Store shows unlimited potential with new look

Customers browse the racks inside the newly updated Teens Unlimited, a local store that benefits local homeless youth through its profits and local youth through its volunteer opportunities. - Cynthia Woolbright
Customers browse the racks inside the newly updated Teens Unlimited, a local store that benefits local homeless youth through its profits and local youth through its volunteer opportunities.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Linda DeFouw loves it when a group of girls walks into the Teens Unlimited store in Langley and lets loose on what they think of the clothes.

“They tell us what’s cool and what’s not,” DeFouw said. “Sometimes we don’t always know, but they keep us in touch.”

Of course, DeFouw always hopes they like what they see. She hopes they stay a while and maybe even realize that when they shop the racks of new and almost-new clothes inside they’re helping give to a good cause — their fellow teens.

Stepped inside Teen’s Unlimited lately?

There’s change painted, literally, on the walls.

There’s an added depth to the racks.

There’s a new breeze to the accessories.

For over a month now, Teens Unlimited has been in transition. Do you know TU?

Teens Unlimited opened May 1, 2004, with a mission to empower, engage and inspire teens through its non-profit business and to raise awareness for the existence of homelessness in the community.

Headed by then board director Linda DeFouw (who also acted as the store manager) Teens has gradually grown into a popular source on South Whidbey for stylish, affordable clothes, shoes and accessories — some new, some gently used — for youth, teens and the young at heart.

“This isn’t just a social service, this is an opportunity for kids to get affordable clothing,” said

Julie Cunha, current interim store manager.

Cunha’s one of the new additions.

She’s been a board member almost as long as TU has been in existence. Cunha stepped in as interim manager — a position she will hold until another manager is found — after DeFouw learned that Cunha had experience in purchasing and marketing for retail sales, and that she had a degree in art history.

Previously, DeFouw was heading the board, managing the store, tracking volunteers and acting as bookkeeper. Since delegating manager duties to Cunha and board director duties to Rene Schlangen, the trio agree the store hasn’t looked more fresh and bright.

The transformation began July 1.

“We wanted to time it so we’d be ready for all the people coming to town for Choochokam,” Schlangen said.

Cunha and the Teens Unlimited youth volunteers began by painting the store bright neon colors and then brought in new, funky retro furniture. The store also picked up some items like display cases, racks and other fixtures after Body Cover and What a Girl Wants went out of business.

Despite adults manning the store many days, Cunha said teens are now and will be the driving force of change, creativity and evolution when it comes to marketing Teens Unlimited.

Graham Vanderwood, an eighth-grader who volunteers at Teens Unlimited, helped pick the new “Mind Your Style” slogan. And Kenny Johnson designed the new sign that welcomes customers to the store.

“They were most definitely consultants with our image,” Cunha said.

There’s also more inventory, an extensive collection of clothes, from jeans to formals, boys to girls clothes, from dress to casual and subdued to wild.

“This isn’t Plato’s Closet — we don’t say brand names only,” Cunha said. “What we want is people’s own styles, not what someone says they should be wearing.”

Cuhna said she hopes to bring in more art by students and maybe even create a gallery space. Already, she has begun teaching art classes for teens. The art will soon be available at the store.

“We’re bursting at the seams, no pun intended,” Cunha said. “We have barely tapped the tip of what’s possible.”

Teens Unlimited is also hoping to bring in clothes created by local teens designers and is currently looking for samples of work for the shop.

And down the road, Teens Unlimited will partner with local organizations such as Good Cheer Food Bank and Operation Sack Lunch for a fashion show.

“We’ve had a chance to grow. This was our chance to grow up,” Schlangen said.

“We’ve figured out where we’re heading.”

Teens Unlimited has become a self-supporting business, and lately daily sales goals are regularly met, which DeFouw hopes is a sign of things to come.

“The true test will be how we do when everyone goes back to school,” Cunha said.

Any profits over the store’s operating expenses goes directly to emergency housing funding.

Earlier this year, Teens Unlimited raised money for it’s newly created Emergency Housing fund

by posting tiny birdhouses at local businesses to remind people about the community’s homeless population.

The drive brought $1,200 to the fund.

Teens Unlimited works closely with Families in Transition, Helping Hand of South Whidbey and South Whidbey Community Engagement Center and Good Cheer Food Bank.

Cunha appreciates the cohesion that’s forming with other organizations that share the same interests of helping homeless teens and their families.

“We’re stepping out on projects with other groups and really trying to make an impact,” Schlangen said.

One of those ventures is Island Coffee House, a project of Teens Unlimited in partnership with Langley Middle School teacher Susie Richards and her students.

Since the coffeehouse opened this spring, both groups have worked together to coordinate volunteers and direct customers to the other shop’s services. When new people working at Island Coffeehouse receive their orientation, the tour includes Teens Unlimited and vice versa.

And at Teens Unlimited, “Clothing equals coffee” because if people donate 10 items of clothing they receive a coupon for a free latte at Island Coffeehouse.

And as always, Teens Unlimited has a standing discount of 50-percent off any single items when people bring in 10 items of clothing for donation.

For Cunha, Teens Unlimited is about cultivating relationships in the community and providing opportunities for the future: that means both job opportunities for teens and opportunities to end homelessness on South Whidbey.

She sees the store as a valuable tool that gives youth in the community an opportunity to fulfill community service requirements, and a way for the kids who volunteer to gain work experience.

“We like the fact that we’re another place offering jobs on South Whidbey, a place that doesn’t have many jobs for kids to do,” DeFouw said. “It’s just a great place to be.”

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