By Morley Musick
In front of a store on 55th street, between South Shore Drive and Everett Street, a small sign announces: “All items inside are free.”
The storefront displays turquoise high heels, a black tweed jacket, a yellow blouse and a winter sweater. Beyond these items are rows and rows of shoes, ranging from functional workwear to extravagant high heels with straps and laces. The stock of primarily women’s apparel and shoes is, as the sign says, all free at “Gorgeous Things: A Giving Store,” now approaching its first-year anniversary in Hyde Park. T. Alexis Owens is the store owner and has worked to develop it into a cross between a free fashion boutique and social service hub.
Gorgeous Things grew from Owens’ earlier charitable efforts in the Beverly neighborhood, where she began giving away clothing from her personal collection to neighbors and members of her church. Fellow congregants would also visit her closet, and gradually her giving expanded to include donating a car and furnishing a new dentist’s office. “People don’t often experience giving with no attachment,” Owens said, “and I always tried to provide that.”
After more than a decade of similar endeavors, Owens decided to run two pop-up shops at the Silver Room, the shared boutique space on 53rd Street and Harper Avenue. Based on the pop-up’s success, Owens decided to open the Hyde Park store, originally with the intention of having it serve as a consignment shop.
But after an opening week promotional campaign, in which she gave clothing away for free, she decided to make Gorgeous Things a strictly charitable non-profit. Now it provides customers with free everyday clothing, free professional attire, and, on occasion, a free wedding dress. The store has a no-questions-asked policy, which means that anyone can get clothing regardless of need. After learning of their needs, the all-volunteer staff also helps to connect customers to housing and social service providers, advocating for them in bureaucratic channels. They have secured housing for two customers in their first year.
According to Owens, Gorgeous Things also provides occasional workplace training seminars, and donates clothing to homeless youth via its partner organization, Covenant House. As the new year approaches, she hopes to expand the shop’s range of social service and activities.
Her staff has plans to present their non-profit model in cities around the country, including New York, Atlanta, East St. Louis, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. The store staff also hope to offer children’s clothing, housewares, and free computer access in 2020. Owens said she is working to establish connections with clothing manufacturers who pay their workers fairly, saying “Just because the clothing is free, doesn’t mean we don’t have to have conversations about the work that goes into it.” Summarizing her organization, Owens said, “I was always enamored with clothing, but it’s just a tool. Clothing is an entrée. But it’s an entrée to a bigger level of support for people.”
Gorgeous Things Giving Store is open Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-6pm, and by appointment at 773-855-8002.