This month, every day, we will be tracking some of the lives of the extraordinary women who have attended this school. Meet our fourteenth inspirational woman, Tracey Chambers.
Tracey Chambers, together with her co founder of The Clothing Bank, Tracey Gilmore, is an award winner of the SCHWAB Foundation for Social Entrepreneuship. They are also the winners of two prestigious Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards (PERA) for their work in empowering women and building inclusive lives through entrepreneurship. Appearing in The Cape Times recently, the headline read: She's changing the world. Her name is Tracey Chambers.
The inspiration for this extraordinary work arose from a relationship Tracey had with Beauty Cekiso, who only started working at age 50, after she became a widow. To make ends meet, Beauty sold avocados on the side of the road before she came to work for Tracey. Twice a year, Tracey would clean out her wardrobe and give Beauty the clothes to sell to make some extra money, and was surprised at how much money she would get for the second-hand clothes. This got Tracey thinking about the informal clothing market in the townships.
Tracey qualified as a chartered accountant from UCT enjoyed a very successful career for 15 years. She held various positions from management consulting to systems implementation, supply chain projects and eventually ended up at Woolworths as Head of Finance. As a monther of three, she found it difficult to balance her work and home life and despite have achieved much success, materially and careerwise, felt unfulfilled. After much soul searching and incredible support from her family, she decided in 2008 to jump off the corporate ladder. The only thing that she knew at this stage was that she wanted to make a difference, and to live a life of purpose.
During this year, Tracey Gilmore (co-founder) and Tracey connected through a mutual friend. Tracey Gilmore asked her for help with a project she was working on. Out of that first meeting, The Clothing Bank was born. They call it divine intervention. The timing was right: Tracey knew that she wanted to teach, mentor and pass on some her business experience. She also knew that there were millions of items of clothing that retailers didn't know what to do with, and through their networks a solution could be found. Tracey knew that there were millions of uneducated, suffering impoverished women/mothers who needed alternatives to formal employment.
And so their journey began. They had a very strong vision and enormous passion. With hard work, significant support from personal friends and families, big corporates and government agencies, the doors of The Clothing Bank (a garage at the back of an orphanage in Salt River) were opened in February 2010. With very little substance and miminal infrastructure, but unfailing vision and faith, the first group of 10 women joined the programme. Tracey describes the trickling in of the first few boxes as feeling “like Christmas.”
At the core of the success of their work is the bond of sisterhood created through a shared vision, shared triumphs and celebrations and mutual support. The Clothing Bank (TBC) has gone beyond the original idea, and now includes four projects supporting the original vision. Tracey comments that she has been transformed by the women who have crossed her path, and is inspired by their courage and strength. The lack of fulfilment previously felt has been replaced with spiritual purpose, and immense joy and gratitude at being part of an incredible team.
Central to the encouragement Tracey hopes that we would get from this inspiring and remarkable story is that we adopt the attitude and belief that we can, and strive to live lives of purpose.