At first glance, the atmosphere is best described as cute and charming. Dozens of lightly worn shoes are arranged on a low shelf, jewelry is showcased in a glass display case and clothes are neatly organized on racks. This 1,000 square foot storefront has the vibe of a high-end designer boutique, but the price tags of a thrift shop.
“We call it the little boutique that can,” beams Yvonne Hogenes, a Fraser Valley fashion retailer who opened this Cloverdale shop last December.
What it’s actually called is the Inn for Women, a second hand store characterized as a “chic second-hand boutique.”
It’s not only a place for high-end hand-me-downs, it’s the social enterprise of Servants Anonymous Society of Surrey (SAS), a not-for-profit organization that provides housing, education and addictions recovery programs to women who’ve experienced homelessness and sexual exploitation.
Hogenes is heavily involved with SAS. She sits on their board as the vice president and coordinates all of their fundraising, which explains her enthusiasm for this thrift shop.
“Even I shop here,” she laughs. The comment is a little ironic, as many would consider Yvonne to be a pioneer of the lower mainland’s fashion retail industry.
“I was the first to be able to actually highlight our Vancouver designers,” she says in a humbling voice, referring to her designer boutique, Malary’s Fashion Network, just across the street from the Inn for Women.
Prior to Malary’s opening more than 17 years ago, there were not many options for Vancouver fashion designers looking to showcase their clothing locally. “They were only selling to Toronto and the United States.”
Although she’s passionate about giving local designers a voice, Hogenes’ impact on the fashion industry encompasses more than just retail.
“I started to use the tagline: where health meets fashion.”
A decade ago, Hogenes developed an undergarment that she jokingly calls “the runner shoe of bras.”
“I started to redesign the bra. I wanted to put it into natural fibres, I wanted it to be healthy, and I wanted to get a medical licenser on it,” Hogenes states. She ended up creating TAB Custom-Fitted Bras – a bra that comes in 150 sizes that caters to all women, including those who’ve undergone surgery for breast cancer.
The quick success from TAB led Hogenes to her next venture: FIRMA Energywear – clothing made from fabric with bioactive crystals woven into the fibres. The clothes are said to have healing benefits, like reducing the appearance of cellulite and lowering muscle fatigue.
“Your body heat goes into the fabric, it absorbs into the bioactive crystals and that emits back into your body the far infrared energy,” she quickly adds, “and far infrared energy is very healing.”
Hogenes goes on to talk about big plans of expanding the FIRMA Energywear and TAB Bras brand across North America in the coming years. Yet, she looks around Cloverdale’s Inn for Women boutique with the same sense of pride and affection. After all, each of these projects follows the same root purpose: to help woman.
“A passion in my life has always been to transform women’s lives so you can see them feel empowered.”
Yvonne Hogenes’ top three tips for women in business: listen, find your passion and develop a team:
LISTEN: “I really can’t emphasize that a lot. I listened, listened, listened, because the thing that got me going at the beginning was that I heard how people liked to buy from their own designers in the area … and when you’re listening, listen for areas that you think are niche or something different that will give you a stand out.”
PASSION: “Passion seems so overworked, but it’s so important. If you don’t have that passion, you might as well forget it.”
TEAM: “It’s really important to develop a team. So you’re the leader but you’ve got to exude honestly, integrity, love for what you do to your team … and if you do and you can translate that to your team about where you want to go and what you’re excited about, you’re going to build a very strong group of people around you to support you.”
Written by Jen Muranetz. Follow Jen on Twitter at @jenmuranetz.