Community Thrift & Vintage’s make be known among frugal fashionistas for its edited selection of secondhand threads and affordable price points, but there’s another reason to love the Vancouver-born boutique: it’s led entirely by women.
Operated by the Portland Hotel Society, a local nonprofit that advocates for underserved residents of the Downtown Eastside, the retailer and its sister store, the Window Community Art Shop, were founded by women, are managed by women, and have employed women exclusively since their launches in 2011.
The boutiques’ peer programs, in particular, have helped hundreds of recovering and vulnerable women in the DTES discover their purpose and passion in the neighbourhood. All profits from items sold go directly to help the women.
“Sometimes, with fashion jobs, there’s no conscience,” Elizabeth Krebs, manager of Community Thrift, tells the Straight by phone. “So, that was the part I was most interested in.”
“It gives them [the women] a sense of worth in the community,” adds Katie Piasta, manager of Window Community Art Shop, “because they’re engaging with people and they’re working and getting a stipend every week.”
After almost five years of operating from separate retail spaces in the DTES—and amassing a loyal following of socially responsible shoppers over that time—Community Thrift and the Window Art Shop have recently come together under one roof at 11 West Hastings Street.
Now known collectively as Community Window, the spacious, 2,500-square-foot flagship carries the unisex denim, T-shirts, sportswear, and jackets that Krebs curates from rag yards, as well as an expanded selection of art, homewares, and accessories by artists and craftspeople based within and outside the DTES.
First Nations–inspired art and dreamcatchers by Marcel Mousseau line the walls, for example, while handmade soap from Abbey Lane Farm, while locally crafted ceramics and an assortment of naturally scented candles by Hives for Humanity fill the shelves.
Featured prominently throughout the shop are the Carrall Street Canvas Co. pouches, tote-bags, and aprons hand-sewn by women of the shop’s peer program. Led by Piasta, the in-house brand is run from an 800-square-foot sewing studio situated toward the back of Community Window. There, women in the business’s peer program meet almost daily to produce the items.
“For the women who are sewing, it is so rewarding for them to be out in the store doing something and someone’s like ‘Oh, this is such a nice apron!’ and they get to say, ‘I made it,’ ” says Piasta. “They’re just really proud of their work.”
With the expanded room—the Window Community’s in-store studio was only a fraction of the size of the new space—Piasta hopes to offer additional sewing classes for women of the DTES. She also has plans to introduce pillows, blankets, and eventually garments to the Carrall Street Canvas Co. line.
For both Krebs and Piasta, the new flagship ultimately means opportunities to create new jobs. Whether it’s hand-sewing tote-bags, tagging clothing, or assisting on the sales floor, the positions offer the women a chance to reset their lives. “They make a full-on transformation,” says Krebs. “There are a couple who have been with us from the very beginning and to see them achieve their goals—as it happens—is really amazing.”
Community Thrift & Vintage’s Unisex Shoppe (41 Cordova Street) and Window Community Art Shop (1 East Hastings Street) are now closed. Moving forward, the social enterprises will operate collectively at Community Window (11 West Hastings Street).
Community Thrift & Vintage’s Frocke Shoppe at 311 Carrall Street will remain open.
Check out the images below of the new Community Window flagship and its in-housr studio, which opened its doors in mid-February.