Like many children coming of age, Wharton sophomore Allyson Ahlstrom didn’t care for hand-me-downs. But instead of simply following the latest fashion trends, at age 14, Ahlstrom decided to blend her love of fashion with her desire to help others. She founded Threads for Teens, a nonprofit organization that provides new, donated clothes to 13- to 18-year-old girls in need.
The threads and accessories are donated by about 40 national clothing stores including Urban Outfitters, American Eagle Outfitters, and Claires.
Ahlstrom’s flagship Threads for Teens clothing boutique near her home in Santa Rosa, Calif., and Threads for Teens summer tours have enabled more than 1,600 girls to pick out two brand-new outfits each at no charge. The nonprofit has also provided girls with backpacks filled with school supplies, and each spring helps girls get new or gently used prom dresses.
The teens who receive the new threads are nominated by social workers and others working in human services fields. The girls live in group or foster homes and do not have the means to shop for the latest fashions.
Each summer, Ahlstrom takes Threads for Teens on the road. This past summer, she went on a 14-city tour that kicked off on July 14 in Los Angeles and ended on July 29 in Boston. The clothes are hung on racks in a pink semi-truck transformed into a fashionable mobile boutique, complete with fitting rooms.
On an average visit, a girl will be treated to two tops, two bottoms, a formal or summer dress, a pair of shoes, a necklace, a bracelet, a purse, and other accessories. Ahlstrom says the young ladies leave Threads to Teens beaming with more self-confidence because they look better and have a sense of empowerment. She says she can see an immediate transformation.
“There’s this one girl who I met in Detroit,” Ahlstrom recalls. “After coming to the mobile boutique, she told me that she decided that she wanted to go to college. She said if a 14-year-old could start a project like this, [she] could break the cycle of poverty.”
Ahlstrom hopes to open a boutique in Philadelphia by the end of the semester to bring her initiative from her hometown to her new home-away-from-home.
With her mother and a small team of workers running the boutique back home in California, Ahlstrom is scouting a Philadelphia location while pursuing her studies and extracurricular activities.