Thank you! · спасибо! (Spasibo!)· Rusia

Spasibo! collects used clothes in Saint Petersburg and redistributes them to those in need or sells them to be able to sustain its project and support other social initiatives.

Saint Petersburg, Russia  
Website  
Photo by: Emilia Szekely

Spasibo! collects used clothes in Saint Petersburg and redistributes them to those in need or sells them to be able to sustain its project and support other social initiatives.

Context

After oil, the textile industry is the second most polluting in the world (see here). It is also estimated that 15% of the fabric used to make clothes is wasted at the time of its manufacture. Despite this, production has doubled in recent years due to a dynamic of consumption in which people wear their clothes almost half the time than they used to do and in addition, more than 70% of these end up burned or thrown in landfills, while only less than 1% is recycled.

This situation, absurd due to the misuse of resources and profoundly unethical, considering the number of people who cannot satisfy their clothing needs while there is so much waste, has led several companies and social organizations to devise alternative models of consumption, more fair and more ecological.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

Spasibo!’s proposal

According to Spasibo!, people give away 5% of the clothes they no longer want to their friends, 5% donate it to people who need it, and throw away the other 90% http://spasiboshop.org/about/faq/. For this reason, since 2014 it has taken the task of collecting clothing donations in 120 containers that it has located in different parts of the city of Saint Petersburg. Spasibo! considers that its work model is a version of what is known as circular economy: part of what it collects is redistributed to social organizations that serve populations that can benefit from these clothes. Another is recycled. And another one, most of it, is sold in one of its 7 charity shops. Part of the profits from these sales are used to ensure the operation of its organization and part to financially support various social projects (such as Nochlezhka).

“A charity store is a sustainable social system that has been operating in the UK, America, Australia and other countries for over 70 years. Since 2010, charity shops have appeared in Russia. The main common task of charity shops is to turn good things, but unnecessary for one people, into a useful resource for other people. The goals in the charity shops in different countries are similar, but the schemes are slightly different” (Spasibo!’s Website).

Escalation

To ensure that its support towards other initiatives has the greatest possible impact, Spasibo! carefully reviews that the organizations it supports demonstrate a good reputation, at least 3 years of existence and, above all, that their project seeks to solve problems from their roots, that is, that it is building an alternative reality.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

In the case of clothing donations, and as a result of past experiences of abuse, Spasibo! not only carefully reviews the applicants’ profile, but it has also prepared a format with which it assesses the veracity of their need and their intentions.

Another way in which Spasibo! supports other charitable organizations is by helping them sell their products or souvenirs in its stores.

Spasibo! claims to be the first organization to introduce this model in Saint Petersburg. As its success attracted the interest of many groups interested in replicating its initiative, Spasibo! devoted itself for a time to guiding them in the spirit of scaling its project. However, only 10% of the organizations managed to survive and several of them with very different ethical principles than its own.

Therefore, to better capitalize its time and resources, Spasibo! decided to better start an incubator project with which it supported various organizations interested in following its model. But this one also failed, since only 2% of them made it.

So it decided to change its strategy. Although it still prepared online guidance materials so that organizations interested in replicating its initiative could continue to take advantage of its accumulated experience and know-how, the escalation model that it now has chosen is that of franchises.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

To do this, it has hired an expert team in this system and with its advice has systematized its model, emphasizing its original elements (differentiators) to be able to patent it, and has designed a 5-year plan with specific objectives to develop franchises. Since similar strong organizations already exist in Moscow, Spasibo! will most likely start by installing the first franchises in Nizhny Nodgorov and Kazan.

Internal organization and financial sustainability

Spasibo! is registered as a company, because in Russia there is no figure of social enterprise, and although the figure of company prevents it from having specific benefits from the government, that of a non-governmental organization would not have allowed it to have enough profits to financially maintain its project in a sustainable way, much less to support other social initiatives, which are its main objectives (charitable organizations can only obtain 30% of their resources from sales).

The truth is that Spasibo!’s financial sustainability model is like that of a social enterprise. On the one hand, it operates as a civil organization supporting other development initiatives, and this attracts not only its clothing donors but also a part of its clients who trust in its trajectory and therefore consume from it. But at the same time Spasibo! has managed to create a fashionable brand image of the city of Saint Petersburg that attracts another good part of its clientele that does not even know about its social projects (it found out about this with a market study it did to its clients).

Spasibo! does not receive government aid. 80% of the clothing sold in its stores comes from collection containers, which it carefully places in places protected from weather hazards to ensure their longest duration (shopping centers, offices, etc.). This clothing is fixed and sold at very competitive prices as compared with the traditional market. Part of the profits are used to buy the other 20% of its merchandise: very cheap clothes that Spasibo! buys in other stores and resells with a slight added value.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

A further portion of the profits goes to cover its operating expenses, the organizational development of Spasibo! (including expenses for its escalation plans, such as hiring the team of experts to develop the franchises), the purchase of clothing donation containers and equipment for its stores, and the installation of new branches.

Nowadays it also spends part of its earnings on advertising, but it shares that when it did not have enough income to pay for these services, what it did was bet on public relations: it attended many festivals, conferences and television programs to achieve free advertising. In these efforts it has succeeded in attracting donors by sharing messages geared towards the common good and customers by projecting a fashionable image.

Finally, Spasibo! allocates part of its profits to support other organizations. This is done either through direct clothing donations, or through funding it manages through a stability fund. The stability fund allows it to guarantee supports agreed with social initiatives, even if in the last year it has not done well in its sales (and cover operating expenses if necessary). It also makes it less vulnerable to the fluctuations in the market and the influx of donations.

For being a company that gains profits, Spasibo! does not work with volunteers and rather seeks to consolidate its 80 employees, including the directing board. For the same reason, it does not close its doors to monetary donations but it does not seek them either, and rather tries to attract investors. In fact, only once did it receive a donation that helped it further consolidate its financial self-sustainability. It was a man who donated money to the initiative in exchange for a temporary action in the company. This money was invested in buying a recycling machine that has not only saved Spasibo! the costs of hiring recycling services from other companies, but has also helped it to generate extra income. The donation was also invested in opening new stores. When the donation money was recovered thanks to these investments, Spasibo! returned it to the donor and the latter returned his action, pleased that the organization made good use of his support.

Photo by: Emilia Szekely

For being registered as a company, Spasibo! has to officially adopt a hierarchical structure, and its CEO must take legal responsibility. However, in its daily work, its board is organized rather with a cooperative administration scheme in which its 10 members meet at least once a month to distribute the tasks in commissions and make decisions democratically (such as who to donate, for example), all based on five-year plans and objectives.