Friday Fun: How Pop-Up Clothing Shops Help Create More Equal and Sustainable Cities

The Street Store in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo credit: The Street Store

Everyone, in one way or another, relies on clothing every day. Clothing is essential to keeping us warm and protecting us from the elements. Yet, ill-fitting clothing or having no clothes at all can cause great hardship beyond exposure to the elements—it can hurt self-image and reduce ones chances of getting ahead. A poorly dressed person has little chance for success during a job interview and can be functionally barred from certain spaces in the city.

To help mitigate the negative impacts of homelessness, social entrepreneurs around the world are promoting creative solutions to help clothe the homeless through urban pop-up clothing shops. In addition to improving social conditions, these shops inspire positive environmental impacts through the reduction of waste. One successful urban clothing pop-up that’s inspired similar models around the world is the Street Store in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Street Store

Cape Town’s homeless population has few opportunities to acquire low-cost clothing. To help solve this problem, the Street Store was created in 2014 by the Haven Night Shelter Welfare Organization and M&C Saatchi Abel. The concept is simple, yet its impacts are great. The pop-up shop is setup one day every few weeks or months and is designed for those with low or no income. All the clothes are free. To gather donations, the company promotes the event on social media, including on Twitter and Facebook.

To gather donations, the company promotes the event on social media including Twitter and Facebook. Photo credit: Design Indaba/Vimeo

On the day of the event, cardboard signs with painted hangers line the sidewalks, letting people know what’s available and encouraging gifts. Donors drop off contributions and volunteers help organize the clothes by size and style. Patrons can visit and collect quality items for job interviews, work and everyday wear.

The first Street Store pop-up was a success. During the one-day event, 3,500 people visited. Further social impacts enabled by the Street Store were subtle, but equally important. Customers are treated with dignity—they are able to “shop” for clothes, regardless of ability to pay. According to one customer, “Shopping at the Street Store was for me, very nice—the people were accepting of me with friendly faces.”

Additionally, the Street Store’s reuse of clothing drastically expands the lifetime of each item. Reusing clothing reduces carbon dioxide emissions and waste, improving environmental sustainability.

Customers are able to “shop” for clothes, regardless of ability to pay. Photo credit: The Street Store


The success of Cape Town’s Street Store has inspired similar efforts around the world. The Street Store partnership provides open-source materials at no cost to social entrepreneurs. Today, more than 580 Street Stores have occurred globally across five continents.

Similar to the Cape Town store, the San Francisco pop-up is committed to promoting a more equitable city. They strive to pass on high-quality donations to the homeless, rather than items people don’t need or want.

“Right now, they don’t have the choice in where they live, where they eat,” organizer Deepika Phakke told SFGate. “The Street Store is about giving them respect and the power of choice. Saying to them, ‘Hey, you’re invited to the store and free to pick up whatever you want.’ That’s going to be empowering.”

More Street Stores are coming to a variety of cities, including Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Hasselt (Belgium) and Americana (Brazil). As the network grows, so will the empowerment of the urban homeless around the world.

Lori O’Neill is an intern for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Building Efficiency Initiative.

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