A Shopping Mall Experience For Low-Income Families, Thuli Chennai
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Thuli (which means a drop in Tamil) is a store located in Adyar, Chennai that aims to offer the shopping mall experience to those who are from less privileged sections of the society. Thuli is a non-profit organization started in February, 2018 by three business entrepreneurs — Shivaji Prabhakar, Jey Bala and Ajith Kumar — Thuli's aim is to do "charity with dignity."
Charity with Dignity
Thuli provides its beneficiaries a pleasant shopping mall experience. The aim is to instill confidence by providing good quality clothes and products to those who cannot afford it. These beneficiaries are provided with freedom to choose and try what they want from a range of good quality products that they may not be able to afford otherwise.
Thuli has over 14 collection centers in Chennai for people to donate items. The organization also receives parcels from domestic donors and from US and Dubai. The organization regularly receives boxes full of toys and footwear for children from Dubai. 30% of items received are new or unused.
The Volunteers sort garments according to type (casual, western, traditional), size, age and gender (men, women and children) at a godown. Items that they identify as first quality are laundered and then hung up at the store. Clothes post sorting which are found worn out or of average quality are separated and provided to NGOs who can make best use of them. The NGOs recycle torn and unusable products into usable items such as making bags, pouches etc.
Approximately 300 garments are laundered every week and stocked. This number is growing every day. Clothes are put on display on hangers tagged with a notional price to provide shoppers with a realistic experience. The store also has a trial room with a mirror for shoppers to wear and check the clothes. The store is open on all the days from 1-8 pm.
Thuli’s coordinator helps network with various NGOs who help in identifying families that would like to shop here. Gift vouchers in denominations ranging from a value of 100 to 2,000 are distributed. A 2000 value denomination vouchers is provided to a family.
The products to be shopped are tagged with a value. Members need to budget and plan their shopping. With a family voucher of 2000 they can get two pair of outfits for each family member of four. Members have to physically come and shop. They are not permitted to shop for anyone else. In case they do not find appropriate outfits, they can retain the balance vouchers and come again to get their desired choice.
There are approximately 4000 garments in the shop. There is a wide range of high quality outfits, handbags, toys, games, women’s accessories, shoes, designer sarees and readymade blouses, with some branded products received as donations that are available for beneficiary to select from.
Thuli also has also introduced a referral scheme where donors can refer beneficiaries who are provided with shopping voucher.
Serving a Real Cause
Thuli’s cause doesn’t end with shopping experience. Thuli aims to help less privileged families with their issues and support them in every possible way. Currently, the store has an average of 40-50 people visiting per day purchasing up to 7-10 clothes per family, and so far approximately 2500 beneficiary have already visited the store over past 75 days. Coming in personal contact with a beneficiary gives a good opportunity of identifying their problems and helping them connect with the services of other NGOs that can help them.
Thuli is constantly expanding its network by getting other NGOs on board for other services such as free eye checks ups and special study courses for children to study etc. Recently they got an NGO which provides free spectacles and optometry testing, the adults and children identified with a need for eye tests are incentivized with a referral and incentive of a 1000 value worth of shopping voucher to undertake such tests.
Aloft Hotel, has joined hands with Thuli and provides free services for laundry. Similarly Parveen Travels has offered them with free transporting of items from the collection centers to the store. Omega Healthcare and Beyontec Solutions sends volunteers from their organisations to help in the sorting department at the store during the weekends. Another NGO that works to tackle child mortality has planned to have a bus that will travel across and conduct health check-ups for mother and child. They have given space for Thuli to set up shop in the bus to provide beneficiaries clothes to incentivize the check-ups. Royal Cyber Inc. company have initiated a campaign to collect Sanitary Napkins and associated with Thuli to distribute to the less privileged women who visit their store.
Thus, by channelizing the beneficiaries to other NGOs, Thuli intends to strengthen its cause and spread its roots into education, employment, counseling and overall development of the children and their families, by motivating them and giving them the confidence that they are capable of achieving the same experiences as others in the society. Thuli also intends to create a database to keep track of the children and families who visit the store and also intends to initiate a wide range of kids-oriented events such as storytelling and other value added events.
With funky interiors and racks of neatly folded clothes, toys and accessories, with a trial room the 400sq ft store provides true experience of mall shopping. There were separate sections for men, women and children for western wear, traditional wear, casual and party clothes, accessories, soft toys, games and other utility items. There are clothes of high quality brands on display and certain sarees and accessories are exquisite and looked brand new.
During our visit we observed few visibly challenged students who had come for shopping. Their joy and happiness of having this opportunity was heartwarming and each one of them had very clear idea of what kind of garment they wanted to shop they were excited to find several choices. Touch was only means for identifying what they wanted to pick. Some of them surprisingly were asking for color of their choice, which was grey.
We also met the volunteers and the staff of the company owned by the co promoters. The employees devote time in sorting clothes whenever they have free time on hand. There was a sense of immense satisfaction in having an opportunity to contribute their bit to this cause while doing their job.
Most of the beneficiaries whom we observed were feeling empowered to make their own choice, taking a trial like they are buying from a shop and also seeking help from staff to find a right choice. One could see a sense of childlike happiness when they enter the store and pick items for themselves.
Our key take away from the model implemented by Thuli were (a) an innovative approach to the concept of giving, (b) keeping the model light and simple , (c) seeking help from other NGOs, other organizations and volunteers and keeping operating costs under check, (e) keeping interest of beneficiary as paramount and (f) networking with other NGOs to help in other areas like eye checkups, providing scholarship to bright students, encouraging other study courses, distributing sanitary pads to ladies etc. This helps increase their reach to many of the under privileged members of the society.
Thuli is a venture of its own kind in India, aiming to bring smiles on the faces of the less privileged families and is admirably undertaking an act of giving with due dignity to the beneficiaries.
The current operating expense to run Thuli is approximately ₹ 70,000 per month, thanks to the several NGOs and volunteers and the staff members of various organization who volunteer their time in managing various activities. Thuli does not seek monetary donations, only clothes, footwear and utility items, especially for children, in good condition are welcome.
Happiness of entering a store and being able to take away things of their own choice is a rare opportunity for these families which they would treasure for a life time. Going forward Thuli intends to source more items for children such as footwear, shoes, toys, school bags and water bottles and intends to create a database to keep track of the children of the families who visit the store.
Through one-on-one interaction with the families, they know exactly what the family needs. Thuli is fast transforming itself into a platform for connecting the need (beneficiaries) to its source of support (NGOs). In a unique and effective manner by getting directly connected with the beneficiary and making true impact to the less privileged members of our society. This model is very innovative and impactful and certainly a cause worth supporting.