Grahamstown Goodwill Gang

By Shannon Wilson

“I hope you guys are heading up to the music gig!” she exclaimed with a large grin on her face. The stranger was dressed in a purple and white floral skirt, with blue stockings and a black T-shirt. By the time we responded, she was already bustling off in the other direction “Good!” She shouted over her shoulder. Upon arriving at the Union Bar, I was delighted to discover an array of beautiful little black numbers, gorgeous colourful shirts and classic dresses on display. I peered around, looking for the seller. The floral skirted stranger from earlier popped up to offer assistance. I discovered that this cheery character was Madelize Van Der Merwe. Van der Merwe is part of the original group that started up the Grahamstown Goodwill Gang about three years ago. She tells of how the project began with a small band of friends who were all eager to make a difference. Three years later, they have teamed up with Live Music Society to raise money for scholarships that will enable students who are passionate about art to study at the John Carinus Art School.

Van der Merwe with her vintage clothes at the event.

Van der Merwe with her vintage clothes at the event.

Van der Merwe works at the John Carinus Art School as a teacher. The Grahamstown Goodwill Gang are hoping to name the scholarship the ‘Bozman Art Foundation’ to recognize a homeless man who kept on painting and sold his art at an exhibition held at the Art School. Weeks after the event, Bozman was mugged and beaten to death in Grahamstown. The Art School feels that this is an appropriate way to honour his memory and continue his legacy. A woman of many hobbies and talents, Van der Merwe owned the timeless garments I was lusting over. She says that her love for clothes, and vintage clothes in particular, began when she was a child. “Since I was a little girl, I would dress up in my grandmother’s clothes and run around the farm,” says Van der Merwe. Her store is called White Rabbit and is being run from her home.

Someone looking through Van der Mwerwes vintage and modern clothes at her house.

Someone looking through Van der Mwerwes vintage and modern clothes at her house.

“I buy the clothes from charity shops and I don’t put prices on them,” says Van der Merwe. Rather she asks the person in question to try it on and once she sees that, “the dress is happy on the person’s body, I make a price for them.” She laughs at herself. “I know it sounds funny.” Van der Merwe had a shop in 2011, called Wonderland Vintage. She bought all the clothes from hospices and charities; some she had owned since she was 15. For two years it ran from her home, before moving to Somerset Street. Then in 2013, she partnered up with some people from Johannesburg and had a shop called The Vintage Collective Shop, which ran in Grahamstown during the National Arts Festival. Finding the experience commercialized, she noticed that she wasn’t enjoying it anymore and stopped selling vintage clothes for a while. Van der Merwe is opening a pop up shop near the arch in the next week and until then she will be selling her clothes at 7 Goldswain Street in Grahamstown. She has decided to give the remaining clothes to charity in the Grahamstown clothing drive on 16 May.

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