WHEN Rachael Bews was just 18 and teaching English in the atmospheric setting of Italy, she found herself caught up in a whirlwind romance.

But the love affair soon turned sour and the young Scot was forced to flee the country to escape her violent partner.

Now 26, Miss Bews has used her experiences to help other women in similar situations in a way that she says “empowers women to retain their dignity, identity and confidence”.

And this empowerment comes in the form of clothing parcels.

The entrepreneur, from Ross-shire, set up “Alicas” last year to begin providing the capsule wardrobe parcels, made up of a week’s worth of clothes, including pyjamas, smart work-style items, dresses, trousers and essentials like socks, underwear and tights.

Each clothing box contains at least 30 items and can be tailored for cultural or religious needs, and also includes a hand-written letter of support.

Alicas launched a campaign last month to collect 10,000 items to make 300 clothing packs to give to women in need.

Miss Bews said: “When I was 18 I worked with a wonderful woman called Ali who fled to Inverness with her three kids from an abusive partner, with only the clothes on their backs. She had fled hundreds of miles from England and left a good job as a nurse behind, yet she still remained positive and strong.”

Alison Grant, who Miss Bews recently reconnected with, told her how a nice coat and pair of shoes gave her the confidence and strength to make it through the aftermath of her abusive relationship.

“She mentioned how her coat and shoes were important to her and I remember thinking how those two things are such humble garments,” Miss Bews said. “But when you lose so much, they are so important in holding on to who you are - it really struck me.”

She called the venture Alicas (Ali’s coat and shoes), in recognition of the bravery of her old friend.

Miss Bews was also fired by memories of her own experience in Italy.

When she fled Italy for Scotland, she was offered help from Ross-shire Women’s Aid.

And after realising the poor quality of clothes available to women in need of help, she became inspired to explore her own ideas.

She said: “I did some research and found out about retailers burying and incinerating clothing left over from sales. I think there needs to be more government pressure to stop the needless destruction of clothing from major design labels.

“There are thousands of women out there in clothing crisis so I set out to try and bridge the gap. The retailers I spoke to thought it was a really good idea.”

After reaching out, she received positive support from Orkney designer, Kirsteen Stewart, German plus size clothing company, Navabi, and London-based ethical clothing firm, Compare Ethics.

Having also received backing from the Royal Bank of Scotland’s entrepreneurship programme, she set about establishing her own organisation.

“A big barrier to women and their children leaving an abusive partner can be the idea of losing everything and leaving everything behind,” she said. “Women don’t always have financial independence either and can be scared of having to start again with nothing.

“In the case of one woman we supported, her partner destroyed all her clothes so she had nothing to move on with. It can be a way of controlling and abusing women, so we want to empower women to retain their dignity and confidence.”

Alicas work through referrals from support bodies such as Shakti, which helps women in need from ethnic and minority backgrounds, and Women’s Aid.

The charity also sell items through their website, which helps with day-to-day running costs and accept clothing donations.

Miss Bews added: “We’re asking members of the public to look through their wardrobes to pass on any unused clothes.

“So far we’ve delivered six parcels and are trying to get 300 parcels sent out to women by Christmas.

“Family crises can escalate around Christmas time and with the changing weather we’re trying to get more boots and warmer clothes prepared.

“The first women we supported was only 19 and she was over the moon with her package.”

She added: “It’s been quite a journey.

“For my family it was very difficult seeing one of their own go through something like I did, but they’ve been very supportive and really want my organisation to succeed.

“For me it became a huge focus and passion at that time of my life and a part of my recovery as well.”

Alicas recently moved into new premises in Edinburgh and Miss Bews’ sights are now on expansion.

She said: “At the moment our pilot is Scotland, but we’ve had interest in England and we’re really interested to speak to more companies who want to pioneer this.

“Our ambition is to help women throughout the UK.”