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Customer Highlight Downtown Womens Center

Customer Highlight | Downtown Women’s Center

MADE by DWC: An LA job training program that we're proud to work with.

At Jar Store, we work with a ton of great businesses that do a lot of wonderful things for the world. From small-batch candle makers bringing a bit of beauty into the world through their craft, to organizations that utilize their large-scale operations to provide jobs, housing, and art to under-developed locations. Today, we were lucky enough to sit down for a conversation with one of the latter.

The Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles is an organization that provides permanent housing and an amazing sense of community to the unhoused or impoverished women of LA. One of their programs is called MADE by DWC, a program that gives women access to job training through things like crafts, retail, and more. 

We at Jar Store have been providing MADE by DWC with the candle jars for their job program for years, and we are more than proud to call them one of our best customers. Today, we were lucky enough to sit down with Joe Altepeter from the Downtown Women’s Center for a conversation about their programs, their mission, and the security that they’ve been able to provide to the underprivileged women of Los Angeles.

Trailblazer Candle Set from MADE by DWC

Joe, could you give a short intro to tell our readers a bit about the Downtown Women’s Center, and MADE by DWC?

So, as a bit of an introduction, we’ve been working with the Jar Store for several years. Many years. Our organization, the Downtown Women’s Center, provides permanent housing. We house over 500 women every year.

That means we’re not continually onboarding 500 women every year. We’re supporting over 500 women every year through permanent, supportive housing. So, we have the buildings that we own, but we also work with landlords throughout the county of L.A. to move women into apartments throughout the county.

That’s lovely work, thank you. So, MADE by DWC is a transitional job program created by the Downtown Women’s Center with the goal of breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness through employment. By providing things like job training, income, and workshops, you provide women with the help that they need to pull themselves out of what may be a dark time. The

big picture is that this program addresses the issue of homelessness in a hands-on way, but can you zoom in a bit and tell me about a specific experience that you’ve had, where you saw this program help an individual person? I would love to hear about how MADE by DWC has helped someone get back on track.

Yeah. So, in addition to the transitional employment, we also hire women into permanent roles within the social enterprise. So the great thing about that is that we are bringing in women that are there every day working with their peers. That way, when the trainees come in, these women are, you know, they understand that they have been in that same space, or might even currently still be in that space, but are employed with us on a more permanent basis. So that’s really supportive.

Vena Vena Handbags in the making

But I think one of the really great stories is a woman, Lavena Lewis. She went to our job training program, and during the program, she started her own handbag business called Vena Vena Handbags. I think this speaks more to the perseverance and strength of Lavena herself, rather than our training program, but we were proud to be able to help support her while she was getting her business off the ground.

Our program had an impact on her. She was able to start this business while still living in a shelter here in Skid Row. She worked with us for about five or six months, and she launched this handbag company that started out as like simple tote bags, but now she’s got a big collection of different types of handbags. She was even able to get engaged with the mayor’s office and get included in some local business development opportunities that advocate towards women of color, women who are living in poverty, or moving out of poverty. 

Now, she works on telling her story and advocating towards her peers that are, you know, in the earlier stages of poverty. So, she’s been successfully running her business for about four years.

But Lavena has a great story. She still comes back, she volunteers, she works our pop ups. She does a lot of advocacy work with us as an organization, and we pay women to do that advocacy work, because we recognize the value that they bring to the space.

So she’s really a great story. There are a lot of great stories.

Absolutely. Yeah. The success stories go far beyond just making income, and I can see that through your mission and your passion, that you guys are about more than just putting money in people’s pockets. You know, you’re putting reassurance at their backs as well. 

Your hands-on job training program offers courses that allow women to learn skills related to product design, retail, and customer service, while also earning an income. Job experience can be one of the hardest things for people to gain, so adding an extra bullet-point to a resume can be a very valuable advantage. Your businesses include a home and gift collection, a resale boutique, and a cafe & gift boutique. Could you provide me with a bit of insight as to why DWC decided on those three specific businesses?

There were many pieces in the process. I’ve been with the organization since the inception of the social enterprise, but in the early stages we did some research. 

“What does the neighborhood need?” 

“What does the community at large need?”

As far as retail shops, we knew we had two spaces that we wanted to fill with retail, but we didn’t know what that retail should be, specifically.

So, we worked with a student group from UCLA. They did some market research regarding downtown Los Angeles, and they were able to provide us with some sound advice and data to work with. Resale and thrift were big things. Food and coffee was a big thing. So those came to be, along with our candle line, and our home and gift collection.

Art has also always been an important component of the program that we have at the Downtown Women’s Center. So, we recognized that we could hand make products that are sold. We know what crafting can do for folk’s mental health, just engaging in those activities is beneficial. Then we just had to look at different product ideas. We went

through a few different ideas in the beginning before we landed on candle-making and crafts. I think the funniest one that we started out with was Chia pets. We had tiny Chia pets, and super large Chia pets. It was really fun, but ultimately, it just wasn’t a feasible business model. We scrapped that one after three months, I think.

Organic ground coffee from MADE by DWC

Not only does your cafe and gift boutique offer hands-on job training, but a cafe has the unique advantage of also providing a space for people to spend time together, while just enjoying a welcoming atmosphere and sense of community. Have you heard of or witnessed any specific times where that sense of community inside the cafe was especially palpable? 

Oh yeah, always. Like, every day. We talk about our café being like a community, or rather, a gathering space for the community. So any given time you can see community workers and local businesses come in for lunch, there are always people from the neighborhood. There was a music program out of one of the missions here in L.A., and the four individuals running the program come would come into the café every week.

We’re so proud of it ourselves, that we have a lot of our staff meetings there. Especially if we’re meeting with outside folks, we love to bring people in just so we can show off the space. It’s definitely a place that shows the community engagement that the DWC provides.

The café is also located in Skid Row, and we think it’s super important to provide a bit of beauty to the area. We understand how important it can be to have a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing space to spend time in. We set out to create a bit of a safe haven. I think all of that makes for a really good experience for the customers.

Absolutely, yeah! I looked up pictures and reviews of the cafe, and it absolutely does look very gorgeous and charming. If it was down the street from my apartment, I’d definitely be buying my coffees there every morning. 

One of our favorite offerings of MADE by DWC is, of course, your hand-poured soy candles. 

Soy candles specifically are a clean-burning alternative to regular candle wax. Can you tell me about any other elements of your candles that make them unique? Are there any understated qualities that make your candles special?

Now, I’m not explicitly involved in the design of the candles, I don’t create the scents or anything. That’s all done by the women in the program, and of course, the staff that supervise them. I think that alone provides a certain unique aspect to them. You’re not just buying a candle, you’re supporting the Downtown Women’s Center, and buying something that one of the women made with their own hands.

They’re giving to the candles, and the candles give back to them.

All of the soy candles offered by MADE are named after iconic California locations, reflecting your home-base in Los Angeles. With names like “Joshua Tea”, “Nap Valley”, and “Sacrameadow”, it’s a clever naming scheme that cements your business as an inherently Californian brand. Other than the beautiful scenery and locales, what other elements of California would lend themselves well to a collection of candles?

For a while we were thinking of things like movie sets, old cameras, and that kind of imagery. We also thought about things like surfboards, palm trees, and the other physical elements of the state. The ocean, the waves, the beach, the seashells.

We tried to think, “What are the things that people 

think about when they think of Los Angeles, and is there a way to bring that into the product line?”.

So I think, if it weren’t just California locales, I would incorporate all of the imagery surrounding the sea, and the movie sets.

There you have it! MADE by DWC offers up a lovely variety of California-themed candles, all in gorgeous Jar Store jars. Not only that, but all of their candles are hand-made by women in their job training program, making them one of the most uniquely philanthropic companies that we are lucky to work with. Check out MADE by DWC, and get yourself one of their hand-poured soy candles!

Are you purchasing Jar Store jars for your business? Would you like to be featured on our Idea Center? Reach out to DavidM@bascousa.com and let us know! We love to sit down and talk with all of our customers, and you could be our next featured partner.

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