The Clothing Bank, a fast-growing women’s empowerment enterprise has opened its first Johannesburg branch in Half Way House.

Funded by a R1.5 million loan from Woolworths, and with Edcon as a major clothing supply partner, The Clothing Bank’s first Johannesburg branch in Half Way House will assist an estimated 100 women in its first year. The programme follows the holistic approach pioneered in their two Cape Town branches and includes over 500 hours of practical training in areas like money management, business skills and life skills, and access to merchandise.

Founded in 2010 in Cape Town with a R500,000 start-up loan from Woolworths, The Clothing Bank provides unemployed mothers with training, skills and support so they can become self-employed businesswomen. In just four years it has trained over 431 women whose businesses have generated collective profits of R14.6 million from re-selling over 1.1 million surplus garments in Cape Town’s townships donated by retailers such as Woolworths and Edcon which joined the initiative in 2012. The Clothing Bank is now Edcon’s largest beneficiary and receives merchandise from 80% of its stores in the Western Cape.

Patron of The Clothing Bank, Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe said, “I have always believed that the transformative power of education, training and mentoring is crucial for unlocking the potential for women to empower themselves and support their families. I am proud and inspired to be associated with the work of The Clothing Bank”.

Co-founder of The Clothing Bank and former Woolworths head of financial management, Tracey Chambers said, “The Clothing Bank’s motto is don’t give a woman a fish. Teach a woman to fish and teach her how to sell her fish. Empowering women to be self-reliant is at the core of what we do. Our objective is that each woman should earn at least R3,500 per month. Our Johannesburg branch is part of a larger expansion project to open a further six branches over the next three years, supporting over 1,000 women a year”.

The Clothing Bank also extends support to NGOs in need of clothing. Tracey Chambers goes on to say, “We are continuously looking to build relationships with new suppliers that have excess product within their supply chains that could be sold by our traders”.

Supporting The Clothing Bank helps companies meet their BBBEE targets for enterprise development and socio-economic development. But according to Chambers, with the new revised BBBEE scorecard coming into effect from 11 October 2014, many companies are uncertain how to comply. “We now advise companies on how to earn points for enterprise development, socio-economic development and skills development to ensure their contributions are fully recognised under the revised codes”.

Jackie Mpotula, a 49 year-old single mother of four, and active church member, shared her journey from economic hardship to financial and social independence which began with a R500 soft loan and support from The Clothing Bank. One of the first women to enter the new Johannesburg programme, Ms Mpotula, has already bought R20,000 worth of merchandise and is on target with her sales which she conducted informally to customers in her community and at church. Speaking about her experiences Mpotula said, “The Clothing Bank has provided an opportunity for me to learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment. I am on a journey to reach my full potential”.

Over the last four years founding sponsor Woolworths has donated 708,000 garments worth R42.5 million to The Clothing Bank and has now funded the Johannesburg branch. Since 2012, Edcon has donated clothing worth R15 million to The Clothing Bank. As a non-monetary partner, Edcon will also contribute to the skills development programme through its Growing Hope Campaign.

Speaking at the launch, Zinzi Mgolodela, Woolworths’ head of transformation reiterated its support, “Woolworths is proud to have been the founding supporter of The Clothing Bank. We have contributed to women’s empowerment and improved the lives of ordinary women through this innovative programme. It allows women to develop life skills and support their families and communities”.

Representing Edcon, Mercia Maserumule, CSI Manager for Transformation and Corporate Affairs at Edcon said, “We are pleased that The Clothing Bank not only gives unemployed women a chance at earning a living but also empowers them with skills to run their enterprises. The opening of the Johannesburg branch will enable them to extend their reach and empower more women. The Clothing Bank is testament to the saying ‘Educate a man and you educate one person; educate a woman and you educate a whole nation’ ".

The Clothing Bank helps meet the need for viable entrepreneurial opportunities amongst South Africa’s underprivileged women but also responds to the overwhelming demand by South African retailers and the business community for successful social enterprises to partner with for their BBBEE initiatives. According to Chambers, “if the demand for services like The Clothing Bank continues to grow we will certainly look at opportunities to expand in to other provinces”.