Counterfeit clothes raise cash for charity

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Media captionThe Cyrenian's Refreshed fashion project was showcased at an event in Coventry

Counterfeit goods are usually destroyed after they have been seized by trading standards officials.

This is perfectly understandable when products such as contraband cigarettes and alcohol are known to be hazardous to health, but some people might think it's somewhat wasteful when good fabric used in garments could be recycled.

Mike Fowler of the Coventry Cyrenians took his cue from an initiative in Wales, where one trading standards authority gave counterfeit clothing to church groups which, after removing the labels, handed them out to homeless people - but he took the idea further.

Image caption Fake clothes can look deceptively like the real thing but they encourage criminal activities

Mr Fowler's charity provides housing for homeless people and gets the majority of its funding from government contracts, together with the rental payments from the accommodation it offers.

After lengthy negotiations, he persuaded his local authority to let the Cyrenians have any confiscated clothing.

Under the agreement the charity has with the trading standards department, all seized clothing must be kept under lock and key, to prevent it from ever reaching the streets.

Boots to bag

All the trademarks and logos on the clothing have to be removed. Those logos are then returned to the trading standards officials as part of a strict audit procedure.

Hamish Simmonds, head of regulatory services in the city, says part of his role is to educate consumers.

"The public must realise that buying counterfeit goods is supporting organised crime," he says. "Criminals who make these products move in the same circle as drug dealers and people traffickers."

The confiscated clothes are taken to Coventry University where fashion students refashion the debranded garments and turn them into other products - a pair of Ugg boots for example, might become a handbag.

The new products are then tagged with a Refreshed label and will be sold in a shop the Cyrenians will be opening in November.

Angela Armstrong, the programme leader for fashion and fashion accessories at the university, refers to the rebranding process as "upcycling".

Image caption Students remove tags, logos, and even buttons if they feature a branded name

"It teaches students so much about the fashion industry and the damaging effects of counterfeiting across the globe."

But because the students' timetable is already packed, work on the counterfeit clothes can be tacked into the current modules. Students are assessed for the research and design that goes into making the new articles.

Not surprisingly, she is very vociferous about the detrimental effect counterfeit clothing has on the fashion industry.

"Every time counterfeit clothes are sold, that is a hit on the big design companies and then they cannot employ people to work for them," she says.

"A lot of counterfeit goods are made in factories across the globe which do not have the standards of manufacture that legitimate companies have to demonstrate in order to be ethical.

"Such goods are made in backstreet factories with children working all kinds of hours for very little."

Everyone a winner

Mr Fowler encourages the former homeless people his charity works with to become involved with the rebranding project.

"The garments will be sold in the shop we are opening shortly," he says, "and that will enable our clients who work there to get first and second level qualifications for a retail NVQ (national vocational qualification).

Ehsia Mall, 17, was involved from the beginning of the project, when she was asked to help advise with what the shop should look like, what it should sell, and what music should be playing.

"I am getting a sense of achievement, gaining new skills by the day," she says.

"I have meetings with older people, I am getting customer service skills," she says, adding: "The skills that you get from actually working are different from those taught at school."

Bronagh Stephenson insists that after she began doing some voluntary work on the project, it boosted her confidence.

"I am a different person to what I was a year ago. I wouldn't leave the house and had anxiety attacks," she says.

She is hoping that her volunteer work will lead to a paid job afterwards.

Mr Fowler says that for many of his clients, their volunteer work is the first time they have ever felt a sense of achievement.

"It raises their self-esteem," he says.

All the money earned by selling the rebranded clothes will be ploughed straight back into the project.

"If makes money all well and good, and if this project succeeds then it might encourage other groups to use the same model elsewhere," he adds.

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