THE Clothing Bank opened its fifth outlet in South Africa, based in Durban, today. The local non-profit organisation (NPO), which focuses on developing sustainable business practices amongst underprivileged self-employed businesswomen through a pioneering method, is gaining increasing national reach.

The NPO also has branches in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Paarl and Hermanus.

The Clothing Bank receives surplus clothing garments from retailers such as Woolworths – which helped start the initiative in 2010 as part of its enterprise development programme. These clothes are subsequently sold on to unemployed women at a reduced price, to help them start their own small businesses, with the ongoing support of The Clothing Bank.

The Clothing Bank originated in Cape Town, and has grown significantly over the years, empowering unemployed women across the country to become financially and socially independent. It launched five years ago with a start-up capital loan of R1.5-million from Woolworths.

The benefits of the programme are two-fold: Firstly it enables women to earn an income, while concurrently teaching them business skills and how to run a small retail trading operation.

Tracey Chambers, Chief Executive Officer of The Clothing Bank said she was proud of the progress made. “We started at grassroots level with just one branch, now we have opened a fifth branch in less than five years.

“Our graduate pool is also growing rapidly and we have put effective processes in place to ensure we remain connected with them and track the impact of our programme after they leave.

“To date, we have trained a total of 829 women. We also have the capacity to support 800 businesswomen a year. There are currently 362 women in training, with 330 recruited in 2014. We also meet the graduates on a monthly basis to ensure that they are exposed to business opportunities,” said Chambers. In the past 12 months, Chambers said that the women have accumulatively generated profits worth R12,6-million, and since inception an amount of R29-million.

“The supporting retailers have collectively donated 876 950 garments in the last 12 months, valued at R 52,6-million,” said Chambers.

The programme includes over 1000 hours of practical training, covering models such as monetary management, business and life skills. On completion, the new entrepreneurs start purchasing the merchandise from The Clothing Bank at significantly discounted prices, and proceed to sell the merchandise in their communities.

Since its inception, The Clothing Bank has funded much of its running costs through the revenue generated by selling donated clothing to their graduates. The Cape Town branch is 81 per cent self-funded after four years in operation.

Woolworths Head of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment and Transformation, Zinzi Mgolodela, said the company was honoured to be a founding supporter of The Clothing Bank, and commended the NGO for its significant growth.

 “The Clothing Bank has shown tremendous ability to develop even further. Contributing to the success of remarkable initiatives such as The Clothing Bank is what drives us at Woolworths to do the work we do. This truly is a successful business case and we are proud to support this initiative,” said Mgolodela.

Lydia Gamanye, a graduate of The Clothing Bank, who worked for a company for 11 years before she was retrenched, said she was inspired to achieve success since joining the programme.

“”This programme taught me all the necessary business skills I need. I’m a single mother, yet I do not feel alone. I can take care of my mother and my sister’s children because of this business.”

Another graduate, Marethabile Aletta Modiko, said she was lucky to be chosen for The Clothing Bank. “My life has changed. I am now a well-known business woman in my community. I can provide for my family and they are proud of my success. I have learnt about record-keeping, a skill that I will apply throughout all aspects of my life. My plan is to be a successful, well-known businesswoman in the future – not only in my community but also in South Africa.”

Other retailers have also come on board in a show of industry solidarity. Verna Botha-Richards, Mr Price Group Corporate Services and Sustainability Executive reiterated the Mr Price Group’s support: “We are proud to be a major partner of this wonderful initiative.  The Clothing Bank is a real success story of how a social enterprise can create jobs, build self-esteem and have a positive impact on society while empowering previously-disadvantaged women,” said Botha-Richards.

The Clothing Bank programme has received a number of prestigious international awards:

  • Teach a Man to Fish award,
  • Pan African Award for Entrepreneurship in Education,
  • Ashoka/SAP Power of Small Competition,
  • African Philanthropy Achievers Awards for Economic Development, and
  • Poverty Relief and New Charity of the Year 2013.