Reselling high-end fashions a charitable mission
By Lou Fancher
If glitter is Christena Reinhard’s favorite color and charitable causes and organizations her preferred “closet,” then giving back is her favorite fashionista activity.
Representing reassurance to parents whose children graduate from high school with aggressively purple hair and mildly self-destructive tendencies, the 42-year-old fourth-generation Orinda native is today a model of magnanimity and skilled management.
Union and Fifth, the e-commerce nonprofit retailer Reinhard launched in 2014 with her East Coast-based sister-in-law, Pamela Trefler, raises money for charities by reselling high-end designer women’s clothes, shoes and accessories.
Operating out of an 8,000-square-foot Concord warehouse that harbors offices, photo/video studio and more than 15,000 items, the company’s remarkably simple donation and fulfillment process has raised over $1 million for charities selected by the donors.
Reinhard explains the process: “Basically, people with high-quality new or near-new clothes clean out their closets, send stuff in pre-paid packages, choose a charity. Every donated item gets measured, photographed, described and posted on our website. People shop; money is raised. It all happens here.”
The company takes $18 for processing and 25 percent of each sale. The remaining 75 percent goes to the donor-selected charity. Union and Fifth vets charities through national database Guidestar.
In-house authenticators ensure the clothing is legitimately labeled under designers that most often include Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci Chanel, Tory Burch, Mara Hoffman and Eileen Fisher.
Charities to which money has been given include, among others, national and Bay Area children’s health and educational organizations, academic institutions in Trefler’s hometown of Boston, and Reinhard’s alma mater, University of San Francisco.
“We’re aiming for a zero waste cycle,” says Reinhard, who sets ambitious, dreamer-style goals as part of a wake-up routine that includes coffee she touts as “another reason people love working here.”
Like the philanthropy behind Union, the morning cup of joe is made with beans from a local roaster with a charitable mission. To be waste-free, the clothing not sold — about 20 percent of items received — goes to nonprofits serving disadvantaged communities.
“We also partner with Green Eileen, a program where you donate used Eileen Fisher clothes at their stores, get a discount on new clothes, and 180,000 items in their warehouse that we sell online are kept out of landfills.”
Shopping, she suggests, is an eco-aware, generous act.
Reinhard attended Miramonte High School.
“I didn’t start college until I was 28. After high school, I went off in a direction no one wants their kids to go. My sister-in-law believed in me and gave me a shot. Everyone needs someone to believe in them.”
She earned a B.A. from Cambridge College and an MBA from USF, then worked as a fundraiser for Saint Mary’s College, Year Up, ServiceMaster and other companies. She met and married her husband, Rob Reinhard, a former psychologist turned iron-man competitor and endurance coach entrepreneur.
Reinhard says the first meaningful giving she witnessed was when the Treflers gave through their foundation $1 million to Dorchester High School in Boston.
“My husband’s family gave a transformational gift, but what was significant was how Pam was involved. She took the students on field trips, went into classrooms. It wasn’t about the money, it was about what you do.”
What Reinhard does is surround herself with great employees, then “stay out of their way.” She and Lauren Fulton designed the website, and customer experience came first.
“Buying used goods doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a wonderful experience. What does the tissue paper look like? What is the website like? We want to be a movement, a nonprofit that raises money for charities. We joke that if we could do it by selling ham sandwiches, we’d sell ham sandwiches. Not sure how we’d ship them, though.”
Photographer Kat Rose, she says, treats every photo session like it’s a National Geographic shot.
“Shopping online is hard. Kat’s dedicated to representing things accurately. If there’s a scuff on a shoe, she’s going to make sure the customer sees it so we have transparency.”
The most valuable item ever sold was a Hermes Bag ($10,000); the most common label is Eileen Fisher.
“The most unusual items were medical boots you wear when you sprain your ankle and a bottle of Crown Royal we found in a purse.”
Reinhard says that a $3 million investment from Trefler Foundation launched and largely fund the company. She expects to be self-sustaining by 2018.
As a female executive director, being in the nonprofit sector is beneficial. She’s most often surrounded by independent female entrepreneurs who, unlike businessmen who say, “My wife doesn’t shop,” understand that women shop and buy used clothes.
“Clothes and fashion inspire me daily. My outfit is my armor,” Reinhard says. Her favorite charities aren’t glittery, but they are predictable.
“Education, work force development. Anything that gives someone a shot at being their best.”
With a new YouTube channel established and large-volume partnerships in the making, Reinhard says her job is to be bold — and keep an eye out for women with closets to clean.