Style for the taking: CHS opens Cooper’s Closet

When Juliana Vanni launched a modish clothing store Tuesday afternoon on campus at Christopher High School, the hardest sell, ironically, had nothing to do with the cost of merchandise.
“It’s a free clothing store,” said the 17-year-old senior, standing outside a hot-hued turquoise alcove dubbed “Cooper’s Closet,” in honor of the school’s cougar mascot.
Passersby were confused.
What? Free clothes?
“Yes, free,” reassured Vanni, ushering her peers into to the 126-square-foot space. “Everything is for free.”
Along with her friends, junior Phuong Cao, 17; and freshman Macey Mitchell, 14; the trio worked for two months to organize a budget-friendly clothing cache for CHS students that will stay open year-round. It’s stocked with popular brands for teens and young adults, including Forever 21, Roxy, American Eagle, Lucky, DC Shoes, Aeropostale, Fox and BB Dakota, to name a few. Everything is clean; washed and labeled by size.
“These aren’t crappy clothes,” added Vanni, stepping back and showing off her digs. “My whole outfit is from Cooper’s Closet.”
Sporting Roxy skinny jeans, a Rouge 21 vest, a Tres Bien blouse and metallic sandals, Vanni rocked her “urban fashion for the thrifty student” look.
In addition to coordinating with South Valley Community Church, whose members donated a bulk of the inventory to get things started, Vanni was busy managing minutiae up until the last minute – such as hand-painting the store’s sprawling “Cooper’s Closet” logo on one of the walls – while simultaneously juggling the demands of 12th grade.
A night prior to the closet’s grand opening, she was busy completing applications to four different colleges (with four more to go).
“It’s clear during these economic times, everybody is needy,” she said, but added with dual emphasis, “this is geared toward the entire student body.”
Meaning, the “community closet,” as Vanni calls it, isn’t meant to be stigmatizing. One is not required to be on an “underprivileged list” to take advantage of the free threads. All students are encouraged to browse, try on and walk away with their finds, of which they’re allotted 10 per visit.
It’s about giving anyone and everyone access to popular brands; a chance to spice up their wardrobe without “dropping $50 on a new shirt, which is ridiculous,” said Vanni.
Students, Cao also pointed out, often purchase garb for school-related shindigs such as dances, special events, spirit week or March Madness.
But when buying clothes for a specific occasion, she observed, “you don’t end up needing them again for a long time. This stuff looks good, and it’s a great way to save money.”
Another killer deal?
As an incentive for students to serve a good cause – as well as keep the closet’s shelves stocked with an eclectic rotation of inventory – CHS students who bring in one bag of clean, gently used clothes receive credit for one hour of community service.
Which should come in handy, since a brand-new graduation requirement officially commenced last year. The mandate, designed as a horizon-expanding primer for youth approaching college and adulthood, requires all GUSD high school students to complete 80 hours of community service – during nonschool hours – within their high school career.
Not enough hours? No diploma.
The class of 2014 will be the first to experience the program in its entirety.
“I have a pile of clothes at my house that I’ve worn like, once. I’m going to go through them when I get home,” said 17-year-old junior Alyssa Dorn, who had just exited the store after perusing its goods during the grand opening.
Dorn said she appreciates the fact there are no conditions for shopping eligibility at Cooper’s Closet, or that you “don’t have to be called ‘underprivileged’ by some formula.”
“I think it’s amazing,” she added. “It’s packed with clothes, and it looks gorgeous.”
Located just past the CHS entrance in the corner of the B building, Cooper’s Closet is modest in size but has the feel of a boutique consignment store: Shopping bags from big-name brands such as PacSun and Lucky sit arranged atop shelves, adding a jazzy touch of embellishment to the closet’s colorful interior. A couple of mannequins dressed in hip attire – like a graphic T-shirt layered in a breezy checkered vest – show off inspired ensembles. Accessories such as scarves, purses, belts, hats and shoes are neatly arranged in various baskets.
And, unlike the ambiance of, say, Abercrombie & Fitch – where giant portraits of half-naked, size double zero models loom from every inch of wall space, Cooper’s atmosphere is chill and welcoming.
The phrase, “Live well, laugh often and love much” is inscribed on one of the walls. Upbeat music streams from a stereo.
There is also a dressing room made of PVC pipes and floor-length curtains, which impressed sophomore C.J. Thompson, 15.
“A changing booth. That’s sick,” he said.
Motioning to a standing wardrobe lined with Urban Pipeline flannels and collared shirts, Thompson added, “I love the flannels.”
“This is cool for people who can’t afford new clothes, or just want to mix, match and make an outfit with stuff they already have,” observed junior Wyatt Rocheleau, 17. “This is a good idea. I’m going to donate.”
Freshman Brook Loesh, 14, scored a pair of multi-colored Converse high tops, which her entourage of friends agreed in unison is a “cool” find.
CHS Principal John Perales explained the initial concept for a prom dress exchange was tossed around by staff last year.
Vanni, however, had been envisioning a year-round venue touting more than formal wear. She approached Perales with the idea, hammered out details with CHS Community Service Coordinator Gloria Hennessy and got her friends and church involved. The entire effort took about two months.
“Juliana has done well,” said Perales. “I love how she took it from a dream to a reality.”
For now, the store is open after school from 3 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Vanni, Cao and Mitchell, however, are hoping to expand their hours of operation to Monday through Thursday.
“I was nervous it might not work, but it turned out nicely,” said Vanni, who also serves as a student representative on the City of Gilroy Arts and Culture Commission. “I want this effort to help students not only with their economic struggles, but also encourage and instill community service and character into the student body as a whole.”

Leave your comments