Maria Walden-Sullivan was on vacation in New Mexico two summers ago when it hit her; she knew how she could raise money for charity, even in a dismal economy: consignment.
Two weeks later, she was driving through the Roswell Square and saw a store for rent. It was serendipity. She took it.
With no retail background, but plenty of experience in charitable fundraising, she opened , an upscale consignment shop, with the goal of donating proceeds to Atlanta-area charities.
“I had always been on so many boards and I’d always been asking people for money. I’ve always shopped in consignment stores and I thought what better way to ask people [to give] than to reach into their closets instead of their pockets,” she told Roswell Patch, as art students streamed into her store for a class.
In the year since it opened, Vintage & Vogue has donated nearly $17,000 in cash to local charities, along with clothing that doesn’t sell. And Sullivan has personally invested her time in training charities on how to set up their own thrift stores. She has helped Dress for Success, The Drake House and Chrysalis Experiential Academy – earning her an award from Chrysalis.
A native of St. Augustine, Fla., Sullivan moved to the Atlanta area 17 years ago and is now a resident of Roswell. At 49, she has built a life around charitable work. She previously worked as a manager for FranklinCovey, overseeing non-profit organizations and philanthropic initiatives for the Eastern U.S. And she has served on the boards of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia and Outward Bound Atlanta, as well as the Georgia Supreme Court Commission to Strengthen Marriage, Family and Youth. She is currently a board member for the Child Development Association in Roswell, Orange Duffel Bag Foundation and Minds in Motion.
Through Vintage & Vogue, Sullivan also reaches out to disadvantaged youth, hiring recovered drug addicts and young people who grew up in foster homes, in order to give them work experience so they can build references. It’s a cause that is personal to her, as she has provided refuge to two foster children through the years.
Initially, young people may work for clothing until they prove their responsibility. “We try to give them a hand up rather than a handout.”
On a recent rainy day at her shop, she explained that it’s not just about raising money from clothing sales. It’s about helping others. She has become friends with some of her consigners and returning customers greet her with hugs.
“It’s better than I expected. I have met the most beautiful and unusual people through this. It’s like a ministry in a way,” she said.
Sullivan has her own style of clothing, which some people call eclectic, she says. She is no stranger to consignment shopping – as a single mother for 21 years, she made her own clothes and hunted for bargains in thrift stores.
“I dressed as stylish as I could on a dime,” she said.
Her style has caught the eye of photographers who borrow clothes from the shop for photo shoots, with some photos landing in a London magazine.
After a year in business, Sullivan is taking stock. She is making changes to be able to donate more money to charity. For example, she plans to narrow the list of charities her shop supports from an expansive 17 to just five or six. This will allow her to give more money to fewer charities, rather than spreading the donations thin.
And she’s not slowing down. She is opening a bridal consignment shop next door to Vintage & Vogue. She is trying to start a merchants association for downtown Roswell. And she writes a fashion column.
But among her more ambitious goals, she plans to expand to other cities, with her eyes set on Nashville for her next shop.
“This is really our incubator here so I can figure out how to do this better each time. I want to leave a legacy,” she said.
Maria Walden-Sullivan has been chosen as the Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day. Check out all of the other people throughout the country who have previously received the honor.