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Sheets For Shirts

This is the story of how one woman and a hotel group have uplifted a community by repurposing hotel sheets into school shirts for disadvantaged children.

Seeing a long-held dream come to fruition is probably one of the most precious experiences.

The inspiring Danolene Johanessen, a Cape Town woman with an eye for clothing design, realised her dream when she was able to set up a permanent workshop to produce a clothing line, using the skills of unemployed women from her community.

Danolene Johanessen

Danolene Johanessen

Through the support of the South African arm of Marriott International, the world’s largest hospitality group, Johanessen has set up Restore SA Pty Ltd, which runs a sewing workshop and online clothing retail operation, offering permanent employment to 10 women.

A Long-Standing Relationship 

Establishing this social enterprise came after a few years of involvement with Marriott International.

Josie Lyon, vice president of Marriott International, explains that Marriott supported the non-profit organisation (NPO) Royal Kidz, that Johanessen had previously set up, for three years as part of the company’s corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives.

“We partnered with the organisation to provide school uniforms and school shoes to children from disadvantaged homes for various Mandela Day initiatives. We allocated funding to Royal Kidz to make uniforms, and then some of the staff of our local hotels took the uniforms to the schools.”

For projects like these, Johanessen brought in unemployed women who had previously worked as seamstresses, but this offered them work on an ad hoc basis only.

Women hard at work making shirts from sheets

From Sheets to Shirts

Things moved forward considerably in the last two years, largely as a result of two factors. Firstly, through a focus by local hotels on what could be done with old bed linen, the idea was born to use sheets to make school shirts.

“This makes a great deal of sense,” says Lyon. “When bed linen can no longer be used for guests, it is used to make shirts for children. Just one king-sized sheet is big enough to manufacture five school shirts, and with a steady supply from 10 Cape Town hotels, Johanessen was able to supply our CSI initiative, dubbed ‘Sheets for Shirts’, with large volumes of shirts that are given to children at particular Western Cape schools.”

An Entrepreneur To Invest In

Later, Marriott was also looking for a suitable business initiative to support in line with its enterprise and supplier development strategy under the BEE Codes. The company had to identify an entrepreneur in whom it could invest, as well as a supporting supplier.

“Having worked with Danolene on the CSI projects and knowing of her dream, we decided that a new business venture run by her could meet the requirements of the BEE Codes,” Lyon says.

Sheets for shirts

“During 2018 we allocated R1,2 million for the initial set-up costs of Restore SA Pty Ltd, which is 100% owned by Danolene. In terms of the arrangements for the business, 40% of the profits made by this social enterprise company must be retained for Royal Kidz and its uniform project.”

Ongoing Support

Marriott is now also identifying ways to provide additional business to Restore SA to ensure its sustainability in future, such as the manufacturing of conference bags, as well as fabric laundry bags to replace plastic ones.

Making shirts from used hotel sheets

This initiative showcases what ingenuity and imaginative thinking can achieve in the business world.

“Ultimately, the purpose of Enterprise and Supplier Development is to create new enterprises which support jobs and the transformation of the economy,” says Lyon. “After all, there is no point in writing a cheque for R1,2 million and walking away.”

Words by Bonny Feldman

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