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Changing needs, styles at non-profit Victoria clothing stores a sign of the times

Managers at WIN and Wear2Start see evolution in clientele, donations through pandemic

Non-profit clothing stores in downtown Victoria, which provide a vital service to residents in need of a fresh start, have noticed new styles and spending habits among their clientele since the onset of the pandemic.

The bright, baby blue building of the WIN Resale Shop at 785 Pandora Ave. stands out next to the muted colours of the street and helps endear the non-profit’s flagship store to clients.

“I truly believe that the items at WIN are really curated,” said Jasmine Philips, the store’s marketing coordinator and a self-professed devotee to Victoria’s thrifting scene. “I really like to find the cool, vintage, collectable items … the stock is really unique.”

Last year, the organization provided 68 young families with a total of $49,583 to spend on in-house furniture and appliances and bring them from transitional to permanent housing.

Shaonie Auclair-Bergeron, an employee of WIN Resale Shop, browses a selection of the non-profit store's jackets. (Kiernan Green/News Staff)

READ ALSO: 2020: Clothing reserves critically low for Victoria cooperative Women In Need

Wear2Start Society receives hundreds of donations of women’s clothes a year. Since 2001, they’ve lined the small walls of a second-floor room in the Maynard Court office building at 733 Johnson St. just beside Millie’s Lane. In that time, they’ve outfitted over 4,500 low-income and female-identifying clients for opportunities such as job or tenant interviews.

“A lot of women, when they first come to see us, had a lot of challenges in their lives. Their self-esteem is low,” manager Tracy Lubick said. Such clients can leave an hour later with custom-picked and donated formal wear, “just with her posture, it’s as if she’s grown a couple of inches.”

Through the business challenges that have accompanied the pandemic, both charitable societies have noticed new trends and needs from their clientele. “Once we reopened, every single client asked for leggings,” Lubick said. “That’s not something that we usually carried, leggings before were more casual. (But) that’s just a sign of the times.”

READ ALSO: 2017: Wear2Start helps women in need prep for workforce

When it came to supplying low-cost appliances such as toasters and microwaves, pots and pans and the like, Philips said donations to WIN hit an all-time low in 2020; almost non-existent. The lack of donations indicated to her Victoria’s frugality in replacing their appliances during the pandemic, she said.

The effect of hard times were seen in new faces at Wear2Start, as well.

“Midway through (2020), we had one woman come in who said she had lost her job … she kept going as long as she could trying to find other work, but she found herself standing in line at the food bank,” Lubick said. “She was so embarrassed by it. Never in her life did she think she was going to be somebody who needed a food bank.”

The woman heard about Wear2Start’s free hairdressing program talking to another woman in line.

Access to WIN’s New Start charitable gift card programs has also increased about 50 per cent annually since 2020.

“These are newcomers to Victoria, people who are struggling at the moment, women leaving transitional housing,” Philips said. Charitable gift cards allow them to choose what they need from the store and access it discretely, she added.

Changing styles and levels of donation won’t eliminate the need or hinder the service provided by either clothing non-profit, Lubick said.

“As much as we don’t like to admit it, we base our opinions on somebody within the first 30 seconds of meeting them, just by how they appear … if (clients) are going to meet with a potential landlord and they want to be seen as a viable candidate, especially with how competitive rentals are right now, one piece (of that) is looking presentable and professional.”

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