Why this Canadian brand is supporting local women’s shelters this season

Nov 23 2021, 4:38 pm

With an eye to style and comfort and a focus on ethical practices, Understance is one of those rare brands that understands the importance of both. A Canadian, Vancouver-based direct-to-consumer company that makes high-quality bras, underwear, and camisoles, Understance is always trying to do more, using its influence to support women in the community, too.

This holiday season, Understance is launching its first initiative to help the local community. From November 2 to December 26, they’ll be giving 10% of their profits to two shelters in Vancouver: the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) and the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. It’s important to note that there will be no restrictions on how the shelters use the donations.

We talked to Understance’s Founder Jiayi Lyu, Marketing Specialist Michelle Brown, and Senior Marketing Specialist Genevieve Fontanilla about the impetus behind the donations and why more large corporations should be giving back to their community when they can.

“Being a company in Vancouver, one of the biggest social issues in the city is homelessness,” Brown says. “[Both shelters] provide all sorts of services, like warm food, clothing, and shelter to women, as well as a lot of support services and harm-reduction services — they’re doing a lot of crucial frontline work,” she adds.

Supporting these frontline workers and, specifically, being able to support women in the community, is the kind of work that Lyu and Understance care about and aim to support. “Homelessness affects women of colour and Indigenous women disproportionately, so supporting an organization [like Lu’ma] that works specifically with Indigenous people is also really important to us,” Brown adds.

Speaking to the Director of Housing Operations at Lu’ma, Kevin Eaton, and Housing Intake Worker from the DEWC, Katrina Brouwer, we learned a bit more about what the two shelters do for the community and how any contributions, big or small, can make a huge difference in the lives of the women they help. 

Eaton described Lu’ma’s impact on the Indigenous community of women in the city: “With the most recent Indigenous homeless count being 35% of Vancouver totals, we noted the overrepresented need for housing and shelter for the Indigenous community. We intake guests 24/7 based on bed availability and need. On top of the basic need for shelter, we also offer our guests meals and snacks, access to on-site housing workers, regular mobile health clinics from Kilala Lelum, Vancouver Infectious Disease Clinic, and Vancouver Coastal Health’s IHOT team, a weekly book club, an on-site Overdose Prevention Site for safe consumption of substances.”

Lu’ma also offers weekly cultural teachings, which are led by an Elder and include, “Talking Circles, beading, and drum making. With the ongoing Cultural Genocide, the importance of connecting our guests with culture is paramount in Lu’ma’s eyes. Lu’ma supports its guests where they are at, recognizing each individual is unique in their walk and needs,” Eaton adds.

They noted that the donation from Understance will help the shelter provide their guests with basic necessities, like new socks, underwear, and toques, especially as the season changes. Funds from the community like this are hugely important when it comes to being able to assist their guests with their day-to-day lives, and have a huge impact on their safety level as well. 

Brouwer from the DEWC echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the donation will help them provide a variety of needed support to the women they serve. The DEWC, which has a 24/7, low-barrier shelter, never closes and offers over 50 beds to homeless women who need a place to sleep. “In addition to shelter services, we have a team that provides housing outreach, service referral and navigation, and access to a peer program,” they say. 

“When people are accessing shelter and experiencing homelessness, they’re often very stressed out. This can cause people’s mental health to worsen, cause them to start or increase substance use, and trigger serious health concerns,” Brouwer notes.

“Our biggest challenges involve deescalating crises that arrive daily, as women navigate complex social services for help, and deal with the day-to-day realities of homelessness. Our women have trouble accessing adequate mental health services, often still need basic items such as clothing, don’t have stable access to primary health care, and are dealing with a lot of emotions that come along with the reality of shelter life. Often, these challenges are the result of colonization, patriarchy, misogyny, and stigma.”

When brands like Understance donate to organizations like these, the funds go directly back to the community — to the women who rely on the shelters, and to the frontline workers who support them.

“We recognize that we’re no match for the people who do this day in and day out,” Lyu says, adding that Understance wanted to make sure that with this partnership, there was no direction provided on how to use the donation. “The people we’re working with are the ones on the frontlines, so they know how to spend that money,” says Fontanilla. Offering guidance on how to use the donation “would be a disservice to the organizations and the people that they’re trying to help.”

When asked about the significance of launching this initiative so early on in the company’s development — Understance launched in June 2021 — Lyu said the following.

“[It’s] partially because we are optimistic that we have a good future. We have a returning customer rate of 20%, meaning one out of five customers came back for more products within the four months that we’ve been around.”

The initiative also plays directly into the ethos of Understance’s  — of inclusivity, community engagement, and supporting women where they’re at.

The brand’s intimates offerings are designed to fit well and feel good, with an even wider range of sizes coming soon. You’ll also be able to visit Understance in person to try on these products this coming February as the brand is opening its flagship store on Robson Street.

If you’re looking to upgrade your bra selection this holiday season, check out Understance’s wide range of comfortable and beautiful intimates, and know that some of your purchase will be going right back to the community.

You can help support our local women’s shelters in non-monetary ways, too — the DEWC is always looking for donations of new underwear and bras, as well as feminine hygiene products and warm clothing. 

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