Charli’s Community Spirit

A love of second-hand clothing and a desire for change led Charli Cox on her journey to become the founder of Koha Apparel.

Charli Cox’s interest in second-hand clothing started early: “Since I was old enough to realise the effects that fast fashion has on the planet and the great treasures that you can find in an op shop!”.

Growing up in the United Kingdom, Cox became aware of the devastating effects of homelessness and after moving to Aotearoa in 2016, she recognised the same problem here.

Volunteering at an op shop was a turning point for her as she saw an opportunity to change the inequalities of access to quality clothing.

Strong-willed by nature, she started Koha Apparel three years later, working out of her house.

The not-for-profit, pay-as-you-can organisation provides repurposed quality clothing for people in need.

“Our community at each of our pop-ups have become friends of mine and the connection runs much deeper than just providing clothing,” says the 30 year old.

Koha runs pop up shops once or twice a week around Auckland and other locations, distributing more than 400 items of clothing a month and partnering with Everybody Eats, LIFE Soup Kitchen and more.

What inspired Koha Apparel?

I began rescuing and repairing clothing at the op shop that would otherwise be destined for clothing bins and eventually landfill.

This is what led to me starting Koha.

Our main mission is to bring people together in our community to access a basic human need and right – clothing. 

What do think about inequality?

I dream of a world where our service is no longer needed as clothing should be a basic human right available to everybody.

The fashion industry’s potential to significantly improve workers’ livelihoods and lift people out of systemic poverty is immense.

I believe there are many factors to inequality.

Income has a snowball effect on shelter [options], which is another basic human right.

In Aotearoa, the buying and selling of homes is seen as an opportunity to make money or even a career choice.

While this continues, inequality will continue to grow as housing and basic shelter become even more unaffordable.

Many of the communities that attend our pop-ups are unlikely to ever be able to afford a home in Aotearoa and warm housing is also an issue.

The desire to make money from housing is making the distance between rich and poor greater and is something I would love to see resolved. 

How special is your time with people in the community?

The clothing and the conversations we share are invaluable.

At every pop-up at least one person makes a huge impact on me due to their resilience, their story or for the gratefulness we receive for our service.

There are many regulars such as Jason and Brenda (at Koha’s St Kevin’s Arcade location) who have become friends, and seeing our volunteers and community come together each week is humbling.

How can people help Koha Apparel this winter?

We are always on the hunt for volunteers and extra hands to support what we do.

People can volunteer at our pop-ups, come along to our monthly sorting evenings, do a couple of loads of washing for us, or repair and repurpose garments.

The importance of having reliable, regular volunteers at our pop-ups is crucial to what we do so please if you want to be involved head over to our website and complete our volunteer registration form.

What do you do for downtime?

Koha takes up almost every minute of my spare time!

Coming from the UK means I still have much of Aotearoa that I would love to visit. During the summer, I really enjoy heading away in my tent, seeing the country and hiking.

But in all honesty, Koha is what I love doing in my spare time, it is the highlight of my week and my passion and my purpose.

I am holding out for the world to be a bit more normal to head back to the UK to see my friends and family.

I am forever grateful for their support even though it is currently from afar. 

What do you hope to achieve for the future? 

My dream is to be able to provide clothing throughout Aotearoa to communities in need. Improved access has been a long-term mission since starting Koha and I would love to have a broader reach.

There are people in need in every corner of this nation and in the world, perhaps even more so now.

In May 2021 I relocated to Wellington to expand our services and I can’t wait to meet the community there.

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