By  on June 24, 2008

Escalating energy costs, the real estate meltdown and climbing food prices have many Americans tightening their spending, and charitable donations, but three apparel-based charities are holding their own in these uncertain economic times.

Dress for Success is in the midst of its best year to date, due partially to the number of companies that are supporting the nonprofit through cause-related marketing. Joi Gordon, chief executive officer, said, "Some attributed it to the economy but they really want to reengage consumers to come back into their stores and draw interest in their brands."

Dress Barn, for example, offered coupons to shoppers who donated gently worn suits, and Bobbi Brown, Diane von Furstenberg and Saks Fifth Avenue are among the companies that worked on other initiatives. This fall, Cynthia Steffe will design a cosmetic bag for Kérastase Paris that will benefit the charity. Overall, Dress for Success' donations from retailers and manufacturers are slightly up compared with last year. "We're hearing that retailers don't have a lot of excess inventory. They've been smarter with their projections."

At Housing Works' seven thrift stores, first-half women's apparel sales are 3 percent ahead of last year, said senior vice president of business enterprise Matthew Bernardo. The organization typically sorts and distributes 320,000 clothing items each year, which accounts for about $7 million in apparel sales — more than half of the nonprofit's annual $12 million volume.

Bernardo said the uptick could be due to more people considering alternatives to shopping in traditional stores. He does, however, expect furniture donations to trail off a bit since some people will not be inclined to move in these uncertain economic times.

In August, Housing Works will try to expand its reach by launching an online store at

Bottomless Closet, a group that offers professional development workshops that allow participants to earn points redeemable for donated clothing and accessories, has noticed increased demand for its job-related services like interview skills, according to executive director Kendall Farrell. Clothing donations are "going pretty steady," thanks in part to company drives by Citigroup and Hearst, she said. Next month, LexisNexis will try a novel pitch at one of its conferences. Having purchased 100 plus-size suits for Bottomless Closet, the company has asked attendees to donate accessories.


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