For women escaping domestic or family violence, they often leave with only the clothes on their backs.
"Coming into [the] shelter, the women generally appear with little — they tend to bring [their] children’s favourite toys so that they can settle them as well as possible," Sallianne Faulkner tells Refinery29 Australia. "Their children remain their focus."
The General Manager at Bayside Women's Shelter explains that when a woman comes to their door, they give them a safe place to sit and stop, often a meal, before introducing them to their room and the facilities now available to them.
"The process of leaving violence can take many attempts and much planning — we see women who are on high alarm for their [own, and their] children's safety in the first instance," says Faulkner.
"The sense of relief is palpable — to be safe, to be still and to have less intensity in the concern for their children," she says.
Women are given welcome packs that include necessities on their beds so they can start collecting personal items without having to ask, but when it comes to clothes and underwear, what is available is often restricted by donations or the timing is pushed back by having to request what is needed from charities.
"It is easy to underestimate the power of clothing. What you wear represents the person you are."
Now, charitable organisation Thread Together has stepped up to address this gap of immediate access and help restore dignity for women in precarious situations.
For the next 12 months, the charitable organisation will work with 100 domestic violence and women's shelters across Australia, to provide a stocked wardrobe of core clothing and underwear basics.
This service will allow women and children escaping violence to access new essential clothing, underwear, and sleepwear when they arrive at refuge following a domestic and family violence situation.
Thread Together is providing stocked modular wardrobes, tailoring what's inside to the specific needs of each individual shelter. The volunteer-based group has always operated on the principle that "when people are at their worst, they deserve the best", and have historically worked with fashion brands who donate new clothing to redistribute to those in need, upon request.
"While our service is highly valued and is used extensively all around the country, until now, it has not been able to address the immediacy of [the] need for clothing for women and children escaping domestic violence on arrival at a women's refuge," says CEO of Thread Together, Anthony Chesler.
He told Refinery29 Australia that once the women are settled in their temporary accommodation, they will have the opportunity to sit alongside a case worker and request a more substantial wardrobe for themselves and their children.
"It is easy to underestimate the power of clothing. What you wear represents the person you are," says Chesler.
"In most situations, women leave their situation with little and quite often what they leave behind is destroyed by the partner to try and diminish their identity. Part of the abusive situation they have come from is often control, so at Thread Together we want to empower the women by giving them the chance to choose their clothing from a beautiful selection of brand new garments."
The group has partnered with Boody for the product and IKEA for the wardrobes to fulfil the initiative.
"Our clothes, and how they make you feel, give us the sense of wellbeing and ability to lift our women from the depths of their despair."
"At Thread Together, we have always said that underwear and socks are the two categories that can never be borrowed, so we have ensured a focus on these," explains Chesler. "We also have sleepwear and loungewear to allow recipients to feel comfortable in the first few days of arrival."
While we may take basics for granted, and consider capsule wardrobes to be a pragmatic or sustainable lifestyle choice, this isn't the reality for all women.
"The sight of new underwear and clothing when they get to shelter is the beginning of rebuilding their self-esteem and it is very moving to witness this," says Faulkner.
"It is often the first time they have had new garments and can feel that they don't deserve them. We've had a response from one woman saying, 'please give the new underwear to someone who needs it'."
She says wardrobes can start a powerful conversation about how women deserve a safe life away from violence and coercive control.
"Access to new clothing is the last thing often on the minds of women who are seeking safety for themselves and their children," says Faulkner. "Our clothes and how they make us feel, give us the sense of wellbeing and ability to lift our women from the depths of their despair. It allows them to see their new future, safe from violence."
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.