Pass It On Clothing and Co: Sydney couple sets up clothing racks for the city's homeless
Sydney based couple Olga Puga and Chris Vagg never imagined a simple wardrobe cull could enable them to make a difference in the lives of the city’s homeless. About three years ago, after a wardrobe clean up, the couple decided to donate their unused garments to charity. However, on doing research, Chris (45) found that traditional second-hand charity shops sell their best clothes for profit, while torn and unkempt garments are passed on to the needy. Olga and Chris soon realised that this was the norm among most charity shops and the couple, to ensure that donated items went directly to those who needed them, started Pass It On Clothing and Co. A social enterprise, Pass It On collects clean and well-maintained apparel and shoes from businesses and donates them to the homeless of Sydney and Gosford, without any monetary transactions.
In the last two and a half years, Pass It On has provided over 50,000 pieces of clothing to almost 6,000 homeless people in Sydney and Gosford.
TAL caught up with Olga (40), who is also a stylist, to learn more about the initiative, the inspirations and challenges behind it and the couple’s future plans for it.
What prompted you to start Pass It On? Also, please tell us about the initial days, was it an easy process to set up the operations?
The idea stemmed from a wardrobe cull that I did for Chris; he had too many unused clothes which we wanted to donate. However, he wanted to do some research before settling on a charity and eventually found out that many donated clothes in second-hand retail shops run by charities were used for commercial purposes. He wanted his clothes to go to those who couldn’t afford to pay for them and did not find a charity that would facilitate this activity. Thus, the idea for Pass It On Clothing and Co was born. We then partnered with Orange Sky Laundry, an Australian based social enterprise providing showering and laundry services to the homeless.
With their assistance, we put up clothing racks in Sydney and Gosford to ensure that those experiencing homelessness had the same dignity of choice that you and I have at a traditional retail shop. We set up clothing racks every Tuesday in Martin Place, Sydney and on Wednesdays in Kibble Park, Gosford.
How do you ensure the quality of the clothes that come to you for donations?
We make sure the clothes are laundered and have no rips, stains or tears. Just because the clothes are meant for the homeless, doesn’t mean they have to be in their worst condition. On the contrary, we believe they deserve the best, just like you and I. There’s no point donating a garment that is in terrible shape, after all, we are all human beings. We get perfect second-hand clothes in good conditions as well as new items with tags still on them.
How did you manage to create awareness about your endeavour among the homeless of Sydney and Gosford? Was it easy to get them interested in the initiative or were they sceptical?
We partnered with Orange Sky Laundry, who had been working in this space for about two years, so we just tagged on to their service locations. They provide laundry and shower services to our homeless friends.
Our friends weren't sceptical but surprised that they could get clothes without paying for it and with no strings attached. We know they love the ability to choose what they like as choice is scarce in this space.
I also use my skills as a stylist to provide styling tips to them. They love to interact and talk stying and fashion like any other person. They also ask my opinion on mixing and matching their outfits and choosing the items that best suit them.
In the last two and a half years of being operational, you must have listened to and interacted with numerous homeless people. Do you recall any incident that particularly emotional and touching?
We've had so many moments of impact that to name just one would be difficult. However, it is uplifting and motivating to see people who visit our services every week leave with smiles on their faces and in a better frame of mind. We love the gratitude we receive from those we help; it's genuine and heartfelt!
How do you go about collecting clothes for donations? How can people get in touch with you to donate their clothes?
We offer businesses the opportunity to subscribe to our collection service through our 100 Club Program; email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for information. We don't cater to individual donations.
Since the clothes are donated to the homeless free of charge, we fund our operating costs through our 100 Club Corporate Program that offers subscriptions, clothing bins, team building days, keynote speaking and executive leadership and culture programs.
What kind of challenges have you encountered so far, and how did you overcome them?
We face similar challenges that any start-up faces from funding to getting our systems and process right. It has been a very steep learning curve, dealing with people with a broad range of issues. We overcome our challenges by treating people humanely, with dignity and making them feel comfortable.
As someone who works closely with the homeless, do you feel there is much apathy among the general population towards them? How do you think, in our own way, can we create a more equitable society?
There is a huge misconception, and lack of understanding about those experiencing homelessness. At Pass It On we follow a mantra, “homeless not hopeless." The only difference between them and us is that we have a safe place to go to at night.
We're all humans wanting to love, be loved and have a comfortable life. We think to create an equal society, people need to be educated about the socio-economic issues surrounding us. Through our 100 Club programme we are trying to create more awareness among businesses about important issues like homelessness.
What are your plans for the future with regards to Pass It On?
We want to grow and help more people at our outreach services, and establish and manage an end to end facility that takes people from outreach to sustainable housing and employment in 100 days.
Follow Pass It On on Facebook.