Before the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) moved its headquarters to its newly built Springs development, it was located right off N. Pershing Street in a small, basement level space; adjacent to a European grocery store. Over the last four months, the office space was transformed to The Clothesline for Arlington Kids. The place is beautiful, with brightly painted walls, neatly hung clothing racks organized by style and size. Ellen, one of the founders of The Clothesline, made sure to explain that the white paint that was chosen was called ‘Benjamin Moore bright white’ and that she picked it on purpose for its warm, neat and clean look. She got the help of a neighbor with design expertise who helped design the logo and color pattern at no cost. “I wanted it to be a happy and fun place for kids. Clothes shopping should be fun.” She explained. APAH is proud to be among the many community members who’ve contributed in making The Clothesline possible by providing discounted rent.
Ellen originates from Richmond, Virginia but has lived in Arlington for the past 27 years. She has an art degree and spent most of her professional life working as a visual merchandising consultant and designed window displays for over 18 stores in Virginia and California. She has an excellent partner in her husband Ben who originates from Vermont. He’s been in the Arlington area since 1999 and has a graduate degree in International Economics. He worked in investment banking for a private equity firm before retirement.
The idea behind The Clothesline came about when Ellen couldn’t find anywhere to donate her children’s outgrown clothes in Arlington that would give them away for free. There are other places outside of Arlington but nowhere convenient or free of charge to patrons. After doing some google-searching, a place located in Tampa, Florida called Clothes to Kids, kept popping up. Ellen and Ben felt that it was serendipitous and while on a family vacation to Universal Studies, decided to give Clothes to Kids a visit. They were immediately inspired and began the journey that would lead them to The Clothesline.
Ellen and Ben did their homework. They researched more than fifteen different nonprofits, surveyed their community, and concluded that there was a need for a nonprofit that gives clothes to low-income households for free. While organizations that assisted with things like affordable housing, workforce training, and health access existed, a completely free-clothing place for children didn’t.
Once the need became clear, Ellen and Ben set out to create a business plan with the intent to fully fund the venture from their own capital for the first year. To their delight, a huge surge of community support appeared to help with things like pro-bono legal advice, free interior design, and even assistance locating an affordable property to rent.
In the beginning, the challenges were the unpredictability of the donations and reaching customers to let them know about their exciting (and free) product. Initially they assumed they’d only take in high-quality, barely worn clothing for children. They quickly expanded their intake to include shoes and young adult clothing. And they were happy to find many able and willing volunteers who come in regularly to sort, clean, and hang-up clothing in the store. They linked to Arlington Public Schools, churches, and other community-based organizations to spread the word to their low-income members.
According to Ellen, the key to successfully implementing a vision to life is believing that problems will work themselves out and having fun in the process. She explained, “We had a donor who gave us a pair of large men’s pants. Initially we weren’t going to take them. The very next day, a family came in with a High School student who ended up taking those very pants.”
They pride themselves on the quality of clothes they provide to their clients. It’s evident in the way the shop is setup. The window display is dressed beautifully. The walls are decorated in bright green and white paint colors. The clothes are hung by size and style on store-type hangers. The Clothesline feels more like a high-end boutique than a Goodwill. And all of this is done with intent.
Ben recalls the first time a client came in with her five children. He was moved by the mother who cried with joy and gratitude at receiving quality children’s clothing for her kids for free. Families are given the opportunity to come in twice a year for a private shopping experience to get a complete wardrobe for each child, including brand new socks and underwear (also donated). They even brought in a boom box to play mood music to complete the shopping experience.
Ben and Ellen are motivated to continue this venture because it’s fun and rewarding. They’ve created everlasting relationships with their volunteers and find joy in watching families benefit from their efforts. They see growth potential and hope that within three years they’ll be able to hire a small staff.