Suiting Up and Shopping for a Cause

January 2, 2011 12:00 pm

Suiting up and shopping for a cause

November 1, 2010 by Kayla Young, Temple Newspaper
Wardrobe Boutique at 1822 Spring Garden St. offers career fashions and advice to women in need.

The Wardrobe BoutiqueFashion-forward clothing at low prices is what most students usually look for. Wardrobe Boutique, at 1822 Spring Garden St., not only caters to the typical college student by offering inexpensive clothes, but also supports underprivileged women who are new to the workforce.

Known for its business apparel and trendy accessories, the shop gives back to the community by donating all of its proceeds to the nonprofit organization Career Wardrobe.

Career Wardrobe was started almost 16 years ago by a group of women who wanted to donate their old work suits to women in need who could benefit from them.

Now, the nonprofit organization offers more than just clothing. It provides resume reviews, career-building workshops and advice for achieving and maintaining professionalism in the workforce.

Wardrobe Boutique, which opened in September 2009, was the first store associated with Career Wardrobe. At the time, Career Wardrobe received three to four times the amount of clothes it could handle, and the nonprofit found itself passing the donations along to other charities. To alleviate stock overload, the organization opened Wardrobe Boutique.

During this time, Career Wardrobe’s budget grew from $150,000 to $800,000. Sheri Cole, the store’s first director, said she hopes its profits will continue to rise. “It’s a challenge,” Cole said. “Just because we’re nonprofit doesn’t mean we aren’t a business.”

Every day, Cole and the employees teach single mothers and unemployed women how to better provide for themselves and their families.

Cole calls The Wardrobe Boutique “an earned income project,” and said she hopes it brings in the resources to keep the organization alive.

The women who benefit from Career Wardrobe’s services are often homeless, newly released prisoners who are leaving domestic violence programs or are involved with a social service agency. Not only do they receive the lessons for landing a successful job, but they also get the chance to visit The Wardrobe Boutique to find clothes they normally wouldn’t be able to afford.

“We teach women to be self-sufficient,” Cole said. Therefore, we need to be self-sufficient.”

Outreach Manager Melanie Frazza coordinates events, advertises for the store, and seeks new ways to update the store’s stock for the working women who visit often.

One of The Wardrobe Boutique’s main yearly fundraisers includes auctioning off handbags made with swatches of fabric signed by various celebrities. The store also hosts cocktail hours, art auctions, and costume contests.

Frazza said being involved in a nonprofit proves difficult in terms of planning different activities. “It is really challenging to work with a small budget, but it also makes you get creative,” Frazza said. “You also don’t realize how many people are willing to help, but surprisingly, a lot of people are willing to donate their time.”

Frazza said The Wardrobe Boutique tries to stay away from paid advertising, allowing the store itself to help advertise the organization. The Wardrobe Boutique also receives private donations from various local women’s groups that help keep the store alive. “We are hoping our consignment income will be a larger part of what funds us,” Cole said. “We are providing a valuable service to women and the community, and we try to make it self-sustaining.”

To keep customers returning, Frazza said the store keeps its stock organized. From Halloween costumes to winter coats, the layout makes it simple for women to come in and grab what they need.

Frazza said many women stop by the store on their work breaks, so it has to be organized to allow visitors to quickly and easily find what they need. During the weekend, college students are frequently seen exploring the clothing racks and the designer shoe room.

Employees must carefully sort through what stock stays in the store and what is donated to neighboring thrift stores and charities, since the store receives new clothing every day.

“People donate anything—wedding dresses, formal wear, hot pink sequin things,” said Frazza, who showed off some of her own clothes that were snagged from the boutique’s collection.

“This store is Career Wardrobe’s baby. They wanted to open it up to see if it can help the organization,” Frazza said. “It has a lot of potential.”