Vancouver Social Company My Sister’s Closet Celebrates 20 Years

My Sister’s Closet is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that uses formerly beloved fashion for the benefit of women in need.

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My Sister’s Closet is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that uses formerly beloved fashion for the benefit of women in need.

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This year, “eco-thrifty boutique” is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

In honor of the milestone, we approached Angela Marie MacDougall, CEO of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), to learn more about the store, what it does, and why it’s more in demand than ever before.

Q. For those who are not acquaintances, what is My Sister’s Closet?

ONE. My Sister’s Closet is an eco-thrift store that operates as a social enterprise of BWSS. It not only offers beautiful objects and engages collectively around sustainability and fashion, but also raises funds for the work of stopping gender-based violence. It’s one of Vancouver’s best hidden gems.

Q. When and why did it first begin?

ONE. My Sister’s Closet was founded in 2001. We wanted to have a discretionary source of funding so that we could have the independence to provide services and programs that would not necessarily be funded in other ways. It was also about responding to the large number of inquiries we received from people who had clothes they would like to give away. So we thought this was a great way to not only provide clothes for women who had access to our services, but also to have clothes we could sell to generate revenue.

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Q. How does the store help the BWSS program?

ONE. What’s really amazing about My Sister’s Closet is how many more innovative prevention and intervention programs and services we have been able to offer as a result of the additional funding it provides to BWSS. We had 32,000 requests for our services in 2020, which is an increase from 18,000 queries in 2019. But what is intangible and what we think is really important is the way our community mobilizes around frugality fashion and the mission of My Sister’s Closet. We think about the clothing donors and why they choose us as their destination. Also shoppers who want to find delicious frugal fashion at a good price.

And because our services are provided in an undisclosed location, because we want to ensure the safety and confidentiality of survivors, we do not have a public face. We do not have a storefront for BWSS. My Sister’s Closet somehow becomes the quasi – space of BWSS in a way that is truly accessible to society that does not 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 its scope changed in the last 20 years?

ONE. We have been through a series of twists because we learn as we go. We have had a few locations close and open. And we’ve been trying to figure out the best way to run a social business. This means that we have really been focused on having the very best quality of thrift fashion we can, but also a price range that is available. We have items that are $ 1 or $ 2. We have a stand for $ 5. And then we have things that can go up to thousands, depending on who the designer is. So I think it has been a matter of finding the sweet spot, being able to meet the broad characteristics and representation of thrifty shoppers.

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

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ONE. It crept in on us! It really did. We looked around and someone said, oh, it’s 20 years ago and we missed it a little bit. And that’s because we’ve been so busy. COVID-19 has absorbed all our energy and is simply responding to the growing demand for services. But then also in relation to the business: how to suddenly have an online store, and how to handle all the requirements in a retail environment under COVID-19.

Now, at the end of 2021, we reach out, we let people know. We are holding a party after November 25 that will be a celebration: it will be a partly personal, partly livestreamed event to honor and acknowledge the incredible volunteers we have had over the years who have given us their time and their energy . We want to acknowledge the amazing shoppers and donors and supporters who have contributed extraordinarily to our success, and we just want to reach out to all the survivors who have reached out in a lot of different ways – and largely because of the the existence of My Sister’s Closet.

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Q. And finally, what’s next?

ONE. Last year was tight for us financially as we handled the impact of COVID-19. And that’s why we want to do everything we can to make sure we get back to our really strong social business model. To ensure that we do everything we can to engage our community and continue to have the company viable, which it is. And so far it has been really good.

We want to build on the online store – it means so much. We want to create more and more opportunities to give away truly amazing clothes to women who access our services. We want to be a really good bridge for those people who are considering donating clothes and continuing to stop the flow of drugs to the landfill. We want to convert more people into frugal shoppers and separate from fast fashion. And ultimately, we want to continue to connect all that with social enterprise, where the biggest concern is not only to stop violence against women and gender-based violence, but also to fight climate change and save the environment.

Visit Mysistersclosetvancouver.shop to learn more.

Aharris@postmedia.com

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