In this Style series three Duke students have been displaced from their personal bedroom space and instead are situated in urban environments. This juxtaposition of an intimate, safe setting against the decay and deterioration of the cityscape highlights what we too commonly take for granted – our sense of “home”.
Drift Light Intimates is a uniquely eco-friendly and trendy lingerie line that also raises awareness for the homeless; more specifically, donating up to a week’s worth of underwear and socks to homeless shelters with every consumer purchase. This brand thus brings fashion to a new sphere – a space where clothing is both a renewable resource and a philanthropic act.
By positioning the individuals amidst the textures of ripped street posters and rotting street walls, we aimed to show that too often we overlook the luxury of having our own identifiable sense of space while simultaneously documenting the reality of the homeless’ homes.
Taking the Fight to Homelessness, one Bra at a Time
How one start-up is proving that fashion doesn’t have to come at the expense of charity
Willa Townsend, Duke alumnus and founder of Drift Light (formerly called Wanderwear) firmly believes that fashion and philanthropy are not mutually exclusive. Her entire company is based on the idea that being fashionable can go hand in hand with being charitable.
The fundamental concept behind the up-and-coming lingerie company—which was founded through the Duke Changeworks project and now operates in LA—stems from the desire to improve the lack of basic necessities in homeless shelters through providing clothing. Basics, like socks and underwear, are some of the most needed items in homeless shelters because so few basics are ever donated.
Harnessing the power of fashion, Drift Light focuses on getting these basic undergarments into the hands of the needy by getting lingerie into the hands of customers. To do this, the company donates a weeks worth of basics for each bralette purchased and three days worth of basics for every piece of underwear purchased.
“Something that we’re seeing more and more in fashion is bralettes that are meant to be seen,” Townsend said. “So they have almost become an accessory. All of our pieces have really fun details that really pop when they’re worn with open-back tank tops or dresses. So that’s where our brand fits in. Not only do you feel good wearing it, but it also adds to the style and your outfit as a whole”
“I want the brand to be accessible to a wide variety of people. I want people to feel empowered when they’re wearing the product. They should wear it to to feel good rather than to look a certain way—either for society or another person”
Drift Light’s lingerie takes LA’s style and makes it affordable and eco-friendly. Every piece is produced in America with bamboo cotton and costs less than many other bralettes on the market. All of the bralettes are between $50 and $55 while the bottoms are between $20 and $25. Townsend adds that Drift Light’s creation of boxers and boxer briefs stemmed from the softness of their fabric—men would stop into their pop-up boutiques, feel the pieces and then demand their own versions.
“The entire collections is based on comfort and the whole LA style is based on athleisure, so that was a natural connection,” Townsend said. “None of the bralettes feature underwire or padding and it’s all about being comfortable in your own skin.”
Drift Light offers three bralette and underwear styles for women as well as boxers and boxer briefs for men.
“I want the brand to be accessible to a wide variety of people. I want people to feel empowered when they’re wearing the product. They should wear it to to feel good rather than to look a certain way—either for society or another person,” added Townsend.
“I’m pretty convinced that the products we are selling are things people want, but that they don’t know they want. Once people engage with the product they will realize that is something they’ve been wanting for a while”
Currently, Drift Light is operating online via Ecom where pop-up boutiques throughout Los Angeles and simple word-of-mouth recommendations garner most of the company’s customers. Their first shipment of lingerie is scheduled to launch in 6 to 8 weeks.
“I’m pretty convinced that the products we are selling are things people want, but that they don’t know they want. Once people engage with the product they will realize that is something they’ve been wanting for a while,” emphasized Townsend.
Lingerie is just the touchstone for the future of the company. Townsend sees Drift Light’s foray into lingerie quickly expanding into athleisure. That expansion would hopefully give the company the resources and funds needed to fight even larger problems within homelessness. However, Townsend realizes that such growth will be slow-going as customers don’t usually buy clothing based on altruism alone. Her goal, then, is to make both her lingerie and athleisure products unique and desirable, regardless of any underlying cause.
“It was important to me to create a line that people would buy regardless of the social impact. I think that’s the only way business like this will survive and thrive. We are competitive in three categories. First of all we are competitive in style. Affordability and comfort. Often with other brands you have to sacrifice one of those things to get the other two but with my brand you get all three,” Townsend added.
Looking into the future, Townsend wants to take Drift Light past donating basics to homeless shelters. While she has already established strong connections with shelters in Durham, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, the creation of an athleisure line will expand the reach of the company’s donations beyond these shelters. In the long term, Townsend is looking to partner with non-profit organizations that help find employment for men and women transitioning out of homelessness.
“One of the things that I really want to emphasize is that I am very knowledgeable about the complexities of homelessness and I’m not just trying to slap a band aid on the largeness of the issue,” Townsend clarifies.
“I’ve never been passionate about lingerie. I started this business to help people. And to give the people who buy our product an easier opportunity to do good.”
For all of her excitement about Drift Light and the fashionable pieces it produces, Townsend is always aware that, at its core, it is a company designed to help others and that there is always more to do, especially in regards to an issue that is as widespread and systemic as homelessness.
“I didn’t go into this business to start a lingerie company,” Townsend adds. “I’ve never been passionate about lingerie. I started this business to help people. And to give the people who buy our product an easier opportunity to do good.”
Article: Emilie Padgett
Features Editors: Raina Bisson-Orr and Vivian Zhang
Stylists: Jean Yenbamroong, Aizhan Seraly, Mathilda Christensson
Models: Taylor Nortman, Keni Lin, Uzoma Bailey Ayogu
Web: Melanie Krassel
Photography: Erin Seong