Celebrating Women: Interview with Tracey Gilmore (The Clothing Bank)

Celebrating Women: Interview with Tracey Gilmore (The Clothing Bank)

To commemorate the 9th of August 1956, and to celebrate all women, Maven is asking four incredible South African women a few questions. Let's inspire and learn from one another. 


Interview #1: Tracey Gilmore is the COO and Co-Founder of The Clothing Bank.

1. There are many challenges facing women in South Africa today. Which ones have you been thinking about the most lately?

Moms want to provide safe spaces and quality educational opportunities for their children to thrive. Our unemployment problems put a lot of pressure on women entrepreneurs, their financial responsibilities go way beyond their immediate families. The level of emotional and financial support they offer can be overwhelming and distracting. Work life balance is a real challenge.

2. Was there a specific trigger that took The Clothing Bank from being an idea, to being an actual organisation? Perhaps a moment, a person, or something you experienced?

My mother and I started a handweaving business in 2000. I could see the potential for the business but in hindsight I now understand that I didn’t have enough business knowledge to make it work. I had gained a passion for working with women and providing them with real opportunities and was upset by the decision we had to make to close down the weaving business. I tried to link our weavers with alternative jobs and my motivation for starting the programme was built on my frustration at the lack of employment opportunities available for marginalised under resourced women. TCB was birthed out of a conversation Tracey (fellow co-founder) and I had about the amount of excess stock there is to be found within the retail supply chain and how we could use the stock as a tool to teach unemployed women how to run sustainable businesses and earn a decent income. The support we received from our very first interaction with one of SA’s biggest retailers was the spark that ignited our success.

3. When a privileged South African asks: “How can I help?” What do you say?

What motivates you and what skills and resources do you have to offer. We are open to hearing thoughts and suggestions.

4. Which women have inspired you and why?

Vivienne Schultz from the A2B movement inspired us by explaining that in order to build an eco-system for change we need to do the self-work by identifying what triggers our primitive brain response and what elements of our hardwires need to be worked on. So many women have inspired us over the years, how women take the time to heal, learn and grow changes lives. Safe social spaces create SISTERHOOD.  

5. I imagine you are faced with logistical, intellectual and emotional challenges running The Clothing Bank. When you feel overwhelmed or like you are losing focus or control, what do you do?

We are a team of women with very different strengths. This allows us to support each other and share our ideas. Our culture is built on care and growth. It is important to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Our power partnerships with various stakeholders encourage us to reach out and ask for advice and tap into the various skills needed to keep moving forward. We often refer to the term faith over fear!

6. What purchase in the last 6-12 months (for under R1,000) has positively impacted your life? (Anything. It can be fun and silly or more philosophical and serious.)

Catering for our teams and eating lunch together as a team is so powerful.  We sometimes giggle about how cake is our employee wellness strategy 😊

7. What advice would you give to a woman who wanted to start their own business?

Having a clear vision of your end result and identifying what structures need to be in place to make it happen are critical. Collaborating with people and organisations who share your values and support your mission help entrepreneurs leapfrog their growth. Build your brand and understand that change is inevitable. Creating an environment focussed on care and growth helps build a strong team of committed individuals who share the organisations vision and are clear about the intended outcomes. Stay connected, build networks, and continuously self-reflect.

8. In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

We are all equal and adequate, and the tap root of success is responsibility. We have to respond to life’s challenges and opportunities by picking up the tools. I have always taken to the least resistant route and always tried to avoid conflict. I have had to work on myself and build the courage to be brave enough to confront situations in a less anxious way. 

9. What is your most treasured second hand item (clothing / furniture / book etc) and where did it come from?

Beautiful letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother during the second world war. I have framed them.


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