Michelle Jennings founded Ripple in early 2023 in response to social and environmental issues around clothing. Aotearoa New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the Western world. Often this means families can’t afford to buy good clothing and footwear. At the same time, Kiwis send about 100,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill each year. That’s about 44kg per person. Michelle, like many other parents, saw that as a waste of valuable resources. Dumping clothing in landfill also creates carbon emissions.
Ripple is an Auckland-based social enterprise that collects unwanted and outgrown children’s clothing nationwide (from newborn to 12 years) from businesses, families and schools, as well as excess inventory from retailers. The clothes are sorted and put into Gear Box clothing parcels. The parcels are distributed to children in need via referrals from Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children, Women’s Refuge and Middlemore Neonatal Unit. Each Gear Box clothes a child for a year.
Collected clothing that isn’t good enough to gift is passed on to Ripple’s community of repair, repurpose and recycling partners.
In its first 10 months, Ripple collected more than 9,000 clothing items and distributed 130 Gear Boxes. Ripple’s initiatives prevented more than 480 kilograms of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.
Early on, Michelle promoted Ripple on the Circular Economy Directory. Another Directory lister, ImpacTex Textile Recycling (formerly Upparel) saw what Michelle was doing and put her in contact with Downer Group.
“Thanks to the Circular Economy Directory, we have been able to connect with like-minded people and companies like Downer Group, that we would otherwise not have crossed paths with,” says Michelle.
Downer Group was already partnering with ImpacTex Textile Recycling to reduce textile waste by sending all its uniforms, workwear, PPE and high visibility clothing to be recycled as useful products.
“We wanted to give our employees an opportunity to contribute on a personal level, to have an impact beyond our corporate contributions,” says Sandra McCormack, National Procurement Manager at Downer Group.
The first phase was to set up Ripple collection bins and let staff know they could donate pre-loved children’s clothes so they could be given a second life. Any items that weren’t suitable would be sent to ImpacTex Textile Recycling.
The bins were filled within a couple of weeks. Downer Group decided to keep them in place while also looking to place more bins in its other Auckland offices.
Downer Group also donated $3,000 to Ripple through its programme which makes monthly donations to local causes around the country, as nominated by staff. That money has helped to cover some of Ripple’s IT operational costs in its first year.
In the pilot phase of the partnership, Downer Group employees donated 897 items. Almost half were reused in Ripple’s Gear Box clothing parcels, 30 items were repaired or repurposed and 445 items were recycled. Zero items were sent to landfill.
“The human impact of the Ripple movement is substantial”, says Sandra. “Ripple is a social enterprise with a dual purpose – it provides kids’ clothing to Kiwi families in need, but also diverts discarded textiles from our landfills via their reuse, repair, repurpose and recycle system. This closely aligns with Downer’s values and with our sustainability strategy which is focused not just on our environmental footprint, but also on our social impact.”
The ongoing relationship between Downer Group and Ripple has helped grow awareness of the grassroots initiative and shed light on the social and environmental issues surrounding textiles and clothing in Aotearoa New Zealand.