- Thread Together provides vulnerable Australians with fashion clothing to help them make a fresh start.
- It diverts nearly one-third of excess manufactured clothing going to landfill each year.
- The charity is run like a business to maximise its effectiveness.
By Hannah Tattersall
In 2012, researchers Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University in the US, conducted a series of experiments to prove there’s a link between what we wear and how we think and behave.
Working with volunteers, they found that when someone put on a white lab coat they believed belonged to a doctor, their attention span increased. If they believed that same white lab coat belonged to a painter, their attention span didn’t increase at all. Psychologists have coined this ‘enclothed cognition’.
“It’s been proven that certain clothes you wear actually make you perform better,” explains Anthony Chesler CA, chief executive of Thread Together, a not-for-profit that provides people in need with new clothing donated by fashion labels.
“When an individual is released from prison, they’re given a black plastic bag with the clothes they went in with, a few hundred dollars, two nights’ accommodation and a bus ticket.
“Women who’ve left violent relationships leave with nothing,” says Chesler, adding that, according to an Australian Council of Social Service poverty report, 13% of the population is in need of essential clothing.
“The reason we’re working with new product is it’s about dignity. Just say you lost your home through fire, for example. If you were to wear second-hand clothing, it’d really remind you of the circumstances you’re in,” he says.
“Whereas if you have access to new underwear, a nice pair of trainers, T-shirts, you feel good about yourself.”
Picture: Anthony Chesler CA. Image credit: Graham Jepson.
Clothing the needy and reducing landfill
As well as clothing vulnerable Australians, Thread Together is providing an alternative destination for the nearly one-third of excess manufactured clothing that goes from factory to landfill each year.
Thread Together – founded in 2012 by Andie Halas, a former shareholder of swimwear brand Seafolly – receives donations from more than 500 fashion brand partners including P.E Nation, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, THE UPSIDE, Camilla and Marc and Carla Zampatti.
It also works with more than 500 charity partners, including Dress For Success, Fitted For Work and Ready Set, which call on Thread Together to clothe people returning to work. Offering another environmental solution, Thread Together also plans to process unwanted clothing to be used in furniture.
Joining as CEO in 2019, Chesler not only increased the number of fashion and charity partners, but more than doubled the number of Australians benefitting from the service, from 40,000 before 2019, to almost 100,000 last year.
Why this EY alumni shifted to a not-for-profit
Working in the not-for-profit space is new for Chesler, an EY alumni who eventually eschewed the Big Four career route and instead co-founded technology business PerfectMarkets in 2000.
Growing into a consultancy, PerfectMarkets was rebranded as Portland Group in 2003, acquired by global outsourcing business Infosys in 2014 and renamed Infosys Portland. Chesler led the New South Wales team, working with clients such as Commonwealth Bank and Westpac on supply chain and procurement initiatives.
Then, in 2018, he had a change of heart and spent the better part of the year reflecting on his career and personal values. “One of my biggest values is around contribution, or giving back,” he says.
“I was looking for an opportunity to help an organisation go from a start-up into a scale-up, but I wanted to know that the time I was spending was not necessarily lining shareholder value but actually helping people in need, particularly vulnerable Australians.
“A lot of people go, ‘Well, you have to be successful first to be able to give back’. I was of the belief that you can give back along the journey and you don’t have to be super successful and wait until the back end of your career to contribute,” says Chesler, who joined Thread Together at an inflection point in the company’s history, when the board was assessing its future.
“They knew there was benefit in the service they were providing, but they didn’t necessarily have the right mix of people, the right business processes, the right systems, the right infrastructure to really lavish the opportunity or salvage opportunity.”
Understanding what drives improved performance
Chesler, who emigrated to Australia from Johannesburg as a boy in the mid-1980s, believes the skills he learned as an accountant are fundamental to understanding how business is run. “It’s not just how to treat a transaction whether there’s a debit or credit, but really understanding how business operates,” he says.
“When helping businesses to improve their profitability, which is what I was doing for the first part of my career, it was very much about understanding what the drivers of performance improvement were and how to use that. And you learn that by working in large organisations as an accountant, as an auditor, through the profession – and then apply it by helping organisations.”
Chesler says that because charities are often established out of a catalytic situation in someone’s life – they may have lost a partner or a child or experienced some form of vulnerability and decided to establish a charity – they are not always run profitably or with the right skill sets.
“The sector is highly fragmented, inefficient and ineffective in the context of trying to secure funding through various channels,” he explains.
“I am using my background around driving efficiency and effectiveness in organisations – that’s exactly what we’re doing here. While this looks like it’s a charity – and it is a registered charity – it is entirely a business operation in terms of how we do it,” he says.
Picture: Chesler with Lindy Luu, a volunteer at the Thread fulfillment centre in Sydney.. Image credit: Graham Jepson.
“While this looks like it’s a charity, it is entirely a business operation in terms of how we do it.”
“So, we have warehousing, logistics, all of the things you’d expect to see in any other marketplace.”
Making Thread Together fit for the future
While historically the company has relied on philanthropy, it’s increasingly hard to fundraise. And applying for government grants distracts time from Thread Together’s key goals: to clothe more people, save more clothing from landfill, be more efficient and be financially sustainable.
Chesler is eager to work with more commercial and corporate partners – perhaps even the Big Four.
“We are saying to our fashion brands, help us to use the network effect of your customer base to contribute back to us,” he says.
“So, for every sale that P.E Nation makes online, they contribute a dollar to Thread Together. And every transaction that goes through Afterpay – and there’s millions of transactions going through – their customers can elect to add a dollar to their cart at check-out at different times of the year.
“Doing something that you know is making a difference to someone else’s life, there’s a sense of fulfilment in that.
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