Since its registration as a UK charity in 1999, TRAID’s vision has been to raise funds to fight global poverty by collecting unwanted clothes to reuse and resell. “We were one of the first NGOs to be a charity collector concerned with the environmental impact of fashion,” says Jose Baladron, Recycling Development Manager at TRAID. To date, they have committed over £5 million to projects improving social and environmental conditions in the textile industry, an issue deeply important to us at TOAST. Their work has impacted the lives of many: improving the working conditions for over 650,000 garment workers; removing children from bonded and forced labour; supporting cotton farmers to reduce and eliminate pesticide use; establishing co-operative textile businesses; and developing eco-friendly textile production processes.
As part of a new partnership, TOAST will donate items that we are not able to repurpose through our Circle initiatives to TRAID for them to responsibly reuse, giving them necessary funds to improve working practices in the textile industry. “We’re delighted to partner with TOAST, working together to stop clothing from going to landfill,” says Jose, who shows us around their sorting hub in Wembley, north west London. “This is just the beginning as we combine our resources to create positive change.”
In the TRAID sorting hub, their dedicated team – led by sorting supervisor Rose Nkore – sifts through 50 tonnes of donations a week. Here they select stock for their charity shops based on the condition, quality and style of each piece. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” Rose says, “and over that time I’ve learnt so much. I’ve seen vintage pieces I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s a bit of a treasure trove.” With over 700 charity clothes banks across the UK and a home collection service, the charity has no shortage of clothes to reuse and repurpose. They sort thousands of tonnes of donations a year – a figure that’s difficult to comprehend, no matter how many pieces are unworn in our own wardrobes. “It’s very busy right now – we tend to get more donations when it’s the school holidays,” Rose adds. “We know when the busy periods will be, but it’s never quiet!”
The clothes that arrive are weighed before sorting, allowing TRAID to measure the quantity of garments rescued from landfill or incineration. Travelling down conveyor belts, they are sorted by hand; often with particular store locations in mind, for the best chance of them being resold within the UK. Those that are earmarked to be resold in their stores are priced and tagged, while out-of-season stock is kept for when the weather turns.
“At the moment we’re collecting winter stock,” Jose says, “and storing it, so when the season changes we’re ready to go.” This nimble approach allows them to compete with other clothing retailers, offering fresh stock weekly. “For us, it’s key that our shop managers get to choose what they put on the shop floor,” he says. “They know what their customers need and want. For example, we originally redirected ripped jeans to be repurposed, rather than sold. But then they became very fashionable in our Camden store – people of all ages were buying them, they were flying off the shelves.”
Gemma Watson, manager of the TRAID Westbourne Grove shop, is at the Wembley sorting hub today to find pieces for her store. “I look for colour, special fabrics, vintage pieces,” she says. “The shop is quite small, so we need to make sure we have the very best stock. “It’s been a good day today, I’ve found some really good quality items which I’m excited about.” Interspersed with the gems, there will always be pieces that aren’t fit to be resold by TRAID, and these are redirected to be repurposed. “These items will go to design students and members of our community groups,” says Jose, “or they can become building insulation or car-seat fillings.”
TRAID will turn unsaleable TOAST items donated by us into funds to support garment workers and their families. All profits generated will go to Rights Education And Development Centre (READ) – a non-profit educational foundation – supporting their work with communities in Tamil Nadu, South India. TRAID has worked closely with READ since 2013, inspired by their tireless work with local communities, garment factories, spinning mills, trade unions and state and national governments to address serious labour rights abuses.
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a major manufacturing hub for knitwear, with at least 1,600 cotton spinning mills and many factories supplying major high street fashion brands. READ works to improve the working conditions for over 25,000 garment workers, particularly migrant workers who travel to find work in the textile sector from other Indian states including Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal. Many of the children of migrant workers end up working to supplement the family income, with few opportunities for education.
READ’s Tamil Nadu initiative has a strong focus on improving the numeracy and literacy skills of young women. It gives them access to tailoring training that helps them to secure jobs, with a year-long qualification, which is the equivalent of an A-Level in the UK. “Getting girls back into school and further education is a pathway to a better future,” says Leigh McAlea, Head of International Programmes at TRAID. “It improves their quality of life, income earning potential and self-confidence. We can’t wait to empower more girls to get into the classroom.”
Photographs by James Bannister.
Learn more about TRAID and the non-profit educational foundation Read.
TRAID is a registered charity in England and Wales (297489), partnering with Rights Education And Development Centre (READ). READ is registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act 1975.