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Garment Project offers fresh wardrobe to those recovering from eating disorders

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, April 2, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Erin Drischler and Jordan Tomb, co-owners of The Garment Project, a non-profit organization to help people with eating disorders by providing them with new clothing, pose for a portrait on Monday, March 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Erin Drischler and Jordan Tomb, co-owners of The Garment Project, a non-profit organization to help people with eating disorders by providing them with new clothing, pose for a portrait on Monday, March 20, 2017.

Eating disorders have many levels.

From struggles with food and weight issues to feelings of losing control and fractured relationships, this condition can be complicated.

Erin Drischler knows this all too well, having suffered from bulimia and anorexia for 14 years, including many stays in treatment facilities. In addition to all of the difficult emotional stresses she's endured, she had the additional challenge of the anxiety of her clothing.

“Nothing specific triggered an eating disorder for me,” Drischler says. “I hid it for a long time. But during my last treatment I told myself this was going to be my last time. I feel wonderful now. I have a better relationship with food and with myself because of my struggle. I'm appreciative of my eating disorder and realize it's made me the strong, confident person I am today.”

Drischler says many times after returning from treatment she would look at a piece of clothing and see the size number on the tag, which brought back a negative memory of the size and weight she was when she wore that item. She wanted to get rid of that garment and the memory, but it can get expensive buying new things all the time.

So she decided to make that transition smoother.

She and fiance Jordan Tomb founded the Garment Project, a nonprofit that aims to empower women recovering from eating disorders by providing them with new, size-less clothing, individualized for their healthy bodies and lifestyles.

Their motto is, “You've changed your life. Let us change your wardrobe.”

“I had this idea a couple years ago when I realized it was an issue for me — I didn't have enough confidence to pack up old clothes and start over fresh, neither did I have money for a new wardrobe,” Drischler says. “I said it out loud to Jordan … and we decided that Garment could affect a lot of people.”

After two years in the making, Garment was launched Feb. 27. The next day Drischler and Tomb received word about a clothing donation from Pittsburgh-based Rue 21.

“It felt real when we got our first donation,” Drischler says. “It was so great that our first donation was local. We hope they are the first of many.”

The pair have been working on connecting with other apparel companies as well as contacting treatment centers to let them know about Garment. The couple plans to take this company national and international and also want to include men, because eating disorders don't only affect women. They hope to receive casual and business attire.

The treatment centers will take care of measuring the individual and offering information about the woman's lifestyle and wardrobe choices — from what colors she likes to the type of clothing she wears.

Items will be selected and sent to the individual who can return anything she doesn't want. A basic first outfit is a pair of jeans, T-shirt and undergarments — all with the tags removed.

Everything is confidential.

Drischler, 26, a Shaler native, and Tomb, 27, who's from Indiana, Pa., met while they were students in Pittsburgh — Drischler at Point Park University and Tomb at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. They now live on the North Side.

Both have other jobs. She is working part time at Nordstrom in Ross Park Mall, and he is the documentarian at Deeplocal, a Strip District company.

The couple sought advice from New Sun Rising (newsunrising.org), whose mission is to empower leaders in the Pittsburgh region through fiscal sponsorship, mentoring and community building, says Daniel Stiker, director of fiscal sponsorship for New Sun Rising.

“Like most of our fiscally sponsored projects, the Garment Project started with a nonprofit need that wasn't being met,” Stiker says. “Erin and Jordan receive support from New Sun Rising through two of our programs — Ignite Northside, supported by the Buhl Foundation, and our fiscal sponsorship program that helps with strategy and access to funding that would not normally be available to an individual or individuals.”

New Sun Rising has been a wonderful resource, Tomb says. Stiker has given them the guidance they've needed.

There is a need, Drischler and Tomb say, because of the prevalence of eating disorders.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (myneda.org), 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. The rate of development of new cases of eating disorders has been increasing since 1950.

Treatment can cost up to $30,000 a month, according to the New Sun Rising website.

“The Garment Project has the potential to help women in recovery focus on health without the added stress of size fluctuations,” Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. “One difficult aspect about recovery for many people is that their bodies change, and this project may help them focus more on developing a healthy lifestyle that doesn't focus on controlling weight or size.”

Tomb says this has been a learning curve for him, having never experienced life with someone with an eating disorder until he met Drischler.

“It isn't easy to support somebody who is struggling,” Tomb says. “It took me time to learn how to support Erin. Social media often leads to lots of comparisons of how we look, and then there are lots of judgments being made. We want to change that.”

Having Tomb by her side is wonderful, Drischler says. They hope Garment will create positive feelings for those who've been struggling. They want women to know that feeling when you put on a dress and it makes you feel good because you look good.

“That's what we want for these women,” Drischler says. “It's about opening up and using other people as your mirror. It's frustrating to not trust your own mind. We want to make a difference.”

Details: thegarmentproject.org

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com.

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