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FIDM Scholarship Store discounts clothes to aid students

By Rachel Garcia
Published: Tuesday, August 07, 2012, at 11:32AM
Rachel Garcia

Racks of bathing suits line the walls at the FIDM Scholarship Store this season. The store gets its largest donations between seasons, when manufacturers and retailers need to make room for the latest fashions.

Items ranging from children's toys to wedding gowns, bikinis to fabric spools fill a storefront on the corner of Grand Avenue and 9th Street. Among the discount stores and factory outlets in Downtown, this shop's principal aim is likely a bit different -- to help students pay for college.

In its 20th year, the Scholarship Store at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising's L.A. campus operates on the premise that 75 percent of items cost less than $10. Proceeds from the store go towards scholarships for FIDM students based on financial need in addition to other criteria.

"We donate anywhere from $500 to $5,000 to individual students," said Ella Van Norton, director of stores. She explained that the store is also a hands-on lab as employees are enrolled students who gain retail experience.

Diana Yao is a student employee at the Scholarship Store as well as a recipient of scholarship funding.

"My parents work for minimum wage so I know how hard it is to make money," Yao said. She said it is nice that she can help out with her own tuition and expenses using her wages and scholarship income.

From prom dresses and children's toys to jeans and jewelry, all items at the Scholarship Store have been donated by manufacturers and retailers. The store receives its largest donations between seasons as companies make room for the latest trends. Donations, which are usually surplus or damaged items as well as samples, sometimes have marks or something cut out of them, Van Norton explained.

The Scholarship Store might be most popular for its selection of discount wedding dresses. Gowns normally priced between $800 and $5,000 are sold for about $100-$200 at the store.

Another popular item, especially with FIDM students, is the store's selection of fabric.

"Our students who are majoring in fashion design and interior design have a resource right on campus that they can go to and buy very inexpensive fabric," Van Norton said. She explained that the fabric, which costs between $1-$5 per yard, is significantly marked down from $25-$50 per yard.

With a practice of accepting almost any donated item as long as it is sellable, the Scholarship Store has seen some interesting merchandise come and go. Nicki Anderson, assistant director for the FIDM Scholarship Foundation, recalled a particularly strange donation -- body parts.

"We thought they were just trash," Anderson said about the donation of mismatched mannequin parts, including heads and arms. "We put them in a bin with a sign labeled, 'Body Parts,' on it and they sold out in an afternoon."

Merchandise that cannot be sold is donated to charity. The Scholarship Store donates to Chrysalis, which helps homeless and low-income people, as well as 999 for Kids, an L.A. Sheriff's Department program that helps physically and mentally disabled children who are also victims of child abuse.

Since the store's inventory is based on donations, something that is in stock today may not be available tomorrow, Van Norton explained.

"We get donations every single day and we think of it as sort of a treasure hunt," she said.


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