Fashion is going to the dogs in the North Hills. And the cats. And even bunnies, hamsters and snakes.
Nancy Lee of Ben Avon Heights recently opened WearWoof, a consignment shop on Rochester Road in Ross that donates its profits to 26 animal shelters and rescue organizations in the Pittsburgh area.
Ms. Lee said she came up with the idea in 2011 when she was volunteering at an animal shelter while on an extended vacation in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I wanted to meet people and loved animals and thought volunteering at a shelter would be a great way to meet people while helping. It didn't turn out the way I had planned," she said.
The people she worked with weren't as friendly as she had hoped, she said. And then she found out why.
Another woman who was volunteering asked Ms. Lee how much longer she would be volunteering at the shelter. When Ms. Lee said a few months, the woman replied, "Wow, that's a long time. What did you do?"
"Then she told me that volunteering at a shelter was usually community service work assigned by the courts," Ms. Lee said. "That explained the cold, indifferent behavior."
Although Ms. Lee wanted to help the shelters, she thought she might do something other than volunteer there.
"They had some resale shops in Florida that would help support the shelters, and I thought I would take it a step further," she said.
Upon her return to the Pittsburgh area, Ms. Lee decided to open a clothing resale shop with a boutique feel and donate the profits to local animal shelters.
She put out the word that she was collecting designer clothing and other fashions in excellent condition, and the donations began arriving on her door step. Her husband, Albert, loved the idea and was supportive.
"When the house started filling up with clothing donations, he never complained," she said.
Ms. Lee, 46, found a location for her shop that wasn't too far from her home and was convenient to major roads. She opened the store in April. The business is operated with volunteers, including Ms. Lee, who oversees the operations and works in the shop several days a week.
The organizations that Ms. Lee has selected to receive the proceeds are thrilled with the idea, she said.
"The shop is such a wonderful concept," said Sarah Shively, outreach coordinator with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. "There are a lot of people that might not be able to give money or donate time, but everyone wears clothes. You can clean out your closet and help a shelter," she said.
Ms. Shively's dog, Adora, has become the "spokesdog" for WearWoof.
"We took her to the grand opening of the store and other events so that people can see what adoptable pets are like. It is also about raising awareness," she said.
Karen Phillips, a veterinarian with Animal Friends, the Animal Rescue League and the Humane Society, has her own shelter for rescued farm animals, called Hope Haven, one of the facilities that benefits from WearWoof.
"She is also helping the little guys like us, not just the bigger and well-known shelters," Ms. Phillips said. "It is so cool and really merges her passions and interests," she said of the shop.
Ms. Lee has worked in teaching and human resources, but her goal was to go into fashion design. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and WearWoof blends her love of fashion with her love of animals.
"It is just fun for me," she said.
Ms. Lee accepts current or classic style clothing in clean and excellent condition. She does not accept swimwear or teen wear. Those who donate may designate which of the partner shelters they would like to receive the profits from the sale of their items. Clothing that doesn't sell is donated to other organizations, Ms. Lee said.
The organizations that have partnered with Ms. Lee are Animal Rescue League, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, Animal Friends, Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary, Pet Friends of Irwin, Butler County Humane Society, Hello Bully and the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team, plus other shelters and rescue organizations.
In addition to the shop sales, Ms. Lee also is starting to award small grants to the shelters and rescue organizations and hopes to one day host an animal welfare conference in Pittsburgh. She also hopes to open a second WearWoof location that specializes in teen wear.
"I want Pittsburgh to be known for its animal welfare work," she said. "We have so many amazing shelters in our area, we deserve recognition."
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.