This Los Angeles Nonprofit Helps Women Experiencing Homelessness Get off the Streets and Into a Career They Are Passionate About

Made By DWC Is Taking Women’s Homelessness From the Streets to Boutiques

Written By: Annie Kim
Photographed By: Angel Manuel Made by DWC

Like most people who move to Los Angeles, Stephanie Gentry had envisioned big dreams for herself and was determined to follow them. In March of 2018, Gentry moved from her North Carolina home of 13 years to find herself homeless on the streets of Skid Row. “When you hear LA, most people immediately think of Hollywood, but when you come from a place like Skid Row, it really changes your whole idea of what LA is about,” said Gentry. We never expect the worst, but great organizations like Made By DWC are here to help women like Gentry find hope and regain their spark.

Gentry’s life in Los Angeles would have been different if it hadn’t been for Made By DWC.

Made By DWC–operated by the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC)–is a social enterprise that aims to serve and empower women experiencing homelessness by providing job training skills and transitional employment in the realm of retail and product creation. For Gentry, DWC turned one of her life’s hardest moments into an opportunity that helped her discover her talents and allowed her to reinvent herself.

“The intensity, the need that’s out there in Skid Row—it’s heartbreaking,” recalled Gentry. “And to actually be someone who had to experience that, I’m grateful that there were places like DWC that were available to keep my mind situated on believing that I can get past this.” The Downtown Women’s Center provided her with stable housing which allowed her to reflect and gain clarity with life; Made By DWC sparked her purpose and gave her a career to call her own.

As a mother of two, Gentry devoted her entire life to caring for her children, who are now both grown adults. She has always seen herself as just a mother. “I had no idea that it was available for me to think of myself as more than that,” she said. In the past, Gentry worked a number of jobs but never considered it to be a career. “I only did it because I needed to do it at the time,” she admitted. Once she had transitioned out of the homeless shelter and into DWC, Gentry started looking at her talents and interests.

Made By DWC has two locations: Resale Boutique and Café & Gift Boutique. Their main mission is to help women get to a point where they need to be, described Gentry. The organization inspires women to become even greater than they already are.

This past December, Gentry was hired as a Retail Associate for the Resale Boutique. “I don’t know what I did right, but they hired me and that was exciting! Surprising, too,” she exclaimed with a chuckle. Anyone who is lucky enough to cross paths with Gentry will immediately know the reasons for her hire. With her natural ability to make people feel welcomed, her kindness radiates through her sweet smile and her desire to help others.

In the midst of the chaotic hustle on South Los Angeles Street, you’ll find the Resale Boutique, a brick-colored building with a beautiful art mural—known as “Teaparty” by Ann Alexandra Wolken—that displays women from all backgrounds, working alongside one another on a long kitchen counter covered with various foods. Near the top left corner, the word “LOVE” is in bold and filled with maroon red with cadet blue polka dots.

The Resale Boutique offers a collection of vintage, contemporary and brand-named clothing items, shoes, purses and accessories for women, along with a small selection for men. As a Retail Associate, Gentry always looks forward to making the shop look its best and loves changing up the mannequins to provide outfit inspirations for her customers. “I love being able to come in and make sure that everything looks as fresh as it did from the day before,” she said.

The layout of the store is neatly decorated with a variety of clothing racks and sections of shoes and accessories, all organized by styles—business attire, casual and streetwear, office outfits, semi-formal looks, party dresses and so on. The diverse fashion displayed at the Resale Boutique is the type of closet Gentry wants to have at her house. All items are donations that are resold at an affordable price. It provides women who may be financially struggling with an opportunity to purchase brand-named clothes—Adidas, Steve Madden, Michael Kors—to help them feel confident for any occasion.

Whether it’s a power suit for the office or a cocktail dress for a party, Gentry loves helping her customers find the perfect outfit to help them get where they need to be. Recently, she helped a young lady find a blazer to wear for her job interview. Shortly after, Gentry gave the young lady a phone call to see how the interview went. “She got the job,” said Gentry with a grin. “I wanted to make sure she knows that we haven’t forgotten about her. Even though she came here for one objective, we still need to stand behind her and support her, not just the objective.”

Gentry continued, “That’s what DWC has shown me. Even when you walk out those doors with what you need, they are still there to support you along the way. I had to return the favor.” She’s already returned the favor and will continue to do so. In the near future, Gentry’s goal is to get into entrepreneurship in hopes to spread awareness and fight together with DWC in the battle to end women’s homelessness. She added, “I want to help empower women to move forward in their journey.”

Downtown Women’s Center
442 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Photoshoot Location:
Made by DWC Resale Boutique
325 S Los Angeles St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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