a sewing machine for recently and she was delighted.
Aside from the coat appeal (we’ll come to the fashion in a minute) how else can people support W.I.N if they don’t have buggies or highchairs to donate when you ask?
CH: We run appeals to buy gifts for residents at Diwali and Christmas. With a spend of around £20 we’ve had face creams, nice scarves, umbrellas — all kinds — donated and it makes such a difference to the ladies’ morale. But there’s also a W.I.N Amazon Wishlist, where you can purchase things like towels, sanitary protection, toothbrushes — things every resident will use but need replacing constantly.
And, of course, there’s the fashion line you launched in April. How did you come up with the idea?
GCB: I have a couple of charity T-shirts like the “Choose Love” one that helps refugees and a “Mother” [from Selfish Mother] sweatshirt, so, for me, it seemed logical knowing how generous and fabulous the Facebook group was, that people would be willing to purchase a T-shirt (£20) or a sweatshirt (£40). I felt it would have a wider appeal than just our community. We gave a design brief to Lee Pears who has worked for some huge names and he came back to us with some choices. We liked two so did a mash up, and we’ve had some amazing feedback about the design. It identifies us but still makes it absolutely clear we are here to help women in need — and when I say ‘we’, I mean ‘we the community’, ‘we women’ or anyone with an ounce of compassion or empathy.
How much goes to the charity?
CH: Five pounds from every T-shirt and sweater – 100 percent profit. And all the products are ethically manufactured.
GCB: From the outset we agreed there would be little point helping women and children in London if we didn’t do the same for the men and women involved in production. Our garments are organic and fair wear and, where there is polyester, it’s also recycled. We are delighted with our products and even our London based printers don’t have zero hour contracts for their staff.
Was it always your intention to expand the merchandise range?
GCB: We have plans to continue to use our logo and would like to branch out and have some other products in the near future. I love the community input we get on social media so we’ve had some great suggestions.
One afternoon on the school run I counted no less than four jumpers at the school gate, but what are you especially proud of in terms of sales and reach?
GCB: There’s a local mum who has bought everything: bag, sweatshirt, T-shirt the works — she’s been amazing on social media too — she loves W.I.N. Obviously we have supporters in London — East London in particular — but up and down the country we’ve made sales. In other countries too: the Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland – even New York.
CH: We’ve been featured in local news but we’ve also had coverage in The Independent and The Pool. Sadie Frost and Kate Thornton have worn and promoted the T-shirts too.
CBH: We’ve even been featured in Italy’s La Republica, their version of the Guardian – the second highest selling newspaper. We still don’t know how they heard about us. We are always very clear we are supporting London refuges, but our customers are just so proud to be helping survivors — it’s a pretty amazing feeling being part of this.
What’s next then? How big are you hoping to go?
GCB: We have hopes and dreams but we’re still in the really early stages. We didn’t set out with a target in mind other than to meet the needs of the women and children that will inevitably turn up at the refuge tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.
NC: Also, it would be great if our model of helping our local Hestia branch could be rolled out across London, even nationally. We’re doing our best to promote it because we think it could be adopted successfully anywhere.
GCB: Until we raise our young men — and women — not to hurt one another when we disagree, there will always be a need to raise funds for those exposed to domestic abuse.
The She Can & She Does Case Files are stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Every month a new one will be introduced to the She Can & She Does Facebook page. Please ‘Like’ the page to show your support and if you, or someone you know deserves to feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.