Pamela Trefler had an “a-ha” moment after she realized that the castoffs in her wardrobe were worth serious money.
After a closet clean-out session, a consignment store wrote her a check for $40,000, which she promptly used to buy a computer lab for a Boston school. Trefler knew other women had unwanted items in their closets that could be re-sold to benefit nonprofit groups. From that seed, Union & Fifth was born. Just in time for Giving Tuesday, the Web site — whose tag line is “Shop for Good” — launches today.
For the project, Trefler teamed up with her sister-in-law, Christena Reinhard, a professional fund-raiser for nonprofits. She presented the project to her husband, Alan, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Pegasystems, a publicly traded software provider, and he judged the plan to be sound. “He and I are funding the initial $1 million,” Trefler said. The couple is not a stranger to philanthropy. In 1996 they started a charitable foundation that supports Boston’s Dorchester Academy, the Massachusetts General Hospital’s cancer center, and educational initiatives in a small village in Kenya.
To give designer clothing to Union & Fifth, donors request a bag and label. Next, they choose a charity that will receive the proceeds of the sale. Bags filled with clothes are sent to the Web site, which photographs and posts the items. At the end of the year, Union & Fifth will send a receipt for the total value of the donor’s items. “We’re learning what [price] the market will bear for different items,” Trefler said. “It’s a lot of research.”
When it comes to products, “we’re going to be a little more imaginative and carry some things that other [Web sites] don’t sell such as Zoran and Eskandar,” Reinhard said. Besides those two labels, other brands for sale include Chanel, Akris Punto, Giorgio Armani, Piazza Sempione, Escada, Etro, Judith Leiber, Eileen Fisher and Manolo Blahnik. “We’ll be moving into jewelry, men’s, maternity and children’s,” Reinhard said.
“We have access to different closets of high net worth people,” Trefler said. “We’re finding that they’re very happy to open up their closets to support whatever it is they’re passionate about.”
If donors don’t have an organization in mind, they can give to one of Union & Fifth’s prescreened charities, which include Little Kids Rock, UMass Boston, Year Up, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the University of San Francisco and Dream House of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
“We’re mission-driven,” Trefler said. “We’re hoping that by donating, people will learn a little bit about the organizations.”