South Africa Retailers donate over a half-a-Billion Rand in product to support female entrepreneurs

While South Africa’s unemployment rate remains at a record high, one organisation has for the past 10 years taken action and made a real impact by providing more than 3000 women nationally the opportunity to achieve financial independence by reselling clothes. 

Established in 2010 by co-founders Tracey Gilmore and Tracey Chambers, The Clothing Bank (TCB) has over the past decade remained true to its vision to inspire, skill and support unemployed South Africans to eradicate poverty in their lives, and is eager to continue doing so. 

What started as a small project in Pickwick Street in Salt River, Cape Town, has grown into an internationally recognised organisation offering income-generating opportunities that build the bridge to financial inclusion for women, as well as men, in South Africa.

The TCB programme is spearheading change by equipping women to run their own retail trading micro–enterprises with clothes donated to the organisation by various national retailers. The programme currently supports more than 800 mothers across its five branches in Cape Town, Paarl, East London, Durban, and Johannesburg.

“We are extremely proud of how far we have come over the past 10 years and grateful to all our power partners for their invaluable support from day one. They have allowed us to continuously develop our ecosystem and build on our various projects in order to provide poverty eradication and economic opportunities for every member of the family,” says Tracey Gilmore, Chief Executive Officer at TCB.

Unique, world-class concept utilising retail excess for sustainable change

TCB is the first of its kind in the world to have developed a solution to use retail ‘waste’ in a positive and empowering way, thereby providing a platform for South African retailers to lead the world with their commitment to collaborate and support the solution-focused programme. Last year, various retailers donated more than 1.8 million units, worth an estimated R131 million at cost. 

Over the past decade, the organisation has experienced many hardships along the way, one as recent as last year when a devastating fire broke out at their Cape Town branch resulting in a R10 million loss in stock. However, TCB jumped back quickly and with the generous support of retailers, the programme was able to achieve record sales in 2019, reaching its target of supporting over 900 women to run sustainable small businesses, which collectively earned in excess of R38 million in profits.

Providing a high-touch solution to enterprise development

According to recent data released by Stats SA, black African women are the most vulnerable with an unemployment rate of over 30% in South Africa.

“We believe that self-employment is a solution to our current unemployment crisis and that the informal sector is the perfect platform from which to tackle the rising tide of inequality. Focusing our efforts on building sustainable micro-enterprises encourages individual agency and creates financial security,” says Gilmore.

She adds; “As a social enterprise, we believe in restoring dignity by teaching women and men to create wealth for themselves. Any programme that aims to move the poor from dependence to entrepreneurship must have a deep understanding of its complexity, especially that of the poverty mindset. It is deeply entrenched in the psyche and if you don’t acknowledge or understand that, your attempt to make a difference will fail.”

TCB recruits five intakes annually in each of their five branches having the capacity to support 1000 women a year nationally. These women are enrolled in a two-year business, finance, computer and life-skills programme, which equips them with the skills they need to establish, manage and sustain their micro-enterprises.

In 2019, a record number of TCB graduates successfully completed the programme’s Informal Small Business Practice Learnership, achieving a 91% success rate. A key indicator of the success of TCB enterprise development programme is that women continue to trade sustainably after they graduate

Recognising and celebrating successful women

As part of their 10-year anniversary celebrations, TCB hosted a special evening on Thursday, 20 February 2020 with partners and beneficiaries and acknowledged some of the amazing women who have been part of the programme over the years.

Awards were issued in the following categories:

  • Justine Francis – Most successful business women
  • Thabisa Mathandabuzo – Most successful business women
  • Lorraine Zantsi – Business that has the most community impact
  • Besly Malumane – Business that has the most community impact
  • Valerie Grootboom – Most inspiring story
  • Lerato Noluli – Most inspiring story
  • Zama Khwela – Most inspiring story

“In order to achieve systemic change, collaboration is key, and we are deeply thankful to all our partners, donors and supporters for their contribution, as well as to all our hard-working and determined beneficiaries who have and continue to graduate from our programme. The power to make a real and sustainable impact lies in collective action and we are excited to see what opportunities the next decade will bring,” concludes Gilmore.

Other projects that form part of TCB includes The Appliance Bank (TAB) which skills and supports unemployed fathers to repair and sell donated appliances. Using a social-franchise-scaling model, the GROW Educare Centres project empowers women in disadvantaged communities to run high-quality early learning centres that are financially sustainable.

As the organisation’s latest project launched in 2019, Trade Up Youth recruits young people between the ages of 19 and 25 to become self-employed traders, using the backbone of TCB and TAB models.

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