Stopping clothes from reaching the landfill

Organisations in Chennai that repurpose old clothes increase their reach

For those who are not aware, Thuli receives gently-used clothes and accessories, repurposes and offers them to the underprivileged, free of cost.

“There is always a willingness to give away clothes, but we insist that people offer clothes that are not torn or stained,” says Ajith Kumar, one of the founders of Thuli, a non-profit established in 2018. Thuli runs another outlet at Vadapalani.

In Chennai, this form of sustainability seems to be catching on.

For over a decade, near Porur, Little Drops, an NGO that takes care of the destitute and the old, runs ‘Trash and Treasure’ where the underprivileged can shop for items ranging from clothes and toys to utility items, all of them collected from donors, at throwaway prices.

Rajasthan Cosmo Club Foundation (RCCF) runs two ‘Smile’ stores, one at Nungambakkam and the other at Avadi, both of which opened in the last five months. “We plan to open five more outlets this year,” says Manish Chowdhari, president of RCCF.

Located adjacent to the office of the Mylapore MLA at Alwarpet, the goodwill store Danagam has a facility for people to drop their donations.

Why run thrift stores?

While helping the less fortunate, these stores also promote the sustainable practices of recycling and reusing.

“What would have ended in the landfill in five to eight years you give it longer life by refurbishing and getting another person to use,” says Manish. He says in the last six months they have received 1.25 lakh clothes.

These are washed, disinfected, ironed and barcoded before it reaches its outlets for people to shop. “A carton of clothes takes two to three months before it finally reaches our stores; those needing minor repair are mended or refurbished to give it a new life,” says Manish.

Sorting clothes

Not all the clothes that are collected are in good condition.

“When we started Thuli only 30 per cent of the clothes received were good; and remaining 70 per cent would not be worth using. Now, we have reversed this to 70:30 by showing people what we stock and with our volunteers at the store who explain to customers the initiative’s objective,” says Ajith, who started Thuli with two friends Shivaji Prabhakar and Jey Bala.

Volunteers sort clothes for Thuli. Photo: Special Arrangement 

The non-profit has actor Vijay Sethupathi as its honorary trustee.

At RCCF, seven to eight per cent of the stock is not fit to be reused.

“The clothes that we think cannot be reused by a second person are sent to a small unit in Guindy where cloth bags are made by members of the transgender community,” says Manish. Nearly 500 cloth bags are made every month, and the income goes towards supporting those engaged in the project.

Upcycling old clothes

For some months, Thuli had a visiting faculty from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) helping them refashion clothes lying at their warehouse.

“We make sure shoppers feel good when they shop for clothes from us. Sometimes, finding a good fit for those in the age group of 5 to 15 years is a challenge, so we outsourced it to a unit that would remodel the clothes and sent them back to us,” says Ajith.

Collection points

  • * Thuli has outlets at Adyar and Vadapalani; call its customer care number at 6380306662
  • * Rajasthan Cosmo Club Foundation picks up clothes from the doorsteps; call 9962299622.
  • * Little Drops is at Kalluri Salai, Koluthvancheri, Paraniputhur. It encourages apartments to organise a collection drive and sends a van for the items to be transported. Call 9884080869/ 9884080864
  • * Dhanagam is at 29 C P Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet; call 044 -24663411/ 9940502933

Little Drops works on a slightly different model, accepting anything from people.

“Nothing goes waste at our centre and we add value to the ones that are discarded,” says Edgar Jones Paul, one of the founders of Little Drops.

“Torn clothes are used to make doormats, discarded garments are recycled to make adult diapers and fallen trees are used as firewood. Old garden hose, domestic appliance, leftover building material or curtains, we find use for anything”

Paul continues: “During the lockdown, many shops had folded up and we added value to their interior works. For instance, we removed the plywood in many of them and made use of them,” says Paul. He says each of these utility items would serve somebody and because of the pricing they get picked up easily.

Those working in the area of sustainability points out that any city would gain from this model as it helps reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill and at the same time, fulfils a group’s need.

Sustaining the model

Little Drops says it earns reasonably well from its store and this income helps it buy medicines for the residents of the home.

“Currently, we have 1000 people and some of them are bed-ridden,” says Paul.

RCCF looks for spaces where they do not have to incur any expenses toward rent.

Thuli is self-funded.

Ajith adds, “We are happy with the way we have managed all these years. If at all we need help it is in sorting clothes, which are largely done by some of my employees. We would love to have more people chip in, once in a while.”

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