What if we told you there’s a beautiful little boutique where can you find like-new Prada leopard print pumps or a gorgeous silk Emilio Pucci Firenze scarf for a crazy-low price? What if we also told you that every time you purchase one of these beautiful designer items, you’ll also be helping local women who’ve struggled with domestic violence, abuse, homelessness, or other hardships?
You can find all that and more at Uncommon Closet, which just may be the best-kept secret on the entire North Shore. Uncommon Closet is a boutique that offers amazing deals on fun, high-end clothing, handbags, accessories, and shoes, where every penny of every purchase benefits the women’s empowerment program Uncommon Threads.
“We call it guiltless shopping,” says Susan Kanoff, founder and executive director of Uncommon Threads, a women’s empowerment program that provides women in need with beautiful clothing, shoes, and accessories—plus a personalized styling session with a team of volunteer stylists. “One-hundred percent of the proceeds benefit Uncommon Threads,” she says. “It’s feel-good shopping!”
Uncommon Closet sells a combination of new and like-new items that have been donated by both individuals, top brands like ecru and Sharif Bags, and boutiques including French Lessons, 688 Boutique, Aine’s, Opal and Oak, and CoCo Collection, among many others. Shoppers can visit the brick-and-mortar boutique at 60 Island Street in Lawrence Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as the newly launched online shop. “It’s become this go-to shopping destination,” Kanoff says. “It’s a mix between a boutique and a consignment store.”
The best part of shopping at Uncommon Closet, which is staffed by volunteers, is that the shop benefits Uncommon Threads, and and supports its mission to lift women up by improving their self-esteem and self confidence.
Uncommon Threads’ clients are referred by social services and health professionals. After a personalized wardrobe session, clients receive up to four complete outfits—including accessories, shoes, and handbags—and sometimes other goodies, like pajamas, hand cream, or makeup. All of the clothing and other items they receive have been donated by a generous network of boutiques, companies, and individuals. Clients also receive support and encouragement from other women and a time-out from life’s stresses.
“Clothes are really powerful tools for building self-esteem. We want [a woman] to look in the mirror and see all of her possibilities,” says Kanoff. “It really is an incredible experience. When our clients start to see themselves in these empowering outfits, it shifts their mindset.”
That was Evelyn Crespo’s experience when she visited Uncommon Threads in early 2018. Crespo was homeless and living in a shelter after moving to the United States from Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. She was in a bank teller job training program at Lawrence Community Works, and her instructor referred her to the boutique. “I will never forget that day,” Crespo says of her visit to Uncommon Threads. “I found what I needed. I was going through a rough time in my life.”
Now Crespo teaches that training at Lawrence Community Works herself, and refers many of her own students to Uncommon Threads. That pay-it-forward, women-helping-women ethos is at the heart of Uncommon Threads’ growth. Since it first opened in November 2016, the organization has served nearly 1,300 clients and is now focused on adding new programs that empower women.
Uncommon Closet is a key element of that growth. The shop serves as the program’s social enterprise—it currently “it is an important part of our fundraising efforts,” Kanoff says—and is located right next door to Uncommon Threads. “The store has immense potential,” Kanoff says. “We’re already trying to think about the next steps.”
Among those next steps is increasing Uncommon Closet’s open hours and expanding its online shop. The store also hosts fun shopping events, like its recent “Denim and Tee” spring sale and its upcoming Dress to Impress Gala fundraiser on May 15 at Salvatore’s Event & Conference Center in Lawrence. The gala will feature music, dancing, food, drinks, and a silent auction, all to benefit Uncommon Threads. “It’s a super-fun, get-dressed-up, strut-your-stuff event, but the highlight of the night is hearing from our courageous and beautiful clients,” Kanoff says of the gala. This year, Chico’s is the premier sponsor.
The overall program has expanded beyond clothing, too. There are monthly self-esteem-focused workshops on topics like expressing yourself through art; there’s a series called “Focusing” that’s run by an Andover psychologist; and they also offer programs about healthy eating and self-care.
“Uncommon Threads is really shifting to become a women’s center,” Kanoff says. “Clothes are at the core, but really it’s about relationships and women helping and supporting other women.”
Kanoff hopes to add to this programming even more by expanding the workshop offerings and including “services that are not particularly affordable for a lot of women but are really important for de-stressing and boosting self-esteem,” like meditation and reiki. She also hopes to start a mentoring program called Uncommon Friends that matches clients with female mentors from the local community.
A great way to help is to do some shopping at Uncommon Closet or donate some high-end pieces to raise money for the program. Kanoff adds that donations are tax-deductible, since Uncommon Threads is fiscally sponsored by Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. “The store has become a place for every woman to shop,” Kanoff says. “There’s all different price points (from $5 to $100), it’s really fun, and everyone is shopping there for the same reason.”