Operators of Fig Leaf Boutique say that for the past several years, they’ve kept things afloat on a “wing and a prayer.”
Established around 2010, the local non-profit retailer at 125 E. Mishawaka Ave. in Mishawaka has offered clothing for those in need, many of whom are referred to the boutique by case workers or clinics. Inside, customers are able to shop and select 10 clothing items for each person in their household, all for free.
“Our goal is that people are able to shop here with dignity and with love,” director Barb Schafer said. “And that they feel like they’re really shopping.”
No questions are asked and no proof is needed for customers to shop around for the free items, including infant onesies, children’s t-shirts, young professional blazers, plus-sized dresses, men’s shoes and more, which are often donated by other area stores and groups such as Clothes Mentor, Plato’s Closet, The Christ Child Society and more. The seasonal items, which also can be donated by individuals, are neatly organized inside the modest building by volunteers, who also take the time to make sure every item is to their standard of quality.
“We have many people who, by word of mouth, give us beautiful things, and we pride ourselves on that,” Schafer said. “Every zipper works, the buttons are there, there are no stains, they’re in style, we debate and discuss items that we put out and wonder if it would work for our cliental.”
Volunteers are able to advise and help customers shop through the items and, once done, count to make sure they take home the right number of items. Customers are then allowed to come back and shop at the store three months later.
Fig Leaf operators say an average of 430 items leave the store every Thursday and estimate the boutique has served at least 1,500 people since 2012, some of whom are regulars and others who may have visited only once. But although the non-profit provides the service for free, they worry about the boutique’s future.
Fig Leaf has been part of the ministry of the First United Methodist Church in Mishawaka since 2018. Schafer said the church financially contributes to the non-profit on a quarterly basis, which helps cover operating costs such as rent, utilities and insurance.
“But it’s not nearly enough,” she said. “It’s like a third of what we really need. … We know we’ll make it through December, but it is truly iffy if we can continue in January.”
Schafer, as well as treasurer Paula Laskowski and secretary Marcia Bloore, said the boutique regularly hosts fundraiser events through the church, Hacienda Mexican Restaurants and the Amazon Smile program. But the donations are typically small and can take a while to come to fruition.
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“All of those little things do add up and help us immensely,” Schafer said. “And that’s why we’ve been able to stay open. But we’re in need of something more consistent.”
Laskowski, who has been with the boutique since its inception with founder Diana Taylor, said without the boutique, those in need would likely lose their regular source of clothing. Other resources, such as The Christ Child Society, require a referral and a specific income level for their goods. Goodwill is often too expensive for those looking for something to simply get them by.
“People are able to come in and get things for nothing here,” Laskowski said. “And they would lose their clothing frequently (if we were to close).”
Fig Leaf Boutique is open Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and every second and fourth Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. Donations are accepted Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.