Vancouver social enterprise My Sister’s Closet turns 20

My Sister’s Closet is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that uses pre-loved clothing to benefit women in need.

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My Sister’s Closet is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that uses pre-loved clothing to benefit women in need.

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This year, the “eco-fricture boutique” celebrates its 20th anniversary.

In honor of this milestone, we caught up with Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), to learn more about the store, what it does and why it’s in more demand than ever.

Q. For those who don’t know, what is My Sister’s Closet?

A. My Sister’s Closet is an eco-savings shop that operates as a social enterprise of BWSS. It not only offers beautiful items and engages with the community around sustainability and fashion, but also raises funds for work to end gender-based violence. This is one of Vancouver’s best hidden gems.

Q. When and why did it start?

A. My Sister’s Closet was founded in 2001. We wanted to have a source of discretionary funding, so that we could be independent in providing services and programs that would not necessarily be funded by other means. It was also about responding to the many requests we received from people who had clothes to offer. And so, we thought it was a great way to not only provide clothes to women who accessed our services, but also to have clothes that we could sell in order to generate income.

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Q. How does the store support the BWSS program?

A. What’s really great about My Sister’s Closet is the number of innovative prevention and response programs and services we’ve been able to offer because of the additional funding it provides to BWSS. We had 32,000 requests for our services in 2020, compared to 18,000 requests in 2019. But what is intangible, and what we think is really important, is how our community mobilizes around thrift and the mission of My Sister’s Closet. . We think about clothing donors and why they choose us as their destination. Also buyers, who want to find second-hand fashion at a good price.

And because our services are provided in an undisclosed location because we want to keep survivors safe and private, we don’t have a public face. We do not have a showcase for BWSS. My Sister’s Closet, in some ways, becomes the quasi-space of BWSS in a way that’s really accessible to the community that doesn’t necessarily want to talk directly about violence against women, sexualized violence, domestic violence.

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Q. How has the store, its mission and scope changed over the past 20 years?

A. We went through a number of twists and turns as we learn as we go. We had a few locations closed and open. And we tried to find the best way to operate a social enterprise. This means that we have really focused on the best quality thrift store possible, but also on an accessible price. We have items that cost $1 or $2. We have a $5 rack. And then we have things that can go up to several thousand, depending on who the designer is. So I think it was about finding that sweet spot, being able to cater to the general characteristics and representation of second-hand buyers.

Q. Are there any special plans for this milestone year?

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A. It hit us! It really was. We looked around and someone said, oh, it’s been 20 years, and we kind of missed it. And that’s because we’ve been very busy. COVID-19 has absorbed all of our energy, simply responding to increased demand for services. But also in terms of business: how to suddenly have an online store and how to manage all the requirements in a retail environment under COVID-19.

Now, at the end of 2021, we are reaching out, letting people know. We will have a party after November 25th that will be a celebration: it will be a part-in-person, part-live event to honor and recognize the amazing volunteers we have had over the years who have given their time to us. and their energy. We will recognize the incredible buyers, donors and supporters who have contributed in extraordinary ways to our success and simply raise our hands to all the survivors who have reached out in different ways – and in large part because of the very existence of My Sister’s Closet.

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Q. And finally, what’s next?

A. Last year was difficult for us financially, due to the impact of COVID-19. So we want to do everything we can to make sure we get back to our really strong social enterprise model. To ensure that we do everything we can to engage our community and continue to ensure that the business is viable, which it is. And so far it’s been really good.

We want to rely on the online store, which is so important. We want to create more and more opportunities to bring truly amazing clothes to the women who access our services. We want to be a really good bridge for those considering donating clothes and continue to stop the flow of fabrics to the landfill. We want to convert more people into second-hand shoppers and away from fast fashion. And, ultimately, we want to continue to tie all of this to social enterprise where the greatest concern is not only ending violence against women and gender-based violence, but also addressing climate change and to save the environment.

To learn more, visit Mysistersclosetvancouver.shop.

[email protected]

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