What was happening in 1991?
- The first commercial website was launched
- Neiman Marcus opened in Scottsdale
- The US liberated Kuwait from Iraq
What wasn’t happening was the practice of sustainability. Nobody even knew what it was. So, not surprisingly, discerning consumers didn’t want to wear other people’s used clothing – luxury or not. Nevertheless, we had this crazy idea that buying and selling high-end used items could be good business if we created an experience that equaled traditional retail. That meant designing a store that looked, felt and smelled like a trendy boutique, not like some dingy thrift shop. Impeccable customer service was non-negotiable. With our plan in place, we opened the first My Sister’s Closet store in 1991 in Central Phoenix. This would prove to be the first of many crazy ideas over the ensuing decades.
After 28 years, our stores continue to show vibrant year-over-year growth. In the retail world, that’s rare. While we’ve had great success adding home furnishings, men’s apparel and expanding our brands into Southern California, we’ve also learned some lessons along the way. For example, selling and consigning wedding dresses and kid’s items weren’t such hot ideas in hindsight. Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said, “every day do something that scares you” and owning a retail business more than helps us meet her challenge.
Whereas people once were embarrassed or ashamed to wear used clothes, nowadays they brag about the smoking deal they got on designer jeans or shoes. Sustainability and recycling have become retail buzzwords and societal trends. Today the resale bandwagon is jam-packed with wannabe stores, some of which are even backed by venture capitalists. However, My Sister’s Closet continues to be the gold standard for the industry.
One of the areas where we have always forged a new path is our dedication to community involvement. For 20+ years we donated unsold merchandise to the thrift stores of our favorite non-profits. We came to realize those stores weren’t producing as much revenue as they could have been for their organizations. Which shouldn’t be such a surprise since running a retail store is pretty different than administering a successful nonprofit. On the other hand, we do know a thing or two about retail, and that gave us an idea. It was time to raise the bar and raise it we did.
In 2014, thanks to the flexibility of our landlord, we opened our own 501(c)3 thrift store in Chandler. This would be the first brick and mortar initiative of our nonprofit arm, My Sisters’ Charities. Over $100,000 was generated in less than six months and in 2018 the store netted $300,000. This helped propel us to making a $1 million donation to the Arizona Humane Society. My Sisters’ Charities also proudly supports Fresh Start, Defenders of Wildlife, Phoenix Art Museum, SW Autism Center and Rancho Coastal Humane Society (San Diego), to name a few.
As community leaders, the sisters also serve as board members for some of Phoenix’s most respected organizations. Ann currently sits on the Board of Directors for both the Arizona Humane Society and the Phoenix Art Museum, after previously serving on the boards of Fresh Start, The Nature Conservancy and SW Wildlife Conservation Center. Tess was recently named a Trendsetter in 2019 for her charitable work for the Arizona Humane Society, Fresh Start, SW Wildlife Center and the Phoenix Art Museum.
Another major initiative in our commitment to sustainability has been eliminating single-use plastic items likes bags, cups and straws in all of our stores. This initiative began internally years ago and in 2019 we launched an external awareness campaign targeting local and national consumer businesses. Slowly but surely, people are learning about the devastation plastic has unleashed on our environment and wildlife, and we are proud to say they are starting to do something about it thanks in part to our advocacy.
What’s next? Well, we plan to make the 20’s roar! Initiatives are being rolled out that will yield even higher quality inventory, improve customer service and enhance the look and feel of the stores. We’re as committed to our brick and mortar locations as we were back in 1991. We remain passionate about being community leaders, specifically supporting homeless pets, the environment, wildlife, and women’s organizations. We might have graduated from the school of hard knocks when we started out, but as our mom taught us, “until you fail you don’t succeed.”