Closet Cleanout For A Cause

 In Interviews

I remember opening my closet one day just a couple of weeks after I completed several rounds of grueling chemotherapy and I thought to myself, “I would love to throw EVERYTHING out.” The maxi dress that I wore to almost all of my treatments because it looked pretty, but was also super comfy. The button down shirts that I purchased at the last minute because I learned that I wouldn’t be able to raise my arms for a while, and the beautiful robes and PJ’s that were given to me as gifts. I just wanted them gone.

Not sure about you guys, but fashion is emotional for me. It’s a form of expression. A mood. An attitude. I associate the key chapters in my life with the outfits that I wore. The polyester dresses in primary colors that my Mom sent me off to elementary school in during the 70’s. My acid washed jeans and cropped tops in the 80’s. The prom gowns. My “Fashion Design Major” college wardrobe of the 90’s, filled with velvet baby doll dresses, Madonna- inspired bustiers (yes, I used to go clubbing!), leather chokers, and biker shorts. The glorious years that I spent in NYC as a Fashion Editor-Turned-Publicist wearing all of the latest trends, including pleather pants which were not the wisest choice to go dancing in for 8 hours at a time. I literally had to peel them off before going to bed! My wedding gown. Maternity dresses. Each and every garment reminded me of a moment in time, most of them joyful. Until I had breast cancer.

Not only did many of the items in my closet remind me of my initial diagnosis and treatment, but they no longer fit my new body. At this point in time, I only had my expanders in. I’d hop out of the shower in a hurry to get dressed and finally go out for a nice dinner only to realize that my favorite dresses and tops no longer hugged my curves like they did before. It was like I was wearing someone else’s clothing. And it made me sad. I hung on to most of my wardrobe for some time and eventually purged what didn’t make me feel happy, especially those pieces that simply didn’t fit me anymore.

I recall wishing that I had a place to donate my gently used items, a resource that could actually help other women undergoing treatment. And guess what? That’s what the fashion-forward founders of Cancer Cartel thought too, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them and how their amazing non-profit is changing the lives of thrivers across the country.

Cancer Cartel is a unique non-profit that creates financial relief to cancer thrivers by collecting and selling donated, high-end women’s clothing and accessories on their website, pop-up events, and at their annual gala.  They also have a branded clothing line which donates 100% of the profit back to their initiative. They accept monetary donations and fund their operation with grants from community foundations and individual donors.

The non-profit was founded by cancer thrivers Katy Tinney and Shelly Tinney-Miller (sisters) and their friend Kerry Solmonsen. Shelly survived breast cancer, Katy survived stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a life-saving stem cell transplant, and Kerry survived survived skin, thyroid, cervical, and breast cancer. So it’s pretty safe to say that these women know a thing or two about cancer, and know first hand what an impact it has on your life…..emotionally, financially and physically.

From gas money and groceries, to power bills and mortgage payments, their goal is to help absorb the heavy financial burden of a cancer diagnosis. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with these amazing women, check out our interview below. Did I mention that ELLEN DEGENERES is writing them a check for $10K?! OMG how amazing this that?  Thank you Ellen!

Q: What inspired the idea behind Cancer Cartel? Why did you decide to launch it now? And why did you choose fashion as a way to help others and give back?
This idea was born in a car ride home from another charity event.  Katy and Kerry had been packaging food for regional food banks all day and immediately upon embarking, the “we HAVE to do something to give back. We have to use our talents and abilities to help people who are facing the things we have faced!” We just started throwing ideas out there.  They both had fashion backgrounds and knew they wanted to find a way to incorporate fashion with helping people.  By the time we got home, Cancer Cartel was born.  Our goal was to be the “Real Real” of the nonprofit space, with 100% of proceeds from the sale of the items to directly benefit people fighting cancer.  As soon as we got home, Katy called her sister Shelly, a fellow survivor who had been searching for her own meaningful goal, and the dream team was complete.

Q:  When will donated items be available for sale on your website? Do you currently only carry your branded merchandise?
The donated items are sold in two different ways.  We originally started off with eBay, but are now moving the higher-end items to our own website. We’re looking to partner with a larger, more established platform in order to drive traffic to these really special pieces, ultimately enabling us to help more people.  We’re also hoping to re-launch our pop-up platform soon.  These are a great way to have a fun shopping event and grow awareness too! Our branded merchandise, as well as some of our partner brands are available on our website as well.

Q: How exactly does the donation process work? What percentage of sales goes to breast cancer patients?
  Our process for designer donations is simple!  We accept the donated items and determine if they hold enough value to launch on the web, or if they would be more suited for our pop-up shops.  Designer accessories are the easiest thing for us to sell.  Handbags, jewelry, scarves, etc. don’t need to be tried on, and they fit almost everyone! But we love and appreciate all items!  Next, these items are available for sale.  What a better way to get gently loved designer items at a great price- AND know that the funds from your purchase is helping someone in need!  Win-Win.  100% of the net proceeds go directly to cancer patients.  We have shipping, platform fees, etc, but after that ALL of the funds are helping people pay their everyday living expenses while they fight cancer.

Q: Can you explain your motto, “Fashion Funds The Fight”?
“Fashion Funds the Fight” is our battle cry.  We are using fashion — donated items, branded clothing and accessories, brand partnerships, and more, to donate money, in the form of cash grants and/or Amazon digital gift cards, to combat the increased financial pressure that cancer causes.  It is the unexpected, unplanned expenditures that people without cancer aren’t facing.  It’s the $20 a day to park at the hospital, or time off of work, or choosing between your medicine and your daughter’s ballet class.  We want to directly alleviate the strain these added expenses are causing.

Q: How and when do you distribute the Amazon gift cards? How do you decide who receives them?
At this point, we have the time to respond quickly to requests.  Our vetting process for the Amazon gift cards has been minimal.  If you have cancer and are facing financial strain, we will do our best to help you.

Q: What is your dream, your main goal for Cancer Cartel?
 We are aiming extremely high.  Our main goal is to give away ELEVEN MILLION DOLLARS.  Do we have 11 million dollars now?  No.  But we know we will get there.  In order to accomplish this mission, we are searching for a company, or individual, or foundation to come alongside us and fund our administration costs.  We want 100% of every dollar raised to go directly to our goal, and not to pay salaries or overhead.  We know this is possible.  We also know that strategic partnerships and brand collaborations will be instrumental in this goal achievement!  We will get there!

Q: When did you officially launch?
We are only a little over a year old.  We officially launched in May of 2019 and have made great strides in a very short period of time.

Q: Do you provide tax documentation for the donations that you accept?
We do! We can provide hard copies at events or through the mail, as well as are happy to email a copy for your records.  We are a registered 501(c)3.

Q: Katy and Shelly, you are sisters…..what is your relationship with Kerry, how did you all meet?
Katy and Kerry’s significant others have been friends for years.  They have always been telling the girls that they would be instant friends if ever they had the chance to meet.  They were right.  It was friends at first sight.  Then when Kerry met Shelly the connection was just as strong and just as instant!  These three are a match made in heaven.

Q: Do you have anything special coming up that you’d like to share with us? Events? Virtual events? Promotions? Partnerships?
We have a virtual Fashion Fun Run/ Walk on July 11 & 12.  It is a really fun event where we are encouraging everyone to dress up and run or walk a 5k, 10k, or a half marathon!  It is only $30!

We are partnering with an incredible company called Zala Moon.  They specialize in high-end baby gifts and accessories, but they make an infinity shawl that we think would be absolutely incredible in the wardrobe of someone fighting cancer.  They also make beautiful masks of the same material.  They are so soft!  They are donating 100% of the net proceeds from those items sold on our website to Cancer Cartel.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  Clean that closet out! It’s ok to let go of those beautiful garments that just don’t serve you anymore….and donate them to Cancer Cartel!

To learn more about their mission, check them out on Instagram and Facebook.

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