Fashion

The Street Store: Homeless People Need Love Too (And Clothing)

We’re hoping this brilliant concept catches fire globally. The first free clothing pop-up store for the homeless, here’s how they did it.

Interview by Lora Wiley- lora@citzenbrooklyn.com Photos courtesy of The Street Store
Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

Interview with Kayli Vee Levitan, Founder, The Street Store
Citizen Brooklyn: The Street store is a collaborative effort. Tell us how it came to be.
We, Kayli Levitan and Max Pazak, are a team at an advertising agency called M&C Saatchi Abel. We work in a very hip and trendy part of Cape Town. Restaurants, designer stores, hotels and more line the streets. But on the other hand, homelessness is a huge problem in the area. From our office balcony we see the haves and the have-nots walk the streets. They see each other every day but they don’t “meet”. You’re often told not to just give to the homeless, as you don’t know what they’ll do with the donation. People are also sometimes ignorant as to where to take donations, or are weary of shelters, as they haven’t been exposed to that kind of living before. We needed a middle ground, somewhere easy to donate and, most importantly, a place to give dignity to those who have none.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: How exactly does it work?
The Street Store is made up of a series of five posters. They can quite literally pop-up in any community that the store is needed. People bring their donations, which they “hang up” on our posters with a hanger design. And then “drop” shoes and accessories into our boxes. Shop assistants then help the homeless have a full shopping experience.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: Who came up with the great idea of the posters that function like hangars?
Close to our office is a homeless shelter called The Haven. Max thought it would be great to promote them by hanging clothes through a poster—informing people that they could take donations there. Kayli then thought that rather than just tell people what to do, it would be more beneficial to engage with them. And if the clothes were already hanging through the posters, why couldn’t people just take them! So while we were able to give The Haven exposure and all the excess clothing (there were SO many donations made), we also helped people on the street and gave those who wanted to donate an easy way of doing so.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: Describe the purpose of open sourcing the store’s branding/designs.
Our aim was to help people. But, what is the point of helping people if you only help a select few. We knew that we couldn’t change the world—not on our own, at least. So, by open sourcing all our files, designs and a full how-to guide, we, with the help of anyone from around the world, are able to create change in a much bigger way than even we thought possible.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: How do you procure and curate the clothing and accessories?
We call for donations prior to the event on social media. We were, and still are, overwhelmed by how supportive people have been. How they have messaged, tweeted, Facebooked and more—just to help us spread the word.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: How do you limit the amount of merchandise one person can take?
Each person was allowed to create an outfit of three items plus an accessory. They could choose whatever they needed (as long as we had it at the time) as some didn’t want shirts, for example, and rather took three pairs of pants, while some took a dress, shoes and a jacket. It was up to them! For most it was the first time they ever had a choice. Something that most of us take for granted every day. If someone came through with a baby or young child, there weren’t really any limits. We gave the children as much as possible.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: What are some of the most popular items?
SHOES! Shoes are a big thing—because they aren’t a big donation. Also, as there are way more men on the street than women, we were constantly struggling to keep up with demand of men’s clothing.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: The volunteers who staff the store offer fashion advice to the customers. Are they trained professionals or is this done on a more informal, friendly basis?
Our store assistants were actually from The Haven. Some were residents who gained work experience to add to their CVs. Others were their fieldworkers who were able to explain to the homeless how The Haven works. They found some missing people who were literally taken there and then into rehab, and a few homeless were even accepted into the shelter to live. We also obviously worked at the store and we even had people come through to make donations and they ended up staying to volunteer for a while. You forget how kind people can be!

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: What is the homeless situation in Cape Town?
In South Africa, most of the poor live in townships, but some can’t even afford to live there and they end up on the streets. Some may even choose to leave a township if there was a gang after them or if they had caused some sort of rift in the community. It is a very nuanced and complicated part of society—but aren’t we all?

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: Other than the obvious, what do you see as the biggest problem facing homeless people in overcoming their situation?
Once you’re stuck in a situation, how do you get out? We met a woman who used to be a caretaker for the elderly. The person she was caring for passed away, and she was out of a job. She was on the hunt for a new job and her cellphone got stolen. Without a phone she wasn’t able to get in touch with people about new jobs and she missed a month’s rent. Things spiraled and suddenly she found herself homeless with absolutely nowhere to go. It is very, very difficult to get off the street. People don’t take you seriously. People ignore you. And often, and it is terrible, people seem to forget that you are human. That was something very important to us. We didn’t take ANY donations before the day, because we wanted The Street Store to be a meeting place for two sides of society that never meet. We wanted people to get talking, and even more importantly, understanding each other. Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying that the haves are bad people. There are homeless people out there who aren’t such great people themselves—and that makes it difficult for the haves to be trusting. We wanted to get people together, to remember that we are all human beings—and they did.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: In doing this work have you seen misconceptions about homeless people?
YES! While some may be criminals, so many are people who found themselves in tough situations. Life threw them a curveball and they couldn’t escape. There are also others who came to the city to find work, leaving a home and a family behind—and couldn’t find a job. They now have no money to get back. There are so many reasons why people are on the street—some good, some bad—but none worth ignoring.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: How has this experience changed you?
At the first store, we’ll admit that we were a bit weary of some of the homeless. It is understandable though—difference is sometimes hard to understand. But, with learning and spending time together, so comes understanding. By the second store we spent so much more time talking to people, hearing their stories and getting to know them.

Courtesy of The Street Store

Courtesy of The Street Store

CBK: Where do you envision this project heading in the next five years?
We sincerely hope that Street Stores begin popping up all over the world. We’ve had hundreds of requests already—they started coming before we had even done our first store! We think that this is a new way of helping people, and we want others to get involved too. We also think that it can shift the thinking of other organizations, to move into a more open-source way of working.

CBK: If one were to open a Street Store here in NYC, what’s the best way to start?
Go to www.thestreetstore.org, take the pledge, fill in your details and you will get a step-by-step guide! Remember to also follow us on Twitter @TheStreetStore and on Facebook

2 Responses to “The Street Store: Homeless People Need Love Too (And Clothing)”

  1. KJ says:

    What date did this interview take place?

    • Septi says:

      My sister-in-law found hrseelf in the same position once and discovered that church groups will give [in addition to groceries] vouchers to cover part of the utilities. But, that’s Houston. Hope you get the job!