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Oct. 5 2009 - 1:20 pm | 1,355 views | 2 recommendations | 24 comments

Chicago’s 1,000 Bra Man

Just call him the “bra man.”

Oz du Soleil looking through the boxes of bras he donates to needy women.

Oz du Soleil looking through the boxes of bras he donates to needy women.

Oz du Soleil, 44, of Chicago’s Kilbourn Park has hundreds, if not thousands of bras in his basement. Boxes and boxes of them, sorted in their cardboard containers by cup size, each holding every type and style imaginable.

When I first heard about this guy, my reaction was like everyone else:

“Are you kidding me?”

HOW IT STARTED

Du Soleil admits he gets the same knee-jerk reaction that I had every time he tells someone about his project.

“Usually they ask if I’m serious,” said du Soleil, who grew up on food stamps while living in Marion Jones Public Housing in North Chicago, Ill.

But then he tells them he’s sent more than 1,400 bras around the world to underprivileged women and girls. As I later found out, a bra is one of the least donated, but most needed items for the homeless, those on welfare or who have been victims of domestic violence.

Still, du Soleil is careful about who he tells.

“And it’s not like I walk down the street saying, “I’m the bra man.”

The topic certainly gives off a creep vibe at first glance, especially since the details about how du Soleil came up with the idea are fuzzy at best. He originally told me the idea started with an art project, but then it turned into “I-started-taking-pictures-of-my-female-friend’s-bras for-a-now-defunct-blog.”  The gist, according to du Soleil, was taking a picture of the bra, (just the bra) and writing about the woman who used to wear the bra in his diary-like blog. He said he “can’t remember” how he acquired the first bra, but 50 or so of his female friends and acquaintances, mailed him bras for the project.

Weird, sure, but then again I did go to an art show in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood where a psychologist shredded patients information, lacquered it to a piece of wood and then wrote a description and rating of the nameless person based on their DSM IV mental codes with their overall GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning Number).

So du Soleil said after taking the photos, the bras then sat in a plastic garbage bag in his closet for several years, until a now-ex girlfriend asked him why he had bras in his closet. (Smart woman.) She then donated a few of them, according to du Soleil, to Myra Bradwell Elementary School, because the girls were coming to school with safety-pinned bras. The girls, du Soleil said, profusely thanked his girlfriend, ecstatic that they could have a clean bra to wear.

“I had no idea there was such a need,” du Soleil said. “And those were just raggedy old bras.”

Although touched by the reactions, du Soleil moved on with his life and sort of forgot about it – until he was laid off from Kaplan Financial in July 2008. Months of unemployment can help a person think, which brought du Soleil back to the bra idea. Why not collect new or slightly-used bras online and donate them to needy women and girls? By last November, on Thanksgiving Day, du Soleil, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, decided to launch a blog support1000.blogspot.com His goal: to collect 1,000 bras.

THE “RESEARCH”

Being a typical guy, du Soleil joked he had no idea what kind of bras women needed. So he went to Target. He approached a young clerk in the intimate’s section and asked her “So I’m looking to buy a bra, what kind should I get?”

The girl turned bright red and tried to stifle back her snickering.

Du Soleil  joked that he had two choices: make it a joke and ask for the biggest bra possible or tell the young woman why he was asking.

He did the latter. The young clerk stopped laughing and du Soleil got the help he needed, via a mature woman who taught him about everything from racerback bras to 5-way convertibles to the strapless variety. He also quickly realized the least donated, hardest to get bras: Size 28 or 40B-cup or the really large sizes (anything beyond a double D.)

SNOWBALL EFFECT

Once du Soleil started his blog, he started to get small  donations. Three bras here, five  there. The question became how many bras were enough to start donating. Then International Intimates donated 2,400 bras.

“And that’s when I knew it was time to start donating,” said du Soleil, who has now collected more than 3,000 bras.

Not knowing where to turn first, du Soleil posted on Craiglist.

Kelly Kobylanski, who works at Apna Ghar, a domestic violence shelter that focuses on women from South Asia, admits she was a little creeped out when she first saw the post.

“I thought it was some weirdo or a scam,” Kobylanski said. “It is unfortunate, but I was skeptical at first. But then I looked at his website and realized that he had donated to places I knew and that he wasn’t asking for something like $9.95 up front for the next 18 months.”

Deborah Slowe, the executive director of the nonprofit IMAGINE ME Foundation in Park Forest, Ill. which helps build esteem in teenage girls, also found the Craigslist posting.

“It was amazing,” Slowe said. “He seemed genuine so I decided to try it. He responded immediately, so I didn’t think it was fake. I even offered to send a  donation for postage and he wouldn’t even take it.”

More than 100 bras have  come Slowe’s way. She said there’s a huge need that goes mostly unnoticed, with girls coming in with filthy, safety-pinned bras, much like the ones du Soleil’s ex-girlfriend described to him years ago. Girls cried at the pre-school picnic this fall when Slowe handed out the bras. The girls got bras, as well as some of their needy mothers.

“Something as simple as a bra can make a big difference to build up a girl’s self-esteem so she wants to come back to school,” Slowe said.

Bras have been sent to other organizations including:  the PADS homeless shelter in North Chicago, Ill. St. Francis School on Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, women in Mali via buildOn, Friedman Place, a residential facility for the blind and visually impaired, Cornerstone Outreach for the homeless in Chicago, Waukegan’s Catholic Charities, a Women’s Shelter in Longmont, Colo., New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Springfield, Ill., Chicago’s Breakthrough Urban Mission and Leanna’s Closet in Greeley, Colo.

Du Soleil has recently raised the $750 he needs through donations, to make Support 1,000 a 5013c non-profit, but said the biggest challenge is trying to fill out all the paperwork and find the right people, who are dependable, for the board of directors.

THE NEED

It was only after interviewing “the bra man” for an Oct. 2 Chicago Tribune story, “Thousands of Bras Collected for the Needy” that I realized a need I had never really thought about before.

As much as some women joke about burning their bras or going bra-less, it’s considered unacceptable in most situations.  If you have a job interview and can’t afford a bra, what are you going to do?

Bras are expensive. Many of us have a drawer full, but for many lower-income women or teenagers, it’s a big deal to get a bra. It’s about giving women some of their dignity back, if they are homeless or trying to escape an abusive situation, many leave without wearing one.  As one of the social workers joked with me, you can get a cheap set of three-pack panties for $5, but a bra, at its cheapest, is close to $15, sometimes as much as $40 for some of the larger breasted women who need odd-sized H and J bras. (Wooah! Being of the more traditional variety, I hadn’t ever thought about the problems that come with buying a bra that big.)

So don’t throw out your old bras, donate them. Or  buy a new one and send it Oz’s  way.

If you had to decide between using the  money towards paying your rent or buying a bra, what do you think you’d choose?


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  1. collapse expand

    What a great story. Thanks for doing it, and sharing it. As for rent vs. bra, luckily I’ve never had to choose.

  2. collapse expand

    Awesome. Good stuff. Its those little needs we never really even register as needs that can be so crucial.

  3. collapse expand

    Good to see that kind of “coverage” for this kind of story. Okay, one bad pun. There is giggle value but glad to see you got past this to post this significant helping trend. People need a lot more help out there, sometimes even for the small things.

  4. collapse expand

    Thanks everyone! This is the type of story that isn’t being covered as much now, because of all the cutbacks in journalism…I wrote a brief on this for the Chicago Tribune, but felt like it deserved more space. Glad this blog provides some real estate.

    • collapse expand

      Dawn,
      We’re trying to do so many things at True/Slant, and this is one of them… to provide an outlet for passionate writers to tell interesting stories in their own voice. This is more than news reporting, this is what I’m starting to call “conversational news.” You have brought knowledge, reporting, information and perspective together in a way that sparks a dialogue for all to join in one place. Thank you for believing in T/S.
      On another note… just two days after T/S launched its Live Topic Streams, one of my first stops on the site is to check out the Live Chicago Stream… I just love it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Dawn, this is a terrific story. Have you tried pitching it to all the women’s mags? I bet they’d love it.

  6. collapse expand

    great story… albeit off the wall. still the guy is doing good for those in need, so that cancels the creep factor…

  7. collapse expand

    As a personal aquaintance of Mr. du Soleil’s I can attest to his committment and integrity.

    The thing bbout Oz is that he is so willing to get outside of his own comfort zone and do something that makes a difference for people.

    I think that this is something we all could learn from.

    Rick Isaacson

  8. collapse expand

    Rent and a bra? Glad I don’t have to make THAT decision, cause I don’t know which I’d choose. Good for Mr. du Soleil! For turning a Madonna cliche art project into something so very useful and important to young women.

  9. collapse expand

    Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for including Friedman Place in this great article. If you’d like to include our website as a hyperlink, it’s http://www.friedmanplace.org

    Thanks!

    Noelle

  10. collapse expand

    I’m glad this man is getting some press for his good works, but I really can’t believe some people would think he “gives off a creep vibe” for doing this. Maybe the origin of his project is dubious, but who cares?

  11. collapse expand

    The irony is that once this poorer countries become liberated, there will be a woman’s movement and they will burn their bras… I suggest anti-flammable material be used for all bras sent from now on; that can be the first move made by the board of directors. (Board of directors for a bra organization? Sounds right up my alley…)

  12. collapse expand

    Thank you so much for this wonderful idea and the way it truly does provide dignity to the females that cannot afford enough (or any) bras. This can help them to live life more comfortably with one less thing to hinder self confidence. You are truly doing the world of under-privileged women a favor with this type of offering. My blog Plus Figured at http://www.plusfigured.com is a forum for plus size women to discuss topics of interest such as fashion, self-acceptance, health/wellness info, dating/relationship info, etc. I’m interested to know if we can help you promote this donation effort. Knowing that women exist in a variety of sizes and shapes, maybe our Plus Figured community would help with donations for the cause. Thanks again for the unique generosity.

  13. collapse expand

    1 CommentClose this window Jump to comment form
    Henry said…
    I saw you feature on AOL news and have a woman who needs your help. Mary is a 43 year old woman living in Palmdale,Ca. She is currently on a low income budget and watching 3 infants to make ends meet. She is awaiting a court hearing for Social Security disability for a stroke she suffered in early April. Mary has undergone GASTRIC BYPASS surgery and has lost close to 200 lbs and still losing.

    Mary’s problem ,besides income, is she cant find bras. She is a 40DDD and cant afford new bras regularly and find slightly used ones in that size is almost impossible. I have sent her your link but I took it upon myself to write.

    I had a similar problem with shoes in 2008. I lost my home to a tornado in Savannah, TN. and couldn’t find 14EEE shoes. I found some blogs and sites that help me locate shoes for work and leisure, and this is what i want to do for Mary.

    I will include a picture of Mary and her address. She hasn’t a clue I’m doing this but I know she needs this help. If you need any other information you can reply to me and I can alert Mary that you are trying to contact her. She really needs this service.

    Thank You and keep up the good work.

    Henry Hunsinger

    Savannah, Tn. 38372

    bbcardhunter@aol.com

    Mary Gent

    38637 Sumac Ave.

    Palmdale, Ca. 93550

    yramiam@aol.com
    Have a Nice day :-)

  14. collapse expand

    Wonderful article I’m amazed and inspired! I am volunteering in the Bras Over New York Fundraiser and I would love to get in contact with him! Could you please contact me at Fatimahr@gmail.com I would greatly appreciate it;; It’s for a great cause!

  15. collapse expand

    Until the last few years finding a place to donate your bras were none existant. Most agencies receiving clothing donations usually discarded or recycled under garments for making paper.
    Since then a few people had recognized a need to the community that there is truly a need. Thousands of bras everyday are being discarded in trash why not donate them to someone that could use them. I have found a web site that meets my requirements. Check it out for yourself http://www.donateyourbra.com

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    I'm a Chicago-based journalist. I'm known for my quirky, off-beat features, but I've covered everything from the NFL to eating crickets in Cambodia to Chicago's best websites to celebrity profiles of the likes of Maya Angelou and Magic Johnson. My work has appeared in 25+outlets including: Travel + Leisure, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, American Way magazine, CNN.com, MSN.com, Restaurants & Institutions and Boys' Life. I'm the immediate past president of the Chicago Headline Club, the largest Society of Professional Journalists chapter in the country and a former St. Petersburg Times and Dallas Morning News staff writer. My co-authored book, Armchair Reader: Chicago, about quirky, off-beat things in the Windy City, was just released this month. Twitter @dawnreiss Email me dreiss100 AT gmail DOT com (In case you were wondering, my name is pronounced R-I-C-E (Think Weiss with an R, not Reese.))

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