Tackling the growing unemployment problem in South Africa requires an innovative approach, and that’s where The Clothing Bank comes in. Tracey Gilmore and her business partner Tracey Chambers are turning retailer excess stock into the tools to teach unemployed South Africans to run small trading businesses.
LoA found out more about this inspirational high impact enterprise this month from co-founder Tracey Gilmore.
What does your company do?
The Clothing Bank (TCB) was founded in February 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa by Tracey Chambers and Tracey Gilmore. Our vision is to "support, upskill and empower unemployed South Africans to eradicate poverty in their lives. We have developed strategic relationships with the major retailers who donate their excess stock to our programme. We in turn use this stock as the tool to teach unemployed South Africans how to run small trading businesses. The programme spans two years and affords our beneficiaries the opportunity to earn an income and develop a suite of skills to help them run sustainable businesses, these include finance, business, life and computer skills. We have the capacity to support in excess of 800 people a year through our five branches in Cape Town, Midrand, Durban, East London and Paarl.
Our vision is to "support, upskill and empower unemployed South Africans to eradicate poverty in their lives."
What inspired you to start your company?
I had been working in a labour intensive environment with poor under-educated women who taught me so much about resilience and tenacity of spirit and I knew that given the right opportunity they had so much more to offer. The company closed down and many of the women had to look for alternative employment, many of them didn’t even have an appropriate outfit to wear to interviews, so I began to collect interview style clothing for them. I soon discovered that sourcing the clothing was the easy part, finding women with the skills required to meet the job market was much more of a challenge. I became frustrated at my lack of impact and I began to look for answers. I did a lot of internet based researched and discovered many amazing organisations working in the development space, During this time I had the good fortune of meeting my partner Tracey Chambers, who with her experience as head of finance at one of SA's biggest retailers combined with her business mind, together we conceptualized the idea behind The Clothing Bank.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
The Clothing Bank is a registered Third Party Enterprise Development Service Provider and we have built power partnerships with all our donors and funders. We offer a BEE solution. Our holistic training programmes, including our personal financial literacy training modules, are available to corporates and NGOs wanting to empower their staff and beneficiaries at a reduced rate.
"Our holistic training programmes, including our personal financial literacy training modules, are available to corporates and NGOs wanting to empower their staff and beneficiaries at a reduced rate."
Tell us a little about your team
Our team consists of almost entirely women. We are a values driven organization committed to actively playing our part in supporting transformation in South African. Everyone plays to their strengths and the passion is tangible.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I worked in a family business from a young age. My father was a serial entrepreneur. I witnessed the highs and lows of his journey. I have always had ideas but did not necessarily understand how to fully implement and plan, and I have learned to value the tools that formal education can provide. As I matured, I realized that self awareness is key if we want to develop and grow. We need to consciously understand our strengths and weaknesses and plug the gaps by seeking partnerships with people who have contrasting strengths and complementary skills.
I rose through the corporate ranks and had established a successful career. I was addicted to my work, but it wasn’t making me happy. I started searching for answers and over a two year period with the support of a mindfulness coach, I came to the realisation that my work didn’t define me - I had more to offer the world. Being good at something doesn’t mean that you have to love it. So in 2008, I jumped off the corporate ladder - I had no plan, I just knew I wanted to live a more meaningful life where I could make a difference in the world. One would expect two accountants (my husband is also an accountant) to have done a full financial plan as to how we could make this happen but we didn’t - I knew I had to do this and he gave me his full support. I was compelled to follow my heart – I was starting to awaken the human being in me again. In 2009, I made a commitment to not accept any paid work and volunteered my time at a community university (Tsiba University) mentoring young previously disadvantaged students. I was inspired by these young people who had experienced so much hardship in their lives but weren’t bitter. During this time we met and shared a common desire to make an impact in the lives of impoverished South Africans.
"Witnessing people pick up the tools offered to them and turn their lives around is priceless. We are inspired daily by the holistic transformation taking place."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
We plan to focus our efforts on expanding our appliance repair project. The Appliance Bank’s (TAB) mission is to equip unemployed men with the technical skills needed to repair damaged household appliances and the business skills needed to provide sustainable income generating opportunities. The men selected to join TAB achieve this by repairing and on-selling the damaged electrical goods received through our relationships with our retail partners. Over the past eight years we have not seen any change in the rate of gender based violence and we have come to the realization that if we want to support women we have to work with men. The project is working very well and we are seeing real change happening in the lives of the men we work with, their dignity is restored and they are learning skills that will support them in their future.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Witnessing people pick up the tools offered to them and turn their lives around is priceless. We are inspired daily by the holistic transformation taking place, we have learned so much not least about ourselves.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Learn to trust your instincts and quieten the fear.
Contact or follow The Clothing Bank
Why LoA loves it….
There is something truly inspiring about seeing women entrepreneurs who harness all their skills, energy and experience to make a difference in the lives of others. Tracey Gilmore and Tracey Chambers are a great example of how it is possible to find high impact solutions to really pressing societal problems such as chronic unemployment, through a combination of innovation and skills development. They are making a genuine impact on the lives of those who have the potential to become self sufficient but need key skills and support to help them achieve their end goal. These two amazing women entrepreneurs are an inspiration to the rest of us to play our part in building a new and economically sustainable South Africa. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa