Business Beat: Hidden Gems of Old Ottawa East – [fabrick collective]

With four youngsters of her own, Old Ottawa East resident Sarah Tait of McGillivray Street knows kids clothing as well as anyone in this community. So who better to launch an innovative online secondhand childrens clothing thrift store, known as [fabrick collective]. Tait is turning outgrown kids’ clothes into cash and donating a sizeable chunk of the proceeds to help support women who have experienced incarceration.

Sarah Tait, founder and owner of [fabrick collective], the home-based online thrift store for youth clothing, tells The Mainstreeter about the many important threads in her life that she wove together to create one of Old Ottawa East's hottest new businesses.

Sarah Tait, founder and owner of [fabrick collective], the home-based online thrift store for youth clothing, tells The Mainstreeter about the many important threads in her life that she wove together to create one of Old Ottawa East’s hottest new businesses.

[fabrick collective] seems to be a very well-conceived idea, and a fairly simple but sophisticated business model. When did it all materialize in your mind?

I started thinking about the idea in 2019. I was on the Board of Directors and doing volunteer work for the Elizabeth Fry Society, a registered charity that supports and advocates for criminalized women and girls in Ottawa. Things were still very busy at home with our four young kids and, specifically, with our twin boys born in 2018. Then, when the pandemic started, I thought of [fabrick collective] as an idea that would be interesting, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I really noticed how hard it was going to be for people to get out to thrift stores, since everything was closed at the start of the pandemic. Everybody was worried about germs on clothing and buying used and going outside, and nobody was accepting donations anymore. There was no place to take your kids’ used clothes. So, after a few months of that, coupled with starting to go a little stir crazy during the early period of the pandemic, I thought I needed to do something to give myself a different focus. I felt there was a real problem here where people have a lot of clothing to gift, but they don’t have anywhere to keep it or bring it. And I thought of all that in the context of Elizabeth Fry still needing to do fundraising.

So what steps did you take to launch [fabrick collective]?

I took a short online business course from another previous board member who had just launched her own business education venture. It was incredibly helpful in conceptualizing my idea, and on how I could appeal to donors and to customers, and what my organization would look like. All those details got worked out through participating in her course. And then on January 1, 2021, I sent out an email to all of my contacts – all the moms I’ve ever met through playgroups and through socializing and all of my friends – telling them what I was planning to do and asking if they would be willing to donate some clothes. The response was amazing. I also posted on the Old Ottawa East community Facebook page and got a great response from that. This community has really been fantastic in helping me launch and has really given me so much support from the very beginning. Then I spent those few months in early 2021 building my website, essentially learning how to do that having never done it before. And then I launched [fabrick collective] in March 2021. I’ve now been in business for two years, but I would say that I spent a good 18 months thinking and planning and getting organized before I really began.

Before we go any further, can you tell me why [fabrick collective] is spelled with a “k” in fabric, and how did the name come about?

When I first started thinking about this idea, I had a strong desire to raise money for Elizabeth Fry. For every nonprofit, fundraising is always a priority and an issue. One of the five priorities of Elizabeth Fry for the last few years has been to improve their buildings, their built environment for staff and for clients. As an organization, we hadn’t had a lot of money to invest in that kind of thing and we wanted to make sure that the clients have as dignified a setting as possible to start rebuilding their lives. They do have temporary housing for people who have either left jail or who have been bailed from jail and are spending some time in their housing to do some programs and get back on their feet. There was a real desire to make those rooms more comfortable and dignified for clients. With all that in mind, I just started thinking about how many clothes I have in our closets with my four kids. They go through a lot of clothes. I thought there was a lot of value just sitting in those closets, and wouldn’t it be great if I could sell them and pass the proceeds on to Elizabeth Fry for this kind of building project? And so the word “fabrick” popped into my head one morning to combine the idea of the fabric of the clothes and – not literally building bricks – but rather the sense of improving housing and also the idea of the fabric of building a community that could come together and pool their donations together, pool the proceeds and give them to Elizabeth Fry to purchase things to make a house a home.

To what extent did your own online shopping experiences during the pandemic influence your decision to start [fabrick collective] as an online business?

I think I had the concept in mind that it would be an online-only business, at least to start with, for a good number of years. Mostly because it was a different model of thrifting. I thought that there would be a need for people who either didn’t have the time or couldn’t get out to thrift stores with very young kids. In my own case, I would have found it impossible getting out to Value Village with twins on my hip, you know, it would have been a nightmare. So I thought there could be a way of having something that was very browsable, very searchable – just a really quick and simple way to find clothes that you need and the sizes that you want instead of going out, spending the time and energy getting there and combing through the clothes racks. So that was always the concept, and then, when the pandemic started and everybody was going online, I just thought this was exactly what I wanted to do. It just seemed that travelling to stores was no longer accessible for so many people. And I was fortunate. My husband has made a big contribution through childcare. I launched and built the business during the height of the pandemic where we were homeschooling our older children and looking after toddler twins with no preschool or family visits. That meant most of my work happened evenings and weekends. And the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women’s economic activity due to the childcare burden so it’s important to me to recognize that without my husband’s full participation in sharing domestic work, the business wouldn’t have been possible.

You use the term “thrifting” as a verb, as in “to thrift”. What is your definition of thrifting?

Buying second-hand is what thrifting is to me. I think it’s a verb that has emerged in the last few years, and it refers to any second-hand purchasing, whether that’s from a charity store, a Facebook group or a trade with friends.

Are the kids clothes you sell at [fabrick collective] donated by individuals or do you have arrangements with commercial wholesale second-hand clothing suppliers, or both?

No, [fabrick collective] is entirely driven by individual donors, and so far, about 200 different families have donated, many of them repeat donors. Every Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm I upload between 100 to 200 articles of clothing donated by individuals that week, and sometimes over 200 items. These are new additions to the website. At this point in time, I have almost 4,000 items of clothing in stock on the website and the turnover is very high.

Are all the clothes stored within your home?

Well, actually, very recently, as in a month ago, I started renting a storage unit to house all the inventory. And so now, I have it all sorted there, by size and type. I go there twice a week to put away the incoming items and to pick up the items for the orders that are outstanding. From my home, I’m just processing the donations of clothing, photographing them for the site and doing all the desk work.

Would you say that your business is competitive with or complementary to existing kids clothing stores in and around our community?

It’s definitely complementary. There are so many new clothing companies, but I don’t think there will ever be enough sources of second-hand clothing, which is so needed. We really need to take a step back from purchasing new which functions as a huge polluter. Buying clothing second-hand is something very straightforward that people can do to minimize their environmental impact. And with kids, sometimes they just don’t even wear the stuff at all, or it just never fits, or they grew so fast. So a lot of the used clothing is in really great shape. There are existing second-hand clothes available on a consignment basis and there are charity shops; I just think this is another way for people who are more comfortable shopping online at home or don’t have the time to go out to shop.

Would most of your customers live in Old Ottawa East?

I would say most of my customers live in Ottawa. I do ship across Canada, but I like to focus on Ottawa because that reduces the environmental impact of shipping things far away. I think it’s great to keep it all local. And because my enterprise serves a local non-profit, I think it’s a bit more meaningful to keep things in Ottawa. And I do have a density of customers in Ottawa Centre – and in Old Ottawa East, in particular – who have been very loyal from the beginning, continually donating clothes and purchasing from me regularly. I think this neighbourhood is environmentally conscious, and I think it’s ripe for having a store like this. It’s definitely been helpful to my business to be in this neighbourhood.

Can you fill us in on your background?

I was an academic until I started having kids, about 11 years ago. I got my PhD in criminology from Cambridge University in the UK. My partner and I moved back to Canada in 2009. We had both been applying for academic jobs, and we ended up in Ottawa because he got a job with the government. I kept applying for jobs and then started having kids, and suddenly my priorities changed, and I became a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. I have two twin boys who are four, and two older girls who are eight and 11. The board work with Elizabeth Fry was my attempt to reengage with that part of my knowledge and background and to try to do something of service to the community while I was at home with the kids. And that kind of led into this business idea.

You have an arrangement with the Elizabeth Fry Society that sees your company donating part proceeds to the organization. How does this work?

Yes, I donate 30% of gross sales every month through the Elizabeth Fry website on behalf of [fabrick collective]. I came up with the 30% figure myself, because I felt that amount was ‘roughly the average of what a consignment store might pay out to consignors for clothing. I felt like it was significant, enough to make a difference but not so much that there would be zero profit left over, because I do need to pay myself and all the expenses. I think the numbers have worked out fairly well – I’m donating up to about $1,000 a month to Elizabeth Fry, and that feels really great.


Filed in: Community Links, Front Page

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