Cinderella’s Closet: Building Self Esteem through Beauty

cinderellas closetBy: Alec Clayton

Cinderella’s Closet is a labor of love for Mary Ann Detzler, and although she didn’t say it in as many words, it is clear that running this non-profit is a tribute and a memorial to her daughter, Renata Hanson, who passed away  July 31, 2011.

Co-founded by Detzler and her daughter, Cinderella’s Closet is a not-for-profit business that provides formal wear to women and girls who cannot afford the dresses, shoes and other accessories.

“Renata liked teens and had been loaning them dresses out of her own closet,” Detzler said.

“It started with friends of Renata. Twenty ladies got together and set up a community drive for formal wear in August (2009), and by Oct. 1 when we opened we had 300 dresses.”

The mission of Cinderella’s Closet is “Helping girls and women of all ages feel beautiful and know their self-worth.”

Many of the gowns and accessories are donated, but they do have to buy some, mostly larger sizes, which Detzler said are hard to come by. Rental fees barely cover expenses. She says their biggest expenses are utilities, dry cleaning and liability. “We purchase maybe 10 percent to get particular sizes, and some retailers give us end-of-sale items,” Detzler said. “This is a very generous community.”

Detzler said they have three types of sponsorship programs through which they provide formal wear to girls:  freely sponsored outfits for low income high school students, girls in foster care or ones who are recommended by a teacher, sponsorships for events by other non-profits, and self-esteem activities such as fashion shows or formal fundraisers. Freely sponsored outfits may go to girls for such things as homecomings. Detzler said that during this past homecoming season they rented out 80 formal outfits and freely sponsored 16 in September and October, and in November they rented out eight and freely sponsored seven. Other non-profits which they sponsor include St. Martin’s University, which asks them to provide dresses for the students working at their annual fundraiser, and graduates of Union Gospel Mission’s substance abuse program.

Cinderella’s Closet first opened under the name Cinderella’s Attic Network in a donated empty dress shop in Tumwater, but they had to change their name because another non-profit was already using it. In 2010 they moved to a new shop location in the South Sound Center in Lacey, near PetSmart. Soon their lease will run out and they will have to move again. Right now they need help in finding a donated retail space of 1,800 to 2,000 square feet.

Women and girls in need of formal wear for any occasion are invited to drop in and browse through their shelves for dresses, shoes and jewelry. Short dresses rent for $25, long formals are $40, and glitzy ball gowns are $60. The fee for all accessories such as fancy shoes, purses and jewelry is $5 “for all that you need.”

Many local business and organizations have been generous in their donations and in volunteering, and in their two-year history Cinderella’s Closet has sponsored many worthwhile events.

They have networked with South Puget Sound Rotary and the Thurston County Chamber, Foster Care, Teens at Risk, Families Helping Kids and The Wardrobe, a charity to assist handicapped and disadvantaged people. They have provided gowns for high school events and for church musical performances.  They have provided fashions for fashion show fundraisers at two area high schools and provided six outfits free to the Thurston County Volunteers Group for their awards night gala. They also provided six free formals for Capital Playhouse’s Kids At Play summer program.

“We did four high school fashion shows last year, and we did a big fashion show at Arts Walk in Urban Onion, which donated the ballroom space,” Detzler said. A new program they’ve started this year is supervising a lot of high school girls in fulfilling their community service requirements for graduation. “We had at least 20 different girls this year,” Detzler said.

Loans and rentals are short term. The length of time may vary depending on the event. “A dress or two have been on cruises,” Detzler said, “And one even went to Italy.” During Homecoming season or other busy times they ask for shorter rental times to help meet the demand.

The organization is fully operated by volunteers who are called fairy godmothers. Promotional handouts state: “These caring women work together to provide the opportunity for all girls and women in our community to be able to attend their special events by lending them everything they need to achieve the right look, which in turn helps give them more self-esteem. Working like fairy godmothers we want to help everyone we serve feel special and to know that someone cares.”

Many things are needed, including: donations of slightly used or new formal wear help with modeling experiences for high school and college girls, sewing, repairs, fundraising and promotional activities, and monetary donations.

Detzler said the most gratifying thing about running Cinderella’s Closet is “meeting with community members who donate and meeting and interacting with the girls. The cherry on top of the cake is some of the wonderful stories we hear from them.”


Cinderella’s Closet

South Sound Center

719 Sleater Kinney Rd.


Open Thurs.-Fri. 3-6 .m., Sat.1-4:30 p.m., Sun. 2-4 p.m.


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