Meeting needs of underprivileged

Provides mall-like shopping experience

Malathi, Arulmozhi and Balaji, all from lower income class, shop at Thuli in Chennai.

Thirteen-year-old Balaji always dreamt of roaming around in his locality in Thoraipakkam on the I-T corridor, clad in a faded jeans and designer round-neck t-shirt. His sister, Malathi, and her acquaintance Arulmozhi were worried about what they would wear in June when they will step into a college for the first time.

Their families don’t have enough resources to shell out thousands of rupees for stocking their wardrobe with fancy clothes. But, the trio set foot on an apparel showroom in Chennai’s upscale Adyar and shopped their favourite clothes that they could flash among their peers.

The showroom that opened its large doors to the trio is Thuli (drop), a goodwill shop for the lower income group that gives them a feeling of mall-like shopping experience without them having to shell out a penny.

Thuli is an initiative of three friends – Ajith Kumar, Shivaji Prabhakar and Jey Bala, partners in a health care support service firm--who pooled together resources to launch the unique showroom that has done away with a cash counter. The novel initiative, which was launched on February 18, has so far attracted over 2,000 people and the number is increasing every passing day.

The beneficiaries, after being referred by an NGO or someone who had collected referral form from the shop, should carry their Aadhaar card as a proof of identity while shopping. A family of four is given vouchers worth Rs 2,000 and the shop makes concession based on case-to-case basis. Every product has a price tag to ensure that the shoppers restrict themselves to their budget (voucher value).

Uma Naganathan, a volunteer, welcomes the trio with a broad smile and ushers them into the modest showroom that offers some high-quality brand clothes and accessories donated by good Samaritans. As Uma hands over vouchers worth Rs 500 each for the girls and the boy, their happiness knew no bounds.

Balaji, the youngest of all, was grinning ear to ear, looking for the faded jeans and designer t-shirt. First time inside such a showroom, Balaji stood in front of the large mirror checking whether the clothes that he has selected would fit him and he was excited when he was told he can try them in the trial room.

“Akka (sister), these clothes suit me well,” he tells his sister, pointing to the jeans and t-shirts that he picked. “The best thing about this showroom is the trial room. I had never seen trial rooms inside clothing shops in the past. I don’t have to worry whether these clothes would fit me,” Balaji says.

Malathi and Arulmozhi collect a few tops and bottoms each that they can wear to their college. “Till now, we wore uniform to the school and from June, when we go to a college, we need to wear normal dress. We are thankful to Thuli that they have not just given us clothes, but have made us feel that we have shopped them at a store,” Malathi says.

All the high quality branded clothes – shirts, jeans, trousers, sarees, churidars, tops, and salwar kameez – that are donated by people are collected at one centre and they are segregated into two categories – fit to be displayed and not fit for display. The clothes that are found to be fit are displayed at the shop only after they come from fresh laundry.

“Everyone would have sparingly used clothes at home and the first people who come to our mind is our housemaid, driver, watchman and their families. But there are thousands of people outside our house who need good clothes to wear for their workplace, but cannot afford to stretch their pocket for upgrading their wardrobe. The very idea of Thuli is to help lower income group,” Prabhakar says.

“We did not want to give away the clothes to people in person, but instead give a shopping experience to them to instil confidence that they too can wear expensive clothes,” he says.

While the clothes are donated, the trio pay rent for the showroom, electricity bill, telephone bill, salary for the store manager and other maintenance expenses from their pocket. “The collections are high and we use the services of volunteers to sort the clothes. It is a huge job and we are very happy with the response that we have received in the last two months,” Ajith says.

Once the word spread about their good work, like-minded organisations have come forward to help the novel initiative. Aloft Chennai OMR Hotel does free laundry for 1,000 clothes every month and Parveen Travels carries parcels from other cities to Chennai and vice-versa without any charge, Ajith says.

With the shop getting popular, Prabhakar and Ajith have begun scouting large premises for storing and sorting out the clothes. Majority of the 250 people that they employ either work on a holiday or stretch their working hours to sort the clothing and arranging them in the showroom.

The concept has inspired many with a Kerala-based businessman asking the trio to replicate the model in his state. “We will do whatever we can. We started off with the hope that we will be able to bring smiles on the faces of the people and when we see families come and shop, we feel happy and relaxed,” Prabhakar says.

Though the shop employs only one person, Shiva Devi, Ajith says their pillar of strength is volunteers like Uma. “I am a housewife and I spend time from 1 pm to 6 pm every day at the shop since I feel I should contribute my bit to the noble cause. I can’t express my feelings and my experience in words. I am just helping the people while they shop, but the feeling of giving something is awesome,” Uma says and adds that the shop also provides free sanitary napkins for women.

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