Clothing Bank creates self-employed businesswomen

From an unemployment person to a self-employed businesswoman

The Clothing Bank is a non-profit organization with five branches in South Africa. The Clothing Bank’s vision is to “inspire, skill and support unemployed South Africans to eradicate poverty in their families.” The enterprise development program is a two-year holistic program for unemployment black mothers who are ready to make a change in their lives and become independent businesswomen.

The Fund for Local Cooperation of the Embassy of Finland has funded the Clothing Bank 2016-2018. The Clothing Bank does important work from an environmental, social and economic point of view. Clothing waste is a big problem. The Clothing Bank saw an opportunity to collaboration with retailers in this regard.  In South Africa many major retailers donate their existing stocks to the Clothing Bank and they use that stock as a tool to teach women how to run small businesses. Women attend classes for a period of two years and volunteer one day per week to sort the cloths.

Learning the business

At the beginning of the program each participant gets a loan of R600, which they pay back in two to four months’ time. With the help of the loan, they are able to buy cloths. On their volunteering day they are not allowed to do shopping for their individual business, they de-brand the cloths and reprice them. For instance Woolworth shoes were priced at R28 after sorting. The lady from the sorting section said that she would sell the shoes at R350, so if she manages to sell them she will make R322 profit and actually, the shoes are around R550 at the store.  Many black people live in the townships in South Africa. They do have access to the shopping malls, but due to high prices they cannot afford to buy brand clothes.

Donate, repair and resell. Photo: Anna Lilja

Women sell the clothes from their homes in their townships, they go house-to-house or they can also sell the cloths away from home at the taxi ranks. Selling is not easy job and it needs a lot of self-confidence and creativity.  Many women had debt when they started the program, but during the program, many women have been able to pay their debts. As women said, they walked in the Clothing Bank with sneakers but after the program, they are wearing proudly high heels.

If you educate a woman, you educate a nation

Through their journey, they have learnt how to run a business but the program is not just business orientated.  They also learn other skills like computer, life management and budgeting. The program has an impact on their lives in the long term.   

Unemployment is a longstanding challenge for South Africa where the unemployment rate is 27.5 %. Running a small business is not passion for everyone, but during the program, the participants learn business skills, which gives them confidence to run any kind of small business after completing the program.

After the program, many women have started different types of small businesses like a baking shop, wedding or jubilee dress sawing factory, computer and phone cleaning company, laundry business or transportation service. They have learnt how to save money and during the program, many women have managed to save initial capital to start other businesses.

Women who have graduated from the program are proud of themselves. After going through the program, the women’s economic situation has steadily improved and they can even further educate their children and themselves. The program has proved that “if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”