The Street Store, Cape Town’s first ‘rent-free, premises-free, free pop-up clothing store for the poor’, created a way of giving to the less fortunate that has taken the world by storm. It’s all about connecting those who have with those surviving on much less, all the while giving some dignity back to the homeless.
We caught up with Kayli Vee Levitan, co-founder of The Street Store, to hear more about this incredible journey.
When you hosted the first Street Store last year January, what were your and Max Pazak’s (The Street Store co-founder) expectations for its reception?
Truthfully, we had no expectations. Well, not any positive ones. We were terrified that people wouldn’t show up to donate, and that we’d understood the mindset of the homeless incorrectly, and that they wouldn’t want to ‘shop’.
After starting a social media campaign a few days earlier, we had found ourselves on all these different news channels and on a whole lot of blogs – so there was a huge expectation that we’d be successful, and we didn’t know if we could pull it off!
Thankfully, we did! Capetonians supported us so beautifully; they were kind and generous and incredible. And suddenly the rest of South Africa and even the world was supporting our little project. Over 200 stores in just over a year – we never thought it possible.
As you said, it’s been over a year and The Street Store keeps on growing – as its 200th instalment this weekend proves. What is your most precious moment from the Street Stores you’ve hosted so far?
The stories from the homeless have been amazing, learning from them, hearing what their lives are all about, and seeing them enjoy The Street Store experience is amazing. But it has been something else that has impacted me most.
I never expected the way that The Street Store changes the hosts themselves. I realised it after our first store – it changed the way I look at the homeless, people around me, and the world in general. It changes you forever. It makes you a want to be a better person. It makes you appreciate what you have and the struggle of others. It opens your eyes and your heart.
And the amazing thing, is that all the hosts feel the same way. This is a significant mentality, which means the world to us.
From just watching the videos of Street Stores hosted around the world, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed. What have you learnt from the homeless people you’ve met along the way that Capetonians need to know?
The Street Store reminds you of your humanity. There is a vicious cycle of dehumanisation on the street. Homeless people beg and eventually the ‘haves’ start ignoring them because you can’t help everyone. When they’re ignored, they stop seeing the ‘haves’ as people, but as pockets – which makes them more willing to beg and, in turn, makes the ‘haves’ more willing to ignore.
The Street Store reminds both sides of society that the other is human.
The Street Store has gone open source. What would your advice be to those who want to host their own street store? What’s the first step in organising one?
The first step is taking the pledge on www.thestreetstore.org. Then we send all our open-source files to the hosts in their language and help them at every step along the way.
What are your future hopes for The Street Store as it continues to grow globally?
That there is a Street Store in every city around the world. You may assume that there are places that don’t need them, or couldn’t possibly pull one off – but they do and can. We’ve had stores in Islamabad and Ghana, in California and Brussels. Host a Street Store in your community, go for it!