INTERVIEW

THREAD TOGETHER CEO, ANTHONY CHESLER

MAURIE + EVE’s latest alignment, Thread Together, takes textile waste and redistributes to those in need. It’s a simple concept with a big impact, and is changing the future, not only of Australian fashion, but people in crisis. Clothing defines who we are - our right to adequate clothing - and every human deserves this. Here, we talk with CEO Anthony Chesler on the organisation’s plans for wider influence, some  alarming statistics and importantly, how we can all make a difference.

M+E: In five years’ you have successfully diverted 1,200,000 items of clothing. Tell us, how did Thread Together begin – was it born more on urgency around Australia’s textile waste problem, or to help those in need, or both? What came first.

AC: Thread Together was founded in 2012 by Andie Halas who saw the potential for excess, new clothing to support people in need. By collaborating with some of Australia’s largest clothing suppliers and connecting social service agencies, Thread Together has been able to change the future of people in crisis, as well as the future lifecycle of clothing and accessories. Through Thread Together, companies with too much can give to people that have too little.

The simple idea, which Andie refers to as a redistributive justice, was conceived when Andie made a decision to donate (rather than dispose of a product) with a small production fault.

Andie took these items to the Asylum Seeker Centre in Sydney and was very troubled to see good people, who had fled situations of great danger, searching for old clothes for themselves and family.

Thread Together was conceived, and the movement was created to clothe our country whilst fighting fashion waste.

M+E: Were there any particular statistics that really propelled the birth of this organisation?

AC: Sadly, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 6 children (or 3.4 million Australians) are living below the poverty line without access to essential clothing, a basic human right; and approximately one-third of all new clothes go from factory to landfill.

M+E: What is the biggest, most harmful misconception around fashion and the environment?

AC: Misconception: There’s very little action we can take as consumers to change the fashion industry.

Truth: We, as consumers of fashion, must see each purchase as a vote for how we want the world to work and therefore our purchases give us a say in the changes we want to see in the world.

M+E: What was one of your biggest challenges faced, when setting up the organisation and how did you overcome this?

AC: The biggest challenge continues to be securing funds to support the ongoing delivery of our service.

Being a registered charity, the clothes are donated to us (from fashion brands) and provided to people in need, at no cost to them. We are entirely philanthropically funded (i.e. we don’t receive any government funding), meaning we have to raise funds to cover all costs.

For as little as $5, we can provide a new wardrobe to a person in need.

“Thread Together provides new clothing to people in need and in doing so, we also provide choice and by providing choice, it has been proven to restore dignity, and so we restore dignity to Australians in need and this empowers them to find a fresh way forward."

M+E: The fashion industry has made a considerable effort to clean up its act, so to speak, when it comes to sustainable practices, processes and fabrications. It is a long road ahead, with some of the view that while brands are still producing new garments, regularly, the industry may never be fully sustainable. What are your thoughts on this – what else can brands do to alleviate the issue?

AC: The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. And the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.

However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.

It is great to see fashion brands becoming more considered in every step of the process, especially those taking an ethical response to garment end-of-life (through donation to Thread Together).

This said, everyone has a responsibility and I think the fashion consumer can plan a much bigger role, starting with their decisions around how to spend their hard earned dollars.

So what are some of the things that we can all do?

  1. Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (i.e. more sustainable brands)
  2. Choose organic fibres and natural fibres that do not require chemicals to be produced
  3. Choose fibres with low water consumption such as linen, recycled fibres etc
  4. Think before throwing out your clothes
  5. Buy second-hand swap and rent clothes
  6. Buy less and better quality

M+E: What are some short and long-term goals for Thread Together?

  1. Maximising our social impact – we will work collaboratively to maximise the impact of our services by increasing agency access, expanding into new territories, and adding clothing hubs and additional mobile wardrobes to our fleet. We will provide new wardrobes to half a million Australians in need, in the next 2 years
  2. Minimising burden on the environment – we will grow our network of fashion partners with an increased focus on securing more frequent donations and products which are in high demand and where availability is low (e.g. socks, underwear and children’s clothes)
  3. Creating an efficient and effective operation – we will review and develop our processes and leverage technology to ensure our services function efficiently and effectively to facilitate scale
  4. Establishing the pathway to financial sustainability – we will create a sustainable funding model and ready ourselves to reduce dependency on third party supportive funds

M+E: How do you select the groups/demographics/charities that you support?

AC: We are non-judgemental and do not discriminate when it comes to need. We provide new wardrobes to thousands of people each week – without judgement and free of charge. Below is a non-exhaustive list of types of people that we support:

  • Women escaping domestic violence
  • Homeless adults
  • Youth at risk
  • New arrivals to our country seeking refuge
  • Long-term unemployed seeking equal standing when going for an interview
  • Individuals coming out of long-term mental health care
  • Indigenous communities
  • People returning to the community from incarceration
  • All those impacted by drought, bushfires, floods and now the pandemic

M+E: How does the act of repurposing unwanted stock, to supply a human in need, with warmth and comfort in clothes, change this person’s day/perspective – why is it such an effective model?

AC: The human race universally wears clothing to protect against adverse climate conditions.

Apart from the practical functions, wearing clothes carries specific cultural and social meanings and clothing has been regarded as one of the best ways to distinguish social classes, sexes, occupation, marital status and ethnic and religious affiliation.

In short, clothing helps to define who we are and the right to adequate clothing, or the right to clothing, is recognised as a human right, this together with the right to food and housing, are parts of the right to an adequate standard of living.

Thread Together provides new clothing to people in need and in doing so, we also provide choice and by providing choice, it has been proven to restore dignity, and so we restore dignity to Australians in need and this empowers them to find a fresh way forward.

M+E: For those interested in volunteering, how should they apply?

AC: People can volunteer in our fulfilment centre in Banksmeadow, Sydney, to help us sort, pick and pack. They can also support us in our clothing hubs and taking our mobile wardrobes around the country.  To volunteer with us, people can get in touch with us at [email protected]

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