Around Town: Night a WIN for everyone

It didn’t take long for me and Times Colonist photographer Bruce Stotesbury to realize why we were the only men in the room during a fashion frenzy at Westside Village Shopping Centre Thursday night.

“Maybe the women come and they don’t bring their husbands so they don’t know how much they’re spending,” joked Mara Szyp, the retail manager for Victoria Women in Need Community Co-operative’s three resale shops. “It would be amazing if we could get more men to come.”

Maybe so, but the 150 women at Countdown to Couture, the non-profit’s second annual seasonal fundraiser at its Wilson Street store, seemed to be doing just fine without them.

“Women do love shopping,” said programs co-ordinator Kate Fleming, offering one reason why so many women — millenials, middle-agers and seniors alike — showed up to browse and purchase donated designer clothing, footwear and accessories during what won’t be one of this town’s best-kept fashion secrets for long.

Prada, Gucci, Dior, Dr. Martens and Armani originals were among labels found on stylish, hard-to-find items including coats, jackets, handbags, dresses and shoes. We also spotted items including Italian silk men’s jackets, green leather ladies’ Fry boots, a smart Ted Baker woollen child’s sweater and a London Fog pink children’s snowsuit.

“Sex and the City,” I blurted out when Szyp challenged me to identify an eye-catching pair of black-satin stiletto Jimmy Choos.

“Yes. Good,” the hostess said with a laugh, after draping me with a cashmere Burberry scarf that retails for $675 but was being sold for $399.

“This is an accumulation of about a year’s worth of high-end donations,” explained marketing and communications co-ordinator Briana James, whose black dress matched the colour of choice for staffers Thursday.

“All the funds we collect go toward supporting our five empowerment programs. We help women with retraining, schooling and helping them move from transition houses into their own homes.”

Donations and proceeds from sales of donated goods and affordable clothing, housewares and furniture are used to fund WIN initiatives that help local women in crisis on journeys to self-sufficiency and wellness. The three retail locations are at 785 Pandora Ave., 1803 Cook St. and in Westside Village, 160-174 Wilson St.

The Christmas charity event also helps fund a program that provides gift certificates to women so they can fill essential needs for clothing, household and children’s items during a discreet shopping experience.

While admission was by donation, early birds paid $25. Punch, sushi, hors d’oeuvres, chocolates and door prizes from spa packages to deluxe brunches added to the fun.

“I really believe in the whole process they bring women through, the education they give them and their reintroduction back into society to work,” said shopper Veronica Hylands.

While scouring racks for “something that might speak to me,” Connie Sparrow praised WIN for turning “high-quality donations into cash for women who need to make a better life for themselves.”

Executive director Clare Yazganoglu said she knew Countdown to Couture would be worth repeating when lineups formed outside last year.

“We have incredible donors and wonderful support from the community,” said Yazganoglu, who said a pressing need now is donations of furniture for its New Start program.

Smiling shoppers included Cheryl Pocklington and Haley Kuppers, provincial government co-workers who decided to make a girl’s night out of shopping for a worthy cause.

“We’re very much into vintage and thrifting, so we were excited about this opportunity to buy pieces that were such good quality for our wardrobes,” Pocklington said. “We’re into having less, but better quality.”

Added Kuppers: “And we love couture. Who doesn’t?”

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