Ten Years On: Australian Charity Threads Through an Ethical Response to Fashion's Excess

In 2012, a charity was set up in Australia which embodied ideas of circular fashion long before it was to become a catchphrase. Thread Together dwelt on the simple idea of donating rather than disposing of unsold clothing. Today, it provides new wardrobes to at least 2,500 people every week, and has diverted over 3,000 tonnes of clothing from landfill. Chief Executive Officer Anthony Chesler tells texfash.com the saga that Thread Together has stitched.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Thread Together has diverted over more than 3,000 tonnes of clothing from landfill. The organisation provides new wardrobes to more than 2,500 people every week.
  • The idea began in a 20ft shipping container and now operates from multiple warehouses and a sorting, distribution and fulfilment centre.
  • The biggest challenge along the way has been finding ways to help the ever-growing number of people in need, while also addressing the increasing urgency around the climate crisis.
The journey started 10 years ago when founder Andie Halas, discovered a minor manufacturing defect (colour variation) in some towels that were now unfit for sale. After seeing women and children sifting through bags of second-hand clothes, Andie had a light bulb moment to approach friends in the fashion industry to divert brand new, excess clothing from landfills and give it to those who needed it most.
Light Bulb Moment The journey started 10 years ago when founder Andie Halas, discovered a minor manufacturing defect (colour variation) in some towels that were now unfit for sale. After seeing women and children sifting through bags of second-hand clothes, Andie had a light bulb moment to approach friends in the fashion industry to divert brand new, excess clothing from landfills and give it to those who needed it most. Thread Together

Founded in 2012, Thread Together currently partners with more than one thousand fashion brands choosing to be a part of the journey of change. Thread Together partners with a similar number of registered charities and welfare agencies nationally to identify and serve those individuals who are in need of essential clothing and footwear

Thread Together has diverted over more than 3,000 tonnes of clothing from landfill. The organisation provides new wardrobes to more than 2,500 people every week—every day, six and a half days per week, Thread Together hosts up to 100 volunteers at its fulfilment centre to ensure it delivers a service at the highest standard and the most amount of dignity. To date, Thread Together  has provided brand new wardrobes to more than 750,000 individuals.

Thread Together is non-judgmental and will support anyone in need. “We are first responders to natural disasters including bushfires, the pandemic, droughts and floods and most recently those seeking refuge in Australia.”  

Thread Together supports: women escaping domestic violence; new arrivals seeking refuge and/or asylum, most recently from Afghanistan and Ukraine; vulnerable senior citizens; indigenous communities; youth at risk; people experiencing homelessness; people returning into the community from incarceration; long-term unemployed; those affected by the pandemic; those suffering from intellectual or physical disabilities; people impacted by drought, bushfires and floods

Thread Together believes: Clothing is the forgotten basic right of people who are experiencing vulnerability. If someone's in need, most people think they need shelter and food, but you forget about the dignity that clothing provides somebody and how putting on new underwear, loungewear or a beautiful dress makes you feel that you can tackle a new day.

2012. It's been ten years of Thread Together. What's been the journey like? Crests and troughs? Smooth sailing?
The journey started 10 years ago when our founder Andie Halas, discovered a minor manufacturing defect (colour variation) in some towels. Despite it being such a minor defect, the large supply of towels was now unfit for sale. Andie knew she didn't want to simply dispose of them to landfill, but she was unable to find any organisation to use the stock. Taking matters into her own hands, she approached the local Asylum Seekers Centre to donate them.

After seeing women and children sifting through bags of second-hand clothes, Andie had a light bulb moment to approach friends in the fashion industry to divert brand new, excess clothing from landfills and give it to those who needed it most.

The idea began in a 20ft shipping container and now operates from multiple warehouses and a sorting, distribution and fulfilment centre. We now partner with more than 1,000 fashion brands and retailers including RM Williams, P.E Nation, David Jones, Aje, Calvin Klein, Princess Polly, The Athletes Foot and THE ICONIC—to name a few.

The biggest challenge along the way has been finding ways to help the ever-growing number of people in need, while also addressing the increasing urgency around the climate crisis—it’s a scale challenge as we try to do our part in restoring dignity and hope for those doing it tough as well as driving the sustainability agenda across the fashion industry.

The only way we have been able to continue to grow is with strong partnerships with the fashion industry, corporate partners and community who show up day in and day out to help support many vulnerable people.

For something like these, people need to be absolutely sold on the idea. How difficult was it for you to persuade brands to become your fashion partner? surely, it would be much easier to do that now?
We are solving a relevant problem, offering the highest ethical response to fashion excess.
From the early days and until now, all of our traffic is inbound and organic, and we have never had to persuade a brand to come onboard. We have simply shown what we do and brands and retailers just want to get involved. As we have grown, we have leveraged technology and automation to streamline processes to ensure we give our fashion brands a frictionless experience when donating clothing to us. We take care of all logistics including pick up, sorting, warehousing and re-distribution of their products.

The key for us is flexibility in the model, so we can create opportunities for our fashion brands to not only donate clothing but to volunteer with us in our fulfillment centre, on the road and in our clothing hubs to see the impact they are making. Once the impact becomes clear, and a brand can see how their choice to partner with us cannot just help someone at an individual level, but also help the broader environment—the case is compelling.

We really take the word ‘partnership’ seriously at Thread Together where we work hand-in-hand with our fashion brands to not only collect clothing, but also create moments to engage their employees and their customers in our mission.

Thread Together works hand-in-hand with fashion brands to not only collect clothing, but also create moments to engage their employees and their customers in its mission.
Branded Together Thread Together works hand-in-hand with fashion brands to not only collect clothing, but also create moments to engage their employees and their customers in its mission. Thread Together

How have clothing brands themselves changed their own stories? As your site points out: "But our fashion partners don’t just donate brand new clothing, they also work with us in many other ways – incorporating us into their sustainability strategy as part of their community and environmental pillars, to engage their brands, staff and customers."
Fashion brands 10 years ago saw Thread Together as just a solution to a problem and would use our service as it was easy to get rid of their excess new clothing. Now fashion brands want to work with us hand in hand to co-design their sustainability agenda.

Fashion brands are telling the story of how they partner with Thread Together, not only by giving product but by donating their time, their employees’ skills, their network, and more.

Through a range of different solutions, we are able to help a fashion brand create a purpose-driven moment with a customer, whether that’s at point of sale or targeted campaign. This helps our partners engage their customers at a values-based level, driving deeper retention and engagement. We’re certainly seeing the brands themselves lean further into sustainability and actively looking for ways to build a greener future. This also applies to their employees, who are also seeking out values-based employers who act with purpose.

All of these trends have created a unique moment in time where the fashion industry is changing, and we are in a position to play a role in the transition towards a more sustainable and holistic industry.

How many fashion partners did you have in the first month? How many do you have now? How have their partnerships worked for you? And how, according to you, have these worked for the brands?
When we first started we had one partner and now we have more than one thousand.

We receive brand new clothing donations from over 1,000 fashion partners daily including RM Williams, Bendon, P.E Nation and Tommy Hilfiger—to name a few. All this new clothing would have ended up in landfills or sat in warehouses for many years and cost the brands a lot more.

We keep that fashion out of landfills and bring them back into circulation through giving those to people in need. We want to dignify people who are in very difficult situations by being able to choose with dignity the clothing that best represents themselves.

Simple Model

Thread Together collects end-of-line brand new stock from fashion retailers around the country. With the support of volunteers, the clothes are sorted in readiness to be distributed to people in need through our national network of charities and social service agencies.

Empowering People

By collaborating with some of Australia’s largest clothing suppliers, Thread Together extends the lifecycle of clothing by keeping it in circulation—by partnering with charities to clothe individuals, families and communities in need, restoring dignity and providing hope to people.

Thread Together currently has approximately 1 million units of clothing on hand to distribute. Although a decade old, it continues to operate with a start-up mindset and recently it has implemented an RFID solution to help better tracking of  inventory.
Keeping Track Thread Together currently has approximately 1 million units of clothing on hand to distribute. Although a decade old, it continues to operate with a start-up mindset and recently it has implemented an RFID solution to help better tracking of inventory. Thread Together

On the other side, as your website mentions, there are over 500 charities. That's not a small number. Again, was it difficult to convince charities at the beginning that the Thread Together idea would work?
Today, we partner with nearly one thousand charities and welfare agencies working with vulnerable and marginalised individuals, families and communities. These agencies connect us and help us provide clothing to many people experiencing vulnerability.

Almost all of these agencies reach out to us directly to access the service which is delivered at no cost.

It hasn’t been too difficult in building the charity network as there is a very clear need for brand new clothing for those experiencing hardship or vulnerability. Our service not only eliminates the need to sort used items, it importantly enables a charity or agency to select items of clothing that match the unique needs of their clients.

We make it easy for charities to onboard with us and then engage with our service in one of four ways.

  • Online: Case workers request clothing online and teams of volunteers sort, pick and pack online “orders” which are sent all around the country.
  • Mobile wardrobes: A fleet of vehicles with custom fitted walk-in wardrobes take new clothes and footwear to our community partners. Clients are invited to walk into the mobile wardrobe and select the clothing the matches their style.
  • Clothing hubs: Our community partners refer their clients into our "retail shops” which are exclusive for people experiencing vulnerability. Individuals are able to browse, try-on and select clothing.
  • Modular wardrobes: We install a modular wardrobe solution into women's crisis accommodation centres (refuges or shelters) so that women (and their children) can access essential clothing on arrival (e.g. underwear, sleepwear, lounge-wear, etc).

Providing choice is very important as this goes a long way to restore dignity and create hope for a better tomorrow.

Unfortunately, there is an ever-growing need whether that is the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence through to those impacted by fires, floods and the pandemic.

How do you work with the charities? Do you keep track of how the charities themselves work? Or is it embedded into your services system itself?
We work collaboratively with charities to understand the needs of their clients and how we can best work together to help more people. Each of our distribution channels has dignity and care at the heart of them to ensure the individuals accessing our service are treated with the highest amount of respect.

During the pandemic, we saw a rise in domestic violence incidents with an increased number of women and children seeking shelter. Our crisis accommodations partners needed clothing quicker than ever and we responded to this with the roll out of our modular wardrobes, which are in-built wardrobes within the accommodation that provide a semi-permanent supply of essential clothing such as underwear, lounge wear, pyjamas, pants and t-shirts to give immediate access to those women and children who are facing very challenging times.

Additionally, we were able to partner with local charities on the ground in Lismore and the Northern regions of New South Wales, deploying a range of pop-up stores, mobile wardrobes and direct support to the charities on the ground so we could support local communities.

Vulnerability takes so many different forms, shapes and sizes. So being able to connect with our charity partners, understand the clients they work with and make sure that we're tailoring to them is vital to the success of the organisation.

Clothing Going to Landfill

The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries in the world. What’s more, in addition to the impact of clothing production on the environment, around one third of all new clothing is not sold and ends up being sent to landfill or incinerated.

Access to Essential Clothing

Clothing is a basic human right. Sadly, in Australia, more than 3.5 million people do not have access to essential clothing. This equates to one in eight adults and one in six children.

Thread Together works collaboratively with charities to understand the needs of their clients. Each distribution channel has dignity and care at the heart of them to ensure the individuals accessing its service are treated with the highest amount of respect.
Heart of Distribution Thread Together works collaboratively with charities to understand the needs of their clients. Each distribution channel has dignity and care at the heart of them to ensure the individuals accessing its service are treated with the highest amount of respect. Thread Together

"From those who have too much, to those who have too little." Do you think in many ways it's still the same in 2022 as it was in 2012? Broadly, the fashion industry is still about excess, and there are still reports of brands incinerating their unsold inventories. Comments, please.
We definitely see this as a central part of what we do. Yes, unfortunately there is still a lot of excess in the fashion industry and whilst many brands we work with are trying hard to change and adopt a more circular approach it will take time. The positive step is that the industry recognises this and instead of once sending their garments to landfill they want to protect the planet and support people. We are tackling the issues that face the fashion industry collaboratively to ensure steps and changes are made to reduce excess. The exciting moment is witnessing the momentum building with the fashion industry itself to drive change.

Hundreds of fashion partners and charity partners. It's a full-scale operation. How have you built up your logistics system over the years? Also, how many individual pieces of apparel do you handle every month?
As we are a small team we work in an agile way and have invested and leverage technology to ensure we can scale our operations in the most effective way. We have worked with partners across all aspects to our operations to create an efficient and effective operation from the way we manage project tasks, picking and packing process, warehousing and fundraising.

Although we are 10 years old, we continue to operate with a start-up mindset to learn fast and keep growing as we go. Most recently—as our operations expand— we have been implementing an RFID solution to help us better track inventory on hand at any given moment.

In a typical month we handle more than 250,000 units. This involves receiving, sorting the clothes into categories and sizes and then fulfilling requests and replenishing our pick faces.

We currently have approximately 1 million units of clothing on hand to distribute. Ultimately, at the core of it we wouldn’t be successful without the dedicated help of our community and corporate volunteers, who bring the much-needed human touch to our operations.

It's exemplary work. Do people from other parts of the world get in touch with you wanting to replicate/emulate your idea?
Thank you. We are proud of the work we do and couldn’t do it without our network of partners. Often fashion brands from around the world reach out and enquire if our service is available in their country.

To our knowledge, we are not aware of anyone else partnering with the fashion industry in their country to provide such a service.

We don’t hold any trade secrets and want to help all to keep clothing in circulation at its highest value for as long as possible. A collaborative approach is the only way we will make meaningful change to such challenging issues.

Yes, unfortunately there is still a lot of excess in the fashion industry and whilst many brands we work with are trying hard to change and adopt a more circular approach it will take time. The positive step is that the industry recognises this and instead of once sending their garments to landfill they want to protect the planet and support people.

Anthony Chesler
Anthony Chesler / Chief Executive Officer / Thread Together

Subir Ghosh

SUBIR GHOSH is a Kolkata-based independent journalist-writer-researcher who writes about environment, corruption, crony capitalism, conflict, wildlife, and cinema. He is the author of one book, and has co-authored three with others. He writes, edits, reports and designs. He is also a professionally trained and qualified photographer.

 
 
 
  • Dated posted: 20 October 2022
  • Last modified: 20 October 2022