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The Clothing Bank team creates food care packages for families living on low incomes during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Clothing Bank: Helping Unemployed Women Become Entrepreneurs

COVID-19 Project Overview

Forty percent of mothers in South Africa parent alone, and more than half carry the sole responsibility of supporting their family. Because of barriers to education, many of these women are also unemployed and unskilled.

The Clothing Bank is striving to change these outcomes and disrupt the resulting cycle of poverty, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization’s entrepreneurship development program helps unemployed mothers build skills and launch their own informal business selling clothing to local communities.

During the national lockdown in response to the pandemic, the Clothing Bank and partners provided stipends to 762 women who were unable to operate their business. These funds helped the women secure their livelihoods and provide for their children. The organization’s team also created hunger relief packages supported by donors to share with people in their community living on low incomes.

I am stronger than ever, thanks to the Clothing Bank. I have business knowledge and I can communicate and network.

Lungile, Clothing Bank Program Participant

How it Helps

Tracey Chambers and Tracey Gilmore founded the Clothing Bank to address the significant waste created by the retail industry, including rejected garments, customer returns, and production overruns. A former finance manager for a clothing retail company, Chambers began training unemployed women to set up their own business leveraging excess merchandise donated by major retailers.

It works like this: unemployed mothers join the Clothing Bank’s two-year program and gain 1,000 hours of practical training and support covering topics like money management, business skills, life skills, and more. They also benefit from an extensive support system with coaching, mentoring, and counseling. While completing the program, women launch their business by buying discounted clothes from the Clothing Bank and trading them in their community. They earn an average monthly income of $269, which is about $60 more than South Africa’s minimum wage.

There is a strong focus on empowering the women. For example, program staff mitigate the women’s dependency on the Clothing Bank by holding them to weekly sales targets to qualify for new stock.

Since launching ten years ago, the Clothing Bank has offered income-generating opportunities to 3,663 women through its program.

Ongoing Efforts: Cultivating Skills and Confidence

The Clothing Bank and the women in its program continue to show resilience in the face of challenges. A devastating fire destroyed the team’s Cape Town office and warehouse full of merchandise in 2019, but the women bounced back with record sales one month later.

To support these entrepreneurs during the global pandemic, the Clothing Bank offered financial assistance and adapted its model to keep the women connected to mentors via WhatsApp. Within two months of trading activities reopening, the Durban branch of the Clothing Bank saw record sales.

By combining business skill-building with personal development, the Clothing Bank is helping women in South Africa realize their potential and break free from systemic poverty. Under Gilmore’s leadership, the organization’s team continues to serve their community and together defy the odds towards meaningful employment. During the pandemic, they are focusing on the sustainability of the organization, supporting their team, and helping women in the program face this uncertain time.

Foundation Project Lead

Stronger Together: Our COVID-19 Response

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