Discarded sheets from some of Cape Town’s best hotels are given new life, turned into school shirts for some of the city’s poorest children.
Fancy hotels throw out their linens before they show signs of wear.
Danolene Johannesen takes thousands of these sheets and brings them to her company’s sewing workshop to make the pristine white shirts that school children in South Africa must wear.
“We wanted to find a way to keep our kids in school, dress them for school, and just… boost their self-esteem,” Johannesen said.
The project runs through his company Restore SA, using the popular abbreviation for South Africa.
Since its inception in 2015, Johannesen and his team have dressed nearly 100,000 children with old linen.
From one king-size bed sheet, they can make five shirts.
South African public schools require children to wear uniforms, a small way to bridge the country’s glaring social divides.
From the richest suburbs to the poorest slums, primary school children wear white shirts, gray shorts or skirts and knee-high socks.
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But in the poorest families, even these simple outfits can cost too much.
The dismal unemployment rate of over 35% in South Africa has been made worse by the Covid pandemic.
But thanks to the recycling of old linen donated by hotels, Johannesen keeps the children in school.
“Every year we make at least 10,000 shirts, or about 1,800 sheets that we cut and make from shirts,” she said.
In Tamboerskloof, one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, Pamela Nayler runs the Parker Cottage boutique hotel on the slopes of iconic Signal Hill.
The beds are perfect, stacked with cushions. Linens need to be replaced often to meet the high expectations of their customers.
Nayler heard about the Sheets to Shirts project through his linen suppliers, and “we now give them the old linen, to make school shirts.”
Almost 200 kilometers (120 miles) away in Bonnievale, Lemiese Pieterse’s daughter attends a local school.
With simple blue buildings and modest gardens, Bonnievale Primary School is humble but far better than many others in South Africa.
Still, life is expensive, and Pieterse says bedsheet shirts are a lifesaver. No one can tell the difference with store bought shirts.
“I came here to pick up a shirt for my daughter and I’m very blessed,” she said.