Oxfam has revealed that British women are guilty of hoarding nearly £1.2 billion worth of bras that they don’t wear, and is launching the ‘Big Bra Hunt’, appealing to women up and down the country to dig deep into their drawers and donate their forgotten bras to the charity.

Research by the charity found that the average British woman has nine bras in her collection and spends around £16 per item but then leaves three of these languishing unused in her drawers. With many of those surveyed confessing that they didn’t know what to do with their unwanted bras, the new campaign – supported by Helen Mirren, Zoe Ball and Miquita Oliver – aims to collect one million bras over the month of April 2012.

Many of these bras will be sold in Oxfam’s UK high street shops to raise money for the charity’s work worldwide. Others will be sent to Frip Ethique (meaning ‘ethical second hand clothing’), a unique project run by Oxfam in Senegal, that sorts and trades unsold second hand clothes from Oxfam shops and provides essential employment for disadvantaged women in the area. Bras are complex to manufacture so very few developing countries have the facilities to make their own. Therefore bras are one of the most desirable items in West African second hand clothing markets and make the most money for Frip Ethique. Some of the profits go towards Oxfam’s work in Senegal, the rest are reinvested into the business.

“Before I heard about this campaign I had never thought to donate my bras to Oxfam,” said Dame Helen Mirren. “I’m sure many women have a number of bras stowed away left untouched for years. The Big Bra Hunt really highlights how every last item donated to Oxfam can be used in a truly unique way, making a real difference to people all around the world.”

The new research, carried out by You Gov, revealed the close relationship British women have with their bras. An overwhelming 75 per cent say they never leave the house without their bra, and those between the ages of 18-24 and 35-44 would actually prefer to leave the house without shoes. When asked how they feel about their bras, over half (57%) say that they simply don’t feel comfortable without one, 46 per cent say wearing a bra makes them feel more secure, 30 per cent say it makes them feel confident and a quarter (25%) state it makes them feel more feminine.

Marks & Spencer still appears to be the number one choice for British women with nearly a third of women (29%) in the UK saying Marks & Spencer is their favorite brand, followed far behind by La Senza (6%), Triumph (5%) and Bravissimo (4%).

Younger women appear to be more impulsive in their bra buying habits, with twice as many saying they buy bras to treat themselves. Over a quarter of young bra-owners (27%) say they choose which bra to wear according to who they might see that day (compared to 6% of other age groups). Research also revealed an age dividing preference in colour, with nearly a third of all women (31%) choosing white as their favorite bra colour compared to just four per cent of 18-24 year olds, who name black as their top pick (chosen by 42%).

The survey also revealed that women between the ages of 25-34 on average own one or two more bras than other age groups. A third of all women who have bras they no longer wear (33%) say they keep them because they forget they own them and 21 per cent confess they are simply hoarders. Oxfam discovered that women simply don’t know where to get rid of these bras, with 10 per cent saying they didn’t know charities accept them.

Sarah Farquhar, Oxfam’s head of retail brand adds: “This research really shows the vast number of bras women in the UK leave forgotten and unloved in their drawers. The Big Bra Hunt hopes to highlight, that whilst these bras may not be of use to the average British woman, the jobs created and profits made from the trade and sale of these bras, provide a unique opportunity for women in West Africa to provide for their families, send their kids to school and afford vital medicines.”

For the month of April all Oxfam shops up and down the country will be appealing for bra donations. Also as part of the ongoing M&S and Oxfam Clothes Exchange, bra hunters who donate an M&S bra to their local Oxfam shop will receive a voucher worth £5 off a £35 spend on clothing, home and beauty at M&S stores and online.

To find out more, click here.

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