Yaletown fashion boutique-slash-social enterprise gets a facelift by Alex Samur

Community, sustainable and socially progressive aren’t buzzwords typically associated with uber-yuppified, fashion-conscious Yaletown. But a newly rebranded thrift boutique and social enterprise—My Sister’s Closet—is set to change that.

Last week, a party was held in celebration of the Yaletown store’s relaunch. Formerly operating under the name MSC 1092 (the 2001 Space Odyssey-esque abbreviation derived from its 1092 Seymour St. location), My Sister’s Closet now sells men and women’s wear under its original name, a moniker shared by its long-beloved sister store on Commercial Drive. And at the Yaletown location, its new, er, old name, isn’t the only thing to get a facelift.

My Sister’s Closet Yaletown same, same but new

Thanks to a grant from BCIT’s Students for Free Enterprise, the entire My Sister’s Closet Yaletown shopping experience has been made over. With new silvery signage designed by Erin Lee, the Helmcken and Seymour storefront is perfectly situated for curious window-shoppers. And regular patrons will happily discover the store sells the same, high-quality goods in a brighter, more modern shop that has been reimagined by architect Indiana Martelli.



My Sister’s Closet

1092 Seymour St, Vancouver

1029 Commercial Dr, Vancouver

What hasn’t changed is the clothing: the new My Sister’s Closet remains a great bet for chic, local and affordable clothing in Yaletown. Specializing in low-cost new and second-hand clothing for both men and women, the store also sells bags, shoes and lingerie—all HST-free.

Amongst the clothing racks, discerning shoppers will also notice handmade jewellery and accessories from local Vancouver designers—many of whom are Downtown Eastside residents. The items are sold on consignment and selected by store manager Mariana Garcia, who has long worked with low-income artisans.

Beautiful designs by Setareh Bateni, Vivian Bomberry and Laura Harrison are just a few of the many local artists with work for sale.

More than retail therapy

But there’s more to this story than simple retail therapy. The two humble storefronts belie an active network of more than 40 volunteers helping to keep My Sister’s Closet open seven days a week, running programs for low-income women, including distributing free clothing and leading skills-based training workshops, like crafting and sewing.

A project of Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), My Sister’s Closet was first opened on Commercial Drive in the 1990s as a means to connect with community—providing free clothing and household goods to women and families escaping domestic violence, unable to return home and needing to start anew—and helping to support the organization’s counselling and advocacy activities.

“We wanted to be in business so we could be resilient to the whims of government as well as to be able to have a place where the community could interface with the issues of violence against women,” says BWSS executive director Angela Marie MacDougall.

Violence against women even in Yaletown

Locating the shop’s second location in Yaletown in 2004 reflects this focus. According to MacDougall, the corner at Helmcken and Seymour was once a popular stroll for sex workers. And right across the street from the shop, two Vancouver women, Kathleen Wattley and Elaine Allenbach, went missing. Allenbach is currently the longest missing woman on record in Vancouver, her whereabouts unknown since 1986.

Expanding to Yaletown meant connecting with a community where violence against women may not be immediately apparent.

“We think this community is a good one to put the issue right there… we’ve had lots of customers come in and tell us their stories about witnessing their mothers’ abuse or their own experiences of abuse because we know violence against women is endemic—it is everywhere,” says MacDougall.

With 10,000 reported incidents of violence against women last year alone, BC carries the dubious dishonour of having the second highest rate of reported violence in Canada. Such a dismal statistic speaks to the urgent need for organizations like the BWSS and projects like My Sister’s Closet, both in Vancouver and throughout the province.

Shopping to support people and planet

While the BWSS fights violence against women in a variety of ways, the stores offer an easy way to contribute to the cause.

“Buying goods from My Sister’s Closet is one way people can help—while also doing their part for a greener planet,” adds Garcia.

With an attractive new store and brand to boot, My Sister’s Closet makes clear that you can be both socially conscious and fabulously fashionable at the same time.

By Alex Samur

Alex Samur is a Vancouver-based writer, managing editor of rabble.ca and Commercial Drive nomad who appreciates the fine arts of lace knitting, small-space gardening and a well-made espresso.