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Meet Johannah Warren of Fashionkind Foundation in Rancho Penasquitos

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johannah Warren.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Johannah. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started this nonprofit organization in 2018 when I found myself out of work from a disabling autoimmune condition. It was something I wanted to do “someday” and found myself faced with the reality that we never know how much time we have left. My upbringing was steeped in alcoholism and substance abuse, and while I managed to find an outlet in academic achievement and higher education, I struggled with communication, trust issues, and insecurity. I also watched helplessly as my sister (who was also my best friend) slowly slipped away to addiction herself. It is a devastating disease, claiming the vitality and lives of too many young and otherwise healthy individuals. The effects are far-reaching – throughout families and communities and down through generations. Despite speaking the language of Addiction, I never thought I would do something like this. I was traumatized by all the loss, betrayal, and abandonment, unsure if there was anything stronger than this monster. But something shifted in me when I had to face my mortality. There were stories of hope and miracles, and I needed something to believe in. My sister had received treatment for addiction many times, and there was never enough support for her reintegration into normal life. Like me, her soft skills were damaged and employment always fell short of fulfilling or even self-supporting. She was plagued with depression, anxiety, and an inability to sustain human connections. She relapsed every time, each one more harmful than the last until she finally quit trying. In the midst of my crisis, I set out to create a support system for women in recovery: a safe place where they could find fellowship, creativity, and encouragement. Thus, Fashionkind was born. I began gathering gently used professional clothing for women in sober living residences and set up a boutique in my garage where they could come and shop at no charge. I recruited volunteer stylists and friends in recovery who would be there to help build confidence as these women returned to the workforce after treatment. It is still a very grassroots effort, but I’ve seen the smiles and the change in attitude when our clients start trying on clothes and have an experience unlike how they’ve been treated in the past. They belong. They feel valued. They matter. Fashion can be transformative, and we have often had clients refer to this as a sort of Cinderella Effect. There are no hand-me-downs or thrift store leftovers. We have professional suits, interview attire, and a variety of work wear for the local environment. It’s just a little boost to an under-served population, but the reward is high. It gives me the hope I had lost and the strength I needed to not give up on this under-served population.

Has it been a smooth road?
I feel the biggest struggle is that many have given up on this population. Whether out of fear or helplessness, I understand why many would want to distance themselves. I did. Addiction is a strong force, and it appears to some like a choice the individual has made. It’s much more complicated than that. I used to believe it was only my family, and there was something wrong with us. I felt like no one could understand what I’d experienced. Starting this organization brought me in to contact with my tribe, not just the women in recovery but also a lot of others who kept this family secret hidden. The movement is slow but steady, and I no longer feel alone in this.

Another obstacle is that in the nonprofit world, metrics dominate. What matters to me is not how many women we’ve helped, but that each one believes in her own worth. These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, touching the lives of so many others. Each one is unique and gets individualized attention. That is hard to accomplish on a larger scale (for now), but we are gaining traction and the outlook is optimistic.

Tell us more about the organization.
Our premise is simple. We accept donations of new and gently used women’s clothing suitable for interviewing and work. Our boutique is like a mini-Macy’s with clothing, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. We recruit volunteer stylists to assist in providing a shopping experience at no charge for women in sober living residences transitioning back into the workforce. Often they have lost everything, further dampening the belief in their own recovery. We hope to remedy this in a small but impactful manner. Over the past year, we have built a solid network of supportive volunteers and champions for the cause. This is the heart and soul of our mission. We care about our clients and will be following their progress and stories of success.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
We are currently looking for a new location to accommodate all shapes and sizes. Now that the vision is taking shape, we are solidifying our values as an organization and growing support in the community – both the fashion industry and women in recovery – utilizing the synergies of both. One thing we have come to realize is that there is some remarkable talent in our clientele. They have written books, poetry, and songs. They sing and dance and celebrate their recovery through artistic expression. We will be harnessing this talent in our upcoming fundraisers and bringing awareness to the public. Another incredible shift in the world of substance abuse and addiction is that sufferers are coming out of the shadows. Those who previously felt shame and condemnation are realizing that coming out about their struggle is the only way to help others who are still in the shadows. At the risk of judgment, they are putting themselves out there to show that recovery is possible.

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Image Credit:
Teri Joy Photography (terijoy.com)

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