His Church: Charity re-uses donated counterfeit clothes

By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News

media captionSenior co-ordinator Richard Humphrey: "We can give brand new clothes that can be part of restoring someone's dignity"

Instead of handing counterfeit designer clothes to customs or trading standards to be destroyed, they are being donated to a charity for redistribution to the homeless and vulnerable. How does the scheme work?

Charity co-ordinator Richard Humphrey lifts his face and hands to the heavens and laughs as we pass a huge pile of fake Tommy Hilfiger jeans in the rebranding room of the His Church warehouse.

"I can't believe we're even getting calls from America now," he grins.

The counterfeit jeans had been bought by a French supermarket in good faith, but brand checks soon revealed they were either pirate labels or stolen stock and they had to be removed from sale.

Rather than handing the clothes to customs or trading standards authorities to burn or destroy, Tommy Hilfiger contacted His Church and asked for its help.

"When they called us from the States," smiles Richard, "They said they believed we were the 'world leaders in rebranding counterfeit clothes'. It was fantastic.

"So we went over to Belgium and picked up 1,600 pairs of fake jeans which we're now in the process of rebranding with our own logo, and then we'll be taking them down to homeless centres around the country."

'Virtuous circle'

In just six years, His Church has managed to convince 90% of British Trading Standards authorities to hand over all the fake designer clothes they seize to them.

In fact, the industrial sewing machines they now use to patch over pirated labels were recently given to them by UK customs officials, who had seized the machines from criminal gangs who were using them to create counterfeit clothing.

"It's all come round in a virtuous circle," says Richard. "It's a genuinely inspired idea which we've put into practice by faith and it's just borne fruit."

It was Buckinghamshire Trading Standards authority which first agreed to trust His Church to deal with its counterfeit hauls. Manchester, Liverpool and London followed and then West Midlands Police, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police also signed up. Customs are now on board too.

The reason is simple; it's a cost effective - and feel-good - solution.

Every year customs and trading standards spend a fortune on storing fake clothes while waiting for a court decision, and then once the items have been proved to be fake the authorities have to fork out further for incineration or landfill costs.

His Church has removed all such costs and pass on the high quality goods to some 250 homeless centres and women's shelters across the country.

Even items which are too heavily branded to be patched over with the His Church logo are not wasted.

"We have permission to send them outside the EU, often to Africa," says Richard. "But we have a duty of care and trust. We have to keep an audit trail of every single item of clothing, where it's come from, exactly where it goes - even down to a pair of underpants."

'Just do it'

image captionThe seized goods are patched over with the His Church logo

In the Lincolnshire warehouse where His Church houses its rebranding operation, the quality of the counterfeit clothes is striking - after all, the criminal gangs which made them had been hoping to pass off the sweatshirts and coats as the genuine article.

And that is good news for those who receive what His Church never terms as "hand-outs", but rather always refers to as "gifts".

"People who are rough sleeping," Amanda Ado, director of the London Spires Centre for the Homeless tells me, "rarely get anything that is brand new, or rarely get anything that feels like it's been given specifically for them. Getting something like this raises their head and makes them feel a bit better about themselves."

As she helps Richard unload his van of His Church coats, gloves and hats, she exclaims in surprise; each consignment he has brought for Spires has been gift-wrapped.

All this success has been achieved with just 30 volunteers and very little media coverage - in fact His Church doesn't even have a website. I ask Richard if it's just faith that's helped them through.

"You know," he says thoughtfully, "so many of us go through life talking about projects we're going to do and we talk and talk about them but somehow we just never quite get round to doing them."

He shrugs. "So I guess we decided to come at it from the opposite end; don't bother talking, just do it."

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