I have been involved in the second-hand clothing industry long before the idea of Fashionattic came to light. In 2010 I travelled to Kenya to volunteer on a project with a school, something that was unrelated, yet had a great impact on what I do today. Once over in Africa, I discovered that the importation and distribution of second-hand clothing was a massive part of Africa’s industry.
After seeing this, I was inspired to host a fundraiser with the intention of donating a shipping container full of clothing, stationary and books for a rural school on shores of Lake Victoria. We filled the container with books, clothing and other donations given in support of the school. Despite the container being a donation, we still had to pay an import tax once it reached Kenya as if it was a business. This was due to the school being a private school opposed to a government run school. Along with the container of clothes, we raised enough money to build a water pump at the school, which resulted in providing safe and clean drinking water for the entire village.
“It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” ―Albert Einstein
Upon completion of this project, I understood the difficulties charities must face when wanting to donate large amounts of clothing. When donating clothes to charity, the general expectation is that clothing will be donated to those in need both locally and internationally. However, you will find that this is not the reality. Around 20% of the clothing bins around Melbourne are sorted and is either resold by Op Shops or donated. Whereas the other 80% are run by exporting companies, who pay the charities that the bin is linked to and then sort and resell the clothes. This is because of the costs involved for sorting, collection and storage and is not viable for most charities, where money is a much more efficient way to focus on their cause.
Many charities stopped shipping donations overseas in the 1970’s as the cost of sorting and distributing clothes quickly became expensive, with an added importation tax if clothing is to be donated overseas. I further realised that although making a positive impact on the village, I wanted to do more. I believe that supporting education and assisting individuals to become self-sufficient is the key focus and will give a long-lasting and permanent change. Linking this back to the second-hand clothing industry in Africa, business owners purchase clothing at wholesale markets to then resell at their local market place. Once they sell the clothes, they hopefully will make enough money to return and purchase more clothing and have this as a steady source of income to grow food and support their family.
I was inspired by local entrepreneurs and realized the potential to work with micro businesses in rural areas where not many work opportunities are available and through this support the communities in growing their own local trade.
So this is what I began doing, for 3 years I received and sorted recycled clothing in a Warehouse in Melbourne. I then had a buyer in Kenya who would purchase and resell the imports. I had a great relationship with my clients. However, unfortunately as this market continues to grow, it becomes unsustainable to compete with competitors while maintaining an ethical practice. With other companies exporting to China and Dubai for the sorting process due to significantly cheaper labour costs resulting in being able to sell at a cheaper price, a price I couldn’t compete with. It was at this point that I realised I needed to pivot and transform the structure, which resulted in the creation of Fashionattic.