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.
For 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.