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Clothes to Good uses textile waste to change lives

by | Apr 5, 2022

To date Clothes to Good has recycled 580 tons of pre-loved clothes, empowered 108 micro-businesses and supported 100 early childhood centres. But this number increases rapidly as Twyg experienced at the social enterprise’s headquarters in Centurion, in Gauteng. Textile and footwear waste streams into founder Jesse Naidoo’s converted home where teams of people recycle textiles.

Clothes to Good is both a textile recycling centre and a disability empowerment organisation which for ten years has been facilitating micro-businesses, supporting people with disabilities and equipping early learning centres with educational tools and toys. Operations director Tammy Greyling says, “We look at waste as an asset that can help change the lives of people. We ask what we can do with it and who can we empower.”

Used clothes and textile waste are collected from high-resourced schools, directly from brands’ end-of-sale stock and factory waste, and from in-store take-back schemes such as those we see at H&M stores. The waste is transported to Centurion where the Clothes to Good team captures the data (e.g. weight), sort and direct it to different textile recycling streams. The recycling operation provides work enrichment experiences for people with disabilities and helps extend their skills base.

Following the European Union’s hierarchy of waste, perfectly good clothes are sorted, bailed and sold to micro-businesses that sell on these clothes in their communities. These businesses are run by women who receive micro-business training to help them generate income. More than half of the women are mothers of children with disabilities.

Clothes in need of a little love are repaired and donated to charities. Clothes and textiles that are beyond repair are used to make consumer products, early childhood development toys – single socks become toy snakes –  and disability-specific products. The last two levels of the EU recycling hierarchy are down-cycling when textile is shredded into fibre or ragged; and very occasionally and as a last resort, textiles are incinerated.

Tammy, who is an occupational therapist by training, says that at the heart of Clothes to Good are mothers of children with disabilities. “They are at home, excluded from their communities. It is difficult for them to find pathways out of poverty. Through micro-businesses, these women are now able to provide for their families, put food on the table, pay rent and school fees, grow their individual ventures, create further employment opportunities and have hope for the future,” says Tammy.

Last year Clothes to Good was awarded the audience prize at the Tommy Hilfiger World Frontier Fashion challenge. It was also shortlisted as one of the top six programmes from 430 applications from around the world. Jesse Naidoo, founder and managing director of Clothes to Good says, “We completed a four-day design sprint and developed a range of weighted products for people with various challenges, including autism, ADHD and anxiety.  This was a leap forward in our dream to producing products for people with disabilities, that are affordable and created largely from up-cycled textile waste. Many people in our third world economies are excluded from access to these disability specific products.”

When I visited the site in November last year with a team from H&M South Africa, the disability specific resources were being tested. These beautiful weighted, sensory blankets – which are branded as Nim-nims – and jackets are padded to give comfort to the wearer, soothing anxieties.  Tammy explains that these products give the wearer the same experience as a big hug, and calm a restless body.

Globally only a fraction of what’s manufactured gets recycled. Bloomberg recently reported that eighty-seven percent of the total fibre input used for clothing is ultimately incinerated or sent to a landfill. “Fashion brands have come under criticism for practices such as destroying unsold products and sending piles of clothes to landfills across the Global South, on top of often exploitative and dangerous conditions for workers.” In South Africa, Clothes to Good is an example of how we can build an inclusive, green and circular ecosystem by diverting waste from landfill and use it as an asset to change the lives of people.

Jesse says, “We focus energy on making a tangible difference to the lives of vulnerable children and their families by providing access to affordable products, caring for the planet while empowering as many people as possible on the journey.”

How you can help

Donate

Donate your pre-loved clothes, shoes, fashion accessories and other textiles. You can drop your bag of pre-loved and old garments in the recycling box at your local H&M store.

Create Opportunities

Create learning and employment opportunities for young people with disabilities within your company or organisation

Host a toy-making workshop

Host a toy making workshop and help us create educational resources

Volunteer

Become a volunteer – there is always something meaningful to do!

Give

You can also donate funds.

 

  • Jackie May’s trip to visit Clothes to Good was sponsored by H&M
  • For more information about how you can help, visit the website
  • Images supplied by Clothes to Good and H&M 
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