Inspiration Spotlight: Susan Kanoff, aka @themidlifefashionista
Since our inception, Stacy Garcia Inc. has always been about collaboration, inspiration, design and empowerment. After all, our best work is done when we all come together and bring our individual creativity to the table. To amplify our values and shine the light on friends and mentors who have inspired us, we’re introducing a new series called Inspiration Spotlight. Each installment will feature a deeper look into creators, leaders, activists and entrepreneurs and aim to celebrate their stories.
To launch this series, we’re shining a spotlight on Susan Kanoff, also known as @themidlifefashionista. In 2016, Susan combined her three careers as a social worker, style blogger, and wardrobe stylist to launch Uncommon Threads. Read our interview with Susan below to understand why she’s someone we’re inspired by.
We first met you following along on your fashion journey with @themidlifefashionista. Can you tell us about how you started that page and some of your favorite fashion moments?
My story is a bit unique. I was a social worker for over 20 years. I ran a federal program designed to move low-income families out of poverty. As a fun “side-gig”, I started a wardrobe styling business that evolved out of my love of fashion. It took off quickly and in addition to working with private clients, I also styled for television and was the style editor for a local magazine. My clients wanted to know if I could take daily photos of my outfits to give them inspiration and visuals, so in 2010 I started a blog called The Midlife Fashionista. Instagram came later, and over the years @TheMidlifeFashionista morphed into other topics beyond clothes. I also talk about style, beauty, home décor, travel, women’s issues, aging, and of course hair (my curly journey started that one!)
I’m proud to say that I have organically grown my following. Keeping it real, honest and authentic is extremely important to me. I love the community on social media and have made wonderful new friendships as well as connections and partnerships for Uncommon Threads.
What is Uncommon Threads, and how did it come to be? Describe any inciting moments, or your path to starting this organization.
In the fall of 2016, I combined my three careers as a social worker, style blogger, and wardrobe stylist to launch Uncommon Threads. Uncommon Threads is a nationally featured non-profit located in Lawrence, MA that empowers low-income women by using clothing and image as tools for building self-esteem. It’s an outside-in, inside-out approach and it’s powerful. Uncommon Threads provides women with personally-curated outfits for work or play (employment is not a requirement to access services), emergency clothing, self-growth workshops, and a community of support—all designed to increase self-worth, self-acceptance and confidence.
The program has touched the lives of thousands of women of all ages with dignity and respect, including domestic violence survivors, cancer patients, homeless, unemployed/underemployed, disabled, female veterans, trans, and women in recovery. All of our clients are referred by partnering social service agencies and health organizations.
Due to the pandemic, we have shifted to a contactless styling service called Threads to Go (kind of like Stitch Fix!) but remain true to our mission to empower and strengthen women. The program is extremely busy (the need is great) and we’re working hard to serve as many women as possible.
To learn more visit www.uncommonthreads.org
What are accomplishments during your time with this organization are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of how quickly Uncommon Threads has grown. The program started out in October 2016 housed in a small 400 square foot room and was 100% volunteer run. Fast forward to four years later, and we now have over 4,000 square feet of space, 6 part-time staff members and a large community of amazing volunteers, supporters and followers. We expect to serve 1,200 women this year through our various empowerment services.
Uncommon Threads Headquarters
I’m also proud of the recognition that Uncommon Threads has received. The program has been featured on Boston television and press and one of the tv segments was nationally syndicated! Woman’s World Magazine also showcased Uncommon Threads in a full-page article.
Who inspires you, and why?
Our beautiful clients are always a source of inspiration. Their stories touch me deeply. I am always moved by their grit, courage, and determination. Although their lives are layered with challenges and struggles, they keep charging forward.
My daughter Alyssa also inspires me. Her life has been difficult, and she has struggled with depression throughout the years. Yet she is open and honest about mental illness and shares her experiences and knowledge with others. She’s also an amazing mother and incredible human who is passionate about gender and racial equality and social justice. She constantly finds ways to give back to the community, and when she hears of someone in need, she rushes in to help. Alyssa is kind, compassionate, generous, genuine (what you see is what you get), and a beautiful woman inside and out. My adorable 18-month-old granddaughter Penny is pretty great too –she has her mom’s spunk!
Were there any challenging moments or events that you’ve faced with Uncommon Threads? What happened, and how did you overcome them?
The first is my own personal challenge dealing with a serious illness. I was diagnosed with Leukemia three years ago, just a year after I started Uncommon Threads. It was an emotional and stressful time, but I honestly think that Uncommon Threads got me through it. I’ll always be grateful for the support, kindness, and love that I received from the staff, volunteers, and clients Uncommon Threads has been such a gift in my life.
The second challenge is the pandemic. Like every business and nonprofit, Uncommon Threads was impacted by COVID. Funding has been extremely tight, and we were forced to shut down for a few months. However, we regrouped and developed Threads to Go, a contactless styling service. Because I’m so immunocompromised, I haven’t been able to go in to Uncommon Threads for over a year. Although I’m able to work remotely, I miss the positive energy and magic of being with everyone in person. I’m grateful to my staff and volunteers for doing such an amazing job of serving clients and keeping services running smoothly. Uncommon Threads truly is a community of women supporting women.
What advice do you give to someone looking to start or join an organization like Uncommon Threads?
Expect to work A LOT! When I started the program, I had no idea that it would be so much work. There were many days when I worked 12-14 hours and plenty of seven-day workweeks. Starting a nonprofit is not a part-time job!
Take extra good care of yourself. I believe that one of the reasons why I got sick was because I let my health go. I worked too much, didn’t sleep, and let anxiety and stress take over. I should back up by saying that while launching Uncommon Threads, my husband and I were also in the middle of a very stressful move. So here’s another tip….don’t take on too much all at once!
Surround yourself with mentors. When I started Uncommon Threads, I reached out to nonprofit directors and community leaders to pick their brain and learn best practices. Their input was extremely important and helpful as I built the framework for the program.
If you don’t want to go after a 501C3 status, find a non-profit to be your fiscal sponsor. Our fiscal sponsor is Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and they’ve been a huge source of support to Uncommon Threads beyond just holding the nonprofit status. They give us guidance, support, legal advice, accounting services and so much more.
Expect to feel fulfilled and passionate about your work. It’s an amazing feeling to “create” something that has a positive impact on others.
For longtime fans or those just learning about you and Uncommon Threads, where can we learn more about you, the organization, or get involved?
There are many ways to support Uncommon Threads. Of course, financial donations are the most important to keep the program going and growing. Tax-deductible donations can be made directly on our website.
You can also ‘’shop to give’’ at Uncommon Closet, our social enterprise where women can score amazing deals on designer pieces while supporting the program with their purchases. Uncommon Closet is an important part of our funding strategy, and we now have an online store too! Shipping is free over $50. I have my eye on a gorgeous Jimmy Choo bag! Every time I buy something, I tell myself that it’s “guiltless shopping”.
Other ways to help are to donate new and like-new women’s clothing (all sizes), jewelry, shoes, handbags and accessories, including designer items that can generate funds for Uncommon Threads. I’m so grateful to my wonderful followers and influencer friends who ship donations to us from all over the country!
Join us for “Dress for Your Future Fashion Show” on June 16th. This virtual event will benefit Uncommon Threads and feature a fashion show hosted by the School of Fashion Design in Boston. There will also be an online silent auction and virtual red carpet! Details and tickets at www.uncommonthreads.org
About Susan Kanoff
Executive Director/Founder of Uncommon Threads
Susan founded Uncommon Threads out of her passion for empowering women, combined with her unique mix of experience and skills as a social worker, wardrobe stylist and style blogger. Before launching Uncommon Threads, Susan dedicated over 23 years to helping low-income families move out of poverty through the HUD funded Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and has received numerous awards for her work including The YWCA’s Tribute to Women Award, NAHRO awards for program innovation and a Massachusetts state citation for her dedication to supporting families.
Susan’s connections in the fashion world have been crucial to the program’s success. Her blog, The Midlife Fashionista and social presence are important tools for attracting national attention to Uncommon Threads and generating clothing donations, volunteers and media coverage. Susan’s motto is “kindness makes the world go round.”