The Clothing Bank founded by Tracey Gilmore and Tracey Chambers becomes a vital agent of change in South Africa

South Africa’s excess retail clothing volumes amount between R450m to R900m.Usually, they are passed on to NGOs and charity organisations to be passed on to be distributed to the needy channels. With an absence of an efficient and well-spread network that reaches out and taps into the needy segments, these entities become literal ‘dumping grounds’ for excess material that sadly falls short of its good intentions. Tracey Gilmore, the co-founder of Dress 2 Impress, a nonprofit organisation that helps low-income and unemployed women prepare to enter the workplace based out of SA found the potential of social change lurking in this broken down supply chain of bonafide intent. It was also during this time that Tracey Chambers, a former Woolworths employee and a chartered accountant, banking on her extensive experience in retail,  Chambers identified the opportunity to use the surplus clothing in the retail wanted to teach unemployed women how to trade, through developing their business skills and helping them to start their own businesses. They came together after a series of informal meetings and co-founded The Clothing Bank, the first of its kind in SA. The process is five fold :

Collect: The Clothing Bank collects clothing from retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and the general public. The garments are then stored in our warehouse in Salt River, Cape Town.

Repair: The collected clothing is then de-branded, repaired and remodeled if necessary.

Sort: Once the clothing is fully restored, it is then sorted into various categories. This ensures that once the clothing is distributed, it is the right match for the organisation that needs it.

Distribute: The clothing is then dispatched on request to our partner NPOs, welfare institutions and governmental services who first-hand identify the needs of communities at grass-roots level. Clothing is also stored and utilised to ensure immediate response for disaster relief.

Develop: A significant portion of the clothing is used in the Enterprise Development Programme, in which the women who are selected to participate can buy clothes for a fraction of their value and sell them in their communities for a profit. Women participating in the programme are also required to work in The Clothing Bank facility to gain practical work experience.

Tracey Gilmore and Tracey ChambersFor the Community engagement and development program, the final arm of its process, the Clothing Bank  takes in 15 unemployed mothers each month with a mandate to put in 30 days of voluntary  work at the organisation’s premises, which is the first level of filtration to ensure that the participants are deserving and they do not have other part-time vocations. “Because we do not want to develop a relationship of dependency on The Clothing Bank and we want to test the women’s commitment, recruits are asked to volunteer during their first month,” says Chambers. “This also proves to us that they really are unemployed. We have a 20% dropout rate during this period” – she revealed in a recent interview. They are then given 12 months of financial planning, life skills and business training. The Clothing Bank also enjoys the voluntary services of eight life and business coaches to mentor these selected candidates in their enterprise aspects to make them the perfect entrepreneurial successes after the 12-month training program. The success of the program has been so phenomenal that Woolworth has donated R5 million in surplus clothing to The Clothing Bank every year for at least 3 years in addition to providing an interest free loan that is only payable after three years.

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3 Responses to “The Clothing Bank founded by Tracey Gilmore and Tracey Chambers becomes a vital agent of change in South Africa”

  1. Busi Kwisomba May 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    This is very enlightening and empowers women that have been through great ordeals in their lives. If the women are coming from a backround of stealing and would like to reform and change their lives for the better, since they are un employable due to criminal record, can they join this programme. If so how? There is a few that I know who would be interested as they are stuck due to their record, they can not get employment yet they are mothers and have mouths to feed, forcing them back to go back to theft. Pleae advise if situations like these are possible to be betterd, as they too deserv a chance in life.

    Keep up the good work as this programme can indeed be expanded to other parts using the same methods.

    Thank you for affording the women a better go at life realising their self worth and giving them more courage better yet puting food on their table by empowering them at the same token.



  2. odwa July 19, 2012 at 2:18 am #

    hi tracy am one of the ladies in the laernership in TIPSA for new venture creation entrapenure in mowbre we would like to have a motivational speaker for young entrapenure we a also interested in your programe my email address is as follow my no is 0849675606

  3. wowElle July 19, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Hi Odwa,

    Thank you for writing in to wowElle. You could contact Tracey directly at

    The Clothing Bank has its physical address at :
    15 St Michaels Rd, Observatory, Cape Town
    Postal Address: P.O. Box 13133, Mowbray, 7705

    You could give them a call at +27 21 447 3334.

    All the very best with your value creations along with the rest of your entrepreneurs’ team.


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