By Lisa Kashinsky
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Uncommon Threads” serves women of a myriad of shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Stylists have outfitted female veterans, the elderly, the disabled and even domestic violence victims, all referred by social workers.
Deep in the recesses of 60 Island St., neatly organized racks of clothes and shoes fill rooms that were once offices; brightly colored necklaces and handbags dangle from shelves and rest on miniature mannequins.
The rooms have the feel of a boutique by design. But Uncommon Threads is far more than the average clothing store. The Lawrence-based nonprofit is empowering women and promoting their self-confidence through fashion.
“The clothes are just so powerful,” said Susan Kanoff, founder and executive director of Uncommon Threads. “They’re really tools for building self-esteem, self-confidence and just feeling better about yourself.”
A year-and-a-half after its founding, Uncommon Threads will host its first gala on May 16 to raise funds to help grow its mission and serve more women.
“There’s so much we can do here, but we can’t do it without money,” said Assistant Director Lysanne LaPierre.
‘Loved and valued’
Uncommon Threads is Kanoff’s brainchild, born from her career as a social worker.
Kanoff, a soon-to-be Methuen resident, ran a federal program through the Andover Housing Authority for more than 20 years. A little more than a decade ago, she started a side business as a wardrobe stylist, and then began blogging.
Soon, her office was overflowing with clothes.
“Women really got so much out of it when they came in to see me. We would talk about goals and what they wanted to do … and we put outfits together and the women really felt strong and confident when they had the right outfit on,” Kanoff said.
A year-and-a-half ago, Kanoff grew more serious about starting a nonprofit for women’s empowerment. She secured Family Services of the Merrimack Valley as a fiscal partner, retired from her job and launched Uncommon Threads.
She did so with the help of LaPierre of Andover, who had a 10-year career in fashion that she left to go into nonprofit work. Her business background made her the perfect partner for Kanoff.
They moved Uncommon Threads into their Island Street space in November 2016 and began seeing clients the next month, aided by Kanoff’s social work connections.
“It’s been nonstop ever since; it’s been crazy, in a very good way,” she said.
Uncommon Threads serves women of a myriad of shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Stylists have outfitted female veterans, the elderly, the disabled and even domestic violence victims, all referred by social workers. The nonprofit coordinates with local organizations like Lazarus House, the YWCA and elder services, and even has clients driven up from Boston.
The Island Street boutique is designed to be not only a welcoming space, but an “oasis” that allows women “to start to feel good about themselves,” Kanoff said.
Each appointment starts with a meeting between a client and their stylist team. The stylists then pick out four outfits, two pairs of shoes, a handbag, accessories, and undergarments and pajamas if available. They teach the women how to mix and match and style. Clients can pay a nominal donation of $10, not to benefit the nonprofit, but to help ensure their own sense of worth.
“They are completely loved and valued,” LaPierre said of their clients. “Yes they get clothes out of that, but the clothes are really just the vehicle to really help them and their self-esteem and their confidence.”
Uncommon Threads sees about 40 clients a month. The organization runs almost entirely off volunteers, including the stylists, who are trained by Kanoff. The volunteers seem to get just as much out of seeing the women they style gain inner and outer confidence as their clients do.
“It touches women on a very deep level,” Kanoff said. “We want to help each other.”
Funding is key
Uncommon Threads will hold its first-ever gala event this month. The first round of tickets sold out in three weeks, so the group added more space and more tickets.
Through Kanoff’s social media connections, Uncommon Threads also secured clothing and accessory chain Chico’s as its big sponsor. The brand will also dress the five women slated to share their stories at the event.
Along with the fundraising gala, they’ve also launched the Uncommon Closet Boutique. The storeroom, set up next to Uncommon Threads’ styling room, will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, for shoppers to nab deals on designer items while supporting the nonprofit.
More funding is essential to keep the program running and the racks stocked with wardrobe options for all body types, Kanoff said.
Spurred by the early success of ticket sales for this year’s gala, the Uncommon Threads ladies are already looking ahead to next year, and to expanding their empowerment enterprise with their Women’s Empowerment Center mentoring programs.
Word of Uncommon Threads has already spread beyond the Merrimack Valley, particularly through Kanoff’s legions of social media followers and a television news segment syndicated nationwide. The nonprofit has “style angels” who make monthly monetary donations, including one from Oregon, who heard about the organization through Instagram, Kanoff said.
“The dream is to have women’s empowerment programs and mentoring. The idea is we will potentially go national, replicate it across the country,” LaPierre said.
IF YOU GO:
What: Uncommon Threads’ first Dress to Impress Gala, featuring silent auctions, food, drinks and dancing.
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16.
Where: Salvatore’s Event and Conference Center, 354 Merrimack St., Lawrence.