Clothing as a source of empowerment

Clohtes to Good, SAB Foundation, Disability Empowerment Award, Social Innovation, employment

On October 11, the SAB Foundation announced its first prize winner in its Disability Empowerment category of the 2018 SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. While the competition was tough, with many deserving initiatives in the running, Clothes to Good won the top prize.

The awards recognise innovations that will improve the lives of people with disabilities through assistive devices, training or employment. The first prize includes R1,2 million and the support of the SAB Foundation in growing the programmes run by the winner.

Clothes to Good is an enterprise that provides sustainable jobs and micro-business opportunities for people with disabilities and their families through a clothing-recycling programme. Clothing is sourced from school and staff donations, and is then sorted, washed, repaired or sold in bundles to various beneficiaries.

These can be resold at a substantial profit to enhance the seller’s financial freedom, while reducing the waste of an average 24 000 t of clothing that gets thrown away each year. ROLLING INSPIRATION caught up with the winners after the announcement to learn what their win meant for them. Jesse Naidoo, founder of Clothes to Good, shared his thoughts.

What motivated you to start Clothes to Good?

It all started with a new pair of golf shoes that I received but didn’t need. I asked my caddie, Lucky, if he needed a new pair. The caddie master, on seeing Lucky’s new golf shoes, insisted he wanted them and they got into an argument. Lucky was eventually fired from the club.  What I thought was a good gesture ended up as a disaster.

At the same time Lucky’s wife, Daisy, also lost her job in the ailing clothing-manufacturing industry. Both were jobless, with three boys to support! It dawned on me that we could sell our old clothes to help Lucky and Daisy; however, we knew that it wouldn’t be enough to sustain them.

I approached then Crawford Pretoria Principal Ian McLeod to run a second-hand clothing programme at the school. We committed to buying the clothes from the school to raise money for the Irene Farm School Library, which was under construction.

Little did we know that we would recycle just short of four tonnes of clothes within thirty days!  I called my neighbour, who was then emigrating, and asked if I could use his vacant house to store these clothes.  He agreed and we ended up renting his house. And Clothes to Good (C2G) was born in July 2011.

How has the programme empowered the lives of people with disabilities or their families?

People with disabilities now have work within our ecosystem. All new micro-businesses are run by mothers of children with disabilities and we aim to assist them to escape their poverty trap and better care for their children.

Next year, Tammy Greying, occupational therapist and co-founder of Pathways school, where the C2G facility is now located, will launch an experienced-based learning programme for people with disabilities to transition into meaningful work.

C2G will also share lessons learned with employers and, through the supported employment model, assist them to more easily integrate people with disabilities into mainstream work environments. People with disabilities will be integrated across the value chain and ecosystem of collaborative partners.

This includes clothing recycling, our early childhood development (ECD) toy factory and our life-skills and employment training facility, which will launch in 2019.

What motivated you to apply to the SAB Foundation Disability Empowerment Awards?

We need the capital and working capital to increase our capacity to serve.

What does it mean for you to be awarded the first prize?

It reinforces my and Tammy’s belief that South Africa cares about the employment of people with disabilities, the empowerment of mothers of children with disabilities and our environment. We are excited that people with disabilities will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the country by recycling clothes and making toys for low-resourced ECD centres.

What are your plans for the coming year?

The grant fund will be used to double our recycling capacity to source over 20 tonnes of used clothes per month through our Clothes to Good programmes; to empower an additional 20 people with disabilities at our facility; and to increase the number of micro-business opportunities for mothers of children with disabilities.

It will also allow us to improve our production of ECD resource kits from recycled materials to impact a greater number of low-resourced ECD centres. People with disabilities will now get work in our recycling facility and ECD toy factory, to serve micro-businesses and low-resourced ECD centres.

Once we achieve the increased volumes we plan to expand to Durban and Cape Town within three years.

To learn more about the Clothes to Good organisation and the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards, subscribe and receive Issue 6 of Rolling Inspiration.

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