What started out as a small, intimate dorm room clothing exchange among friends has turned into what Syracuse residents now know to be the Style Lottery.
Style Lottery is a clothing swap program that pops up multiple times throughout the year. The lottery started six years ago in founder Timi Komonibo’s University of Texas-Austin’s dorm room as a fun hobby. It soon became an opportunity to enrich her community as her parties became more popular.
“The parties just got bigger and bigger, and one day I realized I could make this an even bigger event and take this to campus,” Komonibo said.
Temporary retail [pop up shops] is an $8 billion dollar industry and grew by 16 percent between 2009 and 2012, according to Specialty Retail Report and Alexander Babbage, Inc.
The Style Lottery swap is a simple program with a simple purpose. Participants donate gently used clothing items in exchange for the opportunity to shop others donated items. No one monitors how many items participants take versus how much have they donated. It is all karma driven and fueled.
Every time Style Lottery hosts a swap event, they partner with a local community organization to provide clothing for those in need. The clothing collected from their most recent event in September went to local foundation Girls Inc.
“Whenever we have a swap shop I always like to give clothes to a local organization because it helps create good karma for everyone,” Komonibo said. “I’d like to think of it as we are tricking people into genuine philanthropy.”
Over 1,700 young people in Onondaga County are without permanent housing or are suffering from some form of homelessness, according to the Syracuse Housing and Homeless Coalition 2012 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Girls Inc. is a foundation dedicated to helping young girls ages 12-18 years old that have been exposed to violence, abuse, and other types of trauma within the community. The clothing provided will be used to host a makeover party for the young women.
“Clothing can make such a large impact on people’s mood, personality, and perception of themselves regardless of brand recognition, and that is what I hope we are teaching people at our events,” Komonibo said.
Style Lottery was formally created last year in Syracuse through the Newhouse Start Ups program.
“The start up program allowed Timi to really get the funding, put the team together and give the lottery the structure it was missing,” said strategic management director Alexis Morris.
The average attendance at a swap shop party can range anywhere from 20-50 people.
“When you start multiplying the number of clothes one person is ready to give away times 20 or more things start to get big very fast,” Morris said.
Social media and word of mouth has been a huge platform for Komonibo and the lottery to get it’s event publicized and purpose put out. Komonibo’s efforts even landed her a covetous Tedx Talks.
“I handle a little bit of everything, but some of our biggest publicity has come through our donors and participants sharing their experiences,” Morris said.
New time donor Candace Johnson has been hearing about the Style Lottery and its upcoming events since the summer.
“After hearing about it in the summer I took a mental note to remember to participate in the fall,” Johnson said. “But after trying to sell my clothes at Plato’s Closet and other consignment stores, I was reminded of the lottery and knew it was the place to bring my things.”
The lottery is not just helping local community foundations but is also partnering with other groups to help create a collaborative impact on the Syracuse community.
One of the company’s collaborative partners, C | Dreams, was in attendance to bring awareness to its cause as well. C | Dreams is a clothing company that donates all its proceeds towards the purchase of school supplies to the Syracuse City School District.
“It’s really great that all of us can partner up and help support each other’s initiatives and causes,” said owner Anthony Orendorff.
Philanthropy and charity is a very touchy subject. There are so many students that come from privileged backgrounds that attend the university that want to help but just don’t know how, Komonibo said.
Style Lottery takes from those who have an abundance and shares it with those who are less fortunate, so it’s kind of like people are volunteering to be their own special version of Robin Hood, Komonibo said.