I had met Ashley only briefly before asking to interview her for the blog, but immediately knew this girl was MY people! If her constant smile wasn’t already big enough, you should see how contagious it can be when she talks about her passion. We were able to sit down to a rocking breakfast in our downtown and talk about The Beautiful Exchange’s first days in action, upcoming plans, and even the exciting and stressful parts of running her own organization.
There is so much to learn from Ashley’s perspective and passion no matter what your business is!
How did you first come up with the idea for The Beautiful Exchange (TBE)?
Honestly, there was a time in August or September of 2013 that the idea just came to me. I use to bring clothes to sell to places like Plato’s Closet or Upscale Cheapskate and one day I decided to start donating instead and suddenly I kept thinking “what could come of this?” It really kept pressing on my heart.
There are a lot of different donation centers and outreach programs for women out there. What do you think sets TBE apart from other organizations?
The clothing donations are a big part of it which is similar to most outreaches but in the end we create a chance for these girls to go shopping. I really want the focus to be on the experience while they’re there. We try to make it fun and exciting. The goal is for each girl to leave with around 5 tops & bottoms each with the help of volunteer “stylists” assisting them in finding outfits they like and feel good in. Our last event in May had over 300 people easily. We made sure everyone was given time to shop and had a real “check out” process with shopping bags and everything. There are so many different girls and young women at our events and I never want it to feel like a handout to them or their families.
What do you think helped influence you growing up that created this passion to help young girls and provide them with a shopping experience like TBE does? Do you like to shop?
Oh yeah- I’M A GIRL!!! I love clothes! I was a total tomboy growing up and played outside all the time and got into everything but of course that shifted. These days retail therapy is of course a must! But this cause was really placed on my heart and was a deep desire in me to really help girls that may have come from a similar situation I did. Growing up I had everything I needed but kids can be very cruel. I was home-schooled but when I’d go to events I’d still get picked on for wearing the same pants or same shoes all the time. I never really had a sense of confidence or love for myself. I understand that those things aren’t given to you by just the clothes you have on but it does help. This is why not only do I want to help give these girls a sense of hope and confidence in themselves, we also want to show them love and attention letting them know they are special no matter what walk of life they come from.
How does being part of TBE and working with these families help shift your attitude toward consumerism and shopping for yourself?
No lie, I was a hoarder before all of this! I’d buy stuff ALL the time off of impulse just because I “needed” in my life. Now I’m better about not buying everything I see and wasting money on things I’ll never wear or use. Seeing these families and how grateful they would be for a worn pair of shoes and a few outfits really changed my perspective and the way I spend my money. I had forgotten what it was like to not have and I am so glad I was given the opportunity to be humbled.
Now, I know you have a full time job outside of running TBE. How in the world do you fit in the time to run your program while balancing a personal life outside of both- or at least I hope you do!
It’s a daily struggle honestly! I have days where it’s all over the place and planning is taking over. I have a severe battle with laziness and procrastination, but I’m learning to be more consistent and organized. To-Do lists! To-Do lists! To-Do lists! They save my life every time. And even though it truly is like working two full time jobs, the love and passion I have for The Beautiful Exchange makes feel like I am doing what I was always meant to do with my life. So no matter how frustrating it gets, something in me never allows me to stop.
Now whether people are creating an organization or starting a small business of their own, it can be really intimidating to ask for help. How do you approach getting donations and funding, where do you find volunteer support?
I’m never the type to ask for help. I hate it. Now, I try to have the mindset that if nothing comes of it, that’s ok- but if it does that’s great. I was flooded with responses for donations after posting on social media. Our very first donations came on Christmas day! Seriously, trunks full. Networking is amazing. I had friends from work, school and church telling their friends. You can be surprised by how often people have the same heart you do for the same cause they just don’t know until you say something. So that what I’ve been trying to learn. People are looking for something to support and be a part of, they just need to know we are out there!!
I loved being a part of one of the sorting parties earlier this year for TBE going through all of the donations but I know this is only a small part of what it takes to prep for the shopping events. How was your first event experience?
The very first TBE giveaway was last May where we had actually partnered with the Salem Pregnancy Care Center for a Mother’s Day event. A few months later in August I actually held the first event on my own without partnering with anyone and I was terrified. It was me, my family and a few friends. It was a lot of work, more work than any of us signed up for. We set everything up and I just thought “hey, if nobody comes we did our part!” That morning there was a line outside before we even opened! People walked from the local shelter. People took the bus to get there. It was crazy! At the end of the event we had helped 180 girls shop and find outfits and that’s not even counting younger siblings and moms that were there! It was extremely humbling.
If anyone reading is interested in getting involved with TBE, what can they do?
Donations are still a great way to get involved. Donating gently used clothing, shoes and accessories for girls ages 5-21. We have the most difficulty getting donations for little girls clothing (age 5 to 11) while teens & older women are usually more common. If you are interested in donating, you can contact us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us 336.725.0109. Volunteering at sorting parties are also a way to get involved!
Currently we have a GoFundMe account for The Beautiful Exchange to help us raise the funds to continue to make a different in our community and promote the organization in other areas. Sharing with a friend or on social media about TBE or is a great way to show support and get involved! We make announcements about ways to volunteer all the time on our social media pages so come follow us!
I love featuring women like Ashley on the blog who are working toward their dreams and approaching life with a “why not me?” mentality. Always find reminders that one person can make a difference in the world to so many!