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For the past 15 years, The Career Wardrobe has provided more than 50,000 women transitioning into the work force with free professional clothing, including interview suits, scrubs, service uniforms and casual Friday digs. With the economic downturn increasing demand for these services by more than 90 percent in the past year, executive director Sheri Cole has proposed a new way to create revenue to fund the nonprofit's mission.
"When I was president of The Women's Alliance, based in Miami, we set up a pilot program for a resale boutique to see if it would work," says Cole. "After three years of studies, we thought it would work here in our Philadelphia market."
The fruit of that research? The Wardrobe Boutique, whose inventory includes "formal wear, fur coats, designers like St. John and Chanel, as well as professional clothing in sizes we have an overabundance of," says Cole. "We have problems getting tiny and large sizes in clothing, but we probably have 100 size-8 suits at The Career Wardrobe and not enough clients who need them. The boutique allows us to serve women who don't need to go to the welfare office for help, but have to pinch every penny they can. The most expensive item in the shop is a St. John suit that would retail for $300 or $400, for $60."
Cole stresses that despite the low costs, The Wardrobe Boutique is not a thrift store. "The boutique has an upscale atmosphere, just like The Career Wardrobe, where clients receive a personal shopper," she says. "Our clients do not receive cast-offs. We are about improving women's self-esteem, and making them feel confident and ready for the next step of their lives."