Our Circle initiatives are guided by a simple belief: that we have a responsibility to care for our clothes and the people who make them. Through free mending services, swapping events, and most recently, our efforts to rehome preloved pieces with TOAST Reworn, we work to keep well-crafted pieces in circulation.
UK charity TRAID is dedicated to acting on this shared sentiment, collecting unwanted clothing to reuse, resell and raise funds to fight global poverty. Beyond preventing textiles from going to landfill by selling them in TRAID’s charity shops, the organisation also tackles harmful practices in garment manufacturing overseas. Since its launch in 1999, it has improved the conditions of over 650,000 workers, reduced the use of pesticides in the fashion industry, rescued countless children from forced labour, and so much more.
When we launched TOAST Reworn earlier this year, we committed to supporting this vital cause. With each sale of a previously loved or past-collection item, 10% of the revenue is donated to TRAID – specifically, it aids the charity’s work with READ (Rights Education and Development). Based in Tamil Nadu, South India, this non-profit aims to end the exploitation of Dalit and tribal youth in spinning mills and factories. The term ‘Dalit’ translates to ‘oppressed’, ‘broken’ or ‘crushed’, and is used to refer to social groups at the lowest stratum of the Hindu caste society. TRAID backs an initiative to build numeracy and literacy skills in the area’s young female population, providing educational scholarships and tailored training which assists them in securing jobs.
This project ties into the charity’s larger focus on international development. TRAID’s funding is committed to projects improving conditions in the fashion industry and focusses on key themes including improving conditions for garment labourers with a focus on dignity, respect and sufficient income; reducing the use of pesticides in cotton processing; and bettering children’s rights while providing alternative paths for young women. READ’s compatible goals made it the perfect partner charity to join forces with.
Karuppusamy Raman was inspired to set up READ in 2000 after witnessing the widespread exploitation of children in his region, Tamil Nadu. This Indian state is a major manufacturing hub, home to approximately 18,000 textile factories and garment processing units supplying brands in Europe, Britain and the United States. Of the 80% female workforce, 60 to 65% are between the ages of 15 to 25, and very few are legally registered, leaving them vulnerable to unjust treatment and the withholding of payment.
As one of the first in his village to attend university, Karuppusamy became involved with social development during his studies, organising rallies and collaborating with local charities. But his sights were set on something even more impactful. “I felt we needed to start an NGO in my region as there was nothing of its kind existing to support the community,” he says.
When TRAID partnered with READ, Karuppusamy’s ambitions for the foundation swiftly grew. “TRAID’s support over the last ten years has been critical in our ongoing work and intervention at community level, government level and across the wider textile industry,” he reflects. One of the most significant benefits has been the contribution to READ’s education scholarships. It costs just £90 to fund a year-long training programme for one individual, equipping them with a qualification similar to a British A-Level. So far, TOAST Reworn has raised enough to cover five full scholarships for 2024.
Anandhi, a 16-year-old girl from Maranoor, a village in Tamil Nadu, knows first-hand the value of this project. After her father passed away from a sudden heart attack, the family was left desperate and Anandhi dropped out of school to begin working at a local mill. Allocated ten-hour shifts without scheduled breaks, she was tasked with cleaning workspaces to remove dust; with no mask provided, she endured frequent coughing and sneezing fits. All the while, her supervisor showered her with verbal abuse, humiliating her in front of colleagues.
Anandhi was introduced to READ by her mother and was soon recommended as a beneficiary by her peers. The scholarship covered her bus fare, uniform expenses and textbooks, and within a year, Anandhi had completed the highest level of high school education in India. Without READ, she would likely be suffering the effects of long-term dust inhalation.
Similarly, Pavithra from Ambedkar Nagar turned to the gruelling garment industry when her family was struggling to make ends meet. Here, she experienced discrimination for the first time. A van was sent to transport workers to the factory, but it refused to enter Dalit villages. Also known as the ‘untouchables’, members of Dalit communities have been marginalised throughout history. Because she belonged to the Dalit population, Pavithra was rarely allowed a seat in the van.
Where she once spent her days in front of a sewing machine, suffering from neck and knee pain, Pavithra is now studying to become a software engineer. Having received an initial scholarship from READ, she plans to carry on with her education until she achieves this goal.
These stories motivate READ to continue growing. In its next chapter, the NGO will focus on expanding its educational resources. “READ is working on setting up a state-level centre for interstate migrants,” Karuppusamy explains. “The centre will provide education and healthcare for migrants and their children.”
As READ implements these initiatives on the other side of the world, since October, we have donated £912.60 through TOAST Reworn and the TOAST Circle Pop-Up events programme, funding the cost of ten full scholarships for next year. In addition, we have sent 584 kilograms of ‘well-worn’ textiles to the sorting centre, 60% of which have been sold in TRAID charity shops in the UK. The unsaleable pieces were either recycled or reused. By selling 205 donated TOAST pieces TRAID has generated £5,100 revenue which will be used to move its mission forward.
From donating your clothing to giving an item a new life through TOAST Reworn, getting involved is easy and the results are measurable. “Clothing collections, partnerships and the sorting and selling of clothes raise the funds,” says Leigh McAlea, Head of International Programmes at TRAID. She notes that the positives are tangible closer to home, too. “The work has powerful benefits, providing jobs here in the UK for a better, more sustainable fashion system.”
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.
Photography by James Bannister, and courtesy of TRAID.