It has been over six months since faith-based nonprofit, Top Buttons opened a store in downtown Winter Haven. The community excitedly welcomed Top Buttons, both for its mission to “provide confidence-building education and proper fitting attire to young women in need,” according to founder and CEO, Sarah Powers – and for the chance to shop its top-tier thrift selection. “The moment we have the opportunity to share about our mission, the customers perk up and excitedly look for items that they can purchase to support our cause,” said Powers.
In the name of shopping local, supporting small businesses, nonprofits and girl power – we thought we would catch up with Top Buttons. We last spoke to Powers last August, as she prepared to open the third Top Buttons location in Winter Haven.
A Look Back at the History and Mission
Top Buttons founder and CEO, Sarah Powers has a deep-rooted passion for helping young people navigate their adolescent years. She acknowledges that as a teenager or young adult, there are so many things out of your control. Fluctuating weight, hormones, skin issues, home, and social lives, all the while on the precipice of adulthood, staring the rest of your life in the face is daunting. “Knowing my own personal struggle is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about wanting to be an encouragement, a resource, and an educator for teenage girls specifically,” said Powers.
Powers has a background in social work, with a degree in Human Services from Southeastern University. She is a writer, a teacher, a speaker, an empowerer of young women, and a mother of four. She’ll never forget the day she was standing in the checkout line of Sam’s Club, ultimately soul searching how she could best utilize her strength of connecting with young people, while not taking time away from her family. Her then 8-year-old daughter picked up a magazine with one of her favorite celebrities on the front. A blurb on the cover mortified Powers. Racey wording that Sarah paraphrased in a much tamer way as, “How to have your best first time.”
She returned without her daughter and purchased the magazine. She still has it. It’s a reminder of the messages girls and women are bombarded with at every turn from the fashion and media industries that their bodies are the most important things they have to offer the world. “I feel like we’re doing damage to our girls by sending them these messages that to get attention they have to put themselves out there provocatively,” she said. “That’s part of the inspiration and it fuels my passion for the work that we’re doing.” She wanted to counter these harmful messages with the notion that girls and women deserve a healthy self-image and the understanding that they are more than just their bodies. One thing after another “from the Sam’s Club incident to me praying and seeking the Lord for what he would have me do, to wanting opportunities for my daughters to incorporate a healthy principle in their life in a fun way,” confirmed to Sarah that fashion was going to be, “the tool that we would use to connect and inspire and equip and build up young women.”
Powers started Top Buttons in 2012 as a nonprofit, “presenting our positive body image and modesty message at local civic and religious organizations along with creating content for our online resources.” For this first year, she blogged while traveling locally to talk to young women about expressing themselves within the boundaries of contextual modesty. Her blogs and fashion-focused content were well received – the Top Buttons message was spreading. In her local travels to speak, she had girls express to her that they would love to dress appropriately, but they didn’t have the money to buy the proper-fitting or modest attire. “I never want to be someone who is talking at someone, telling them what they should do, without providing them the opportunity to do it.” Powers knew she had to put clothing in their hands. She began bringing clothing with her when she would talk to the girls.
In 2015, Top Buttons opened in Dixieland in Lakeland. They weren’t open to the public, just for the girls they served. Now, Top Buttons has three full boutique and designer thrift shops open to the public in downtown Lakeland, Bartow, and Winter Haven. Top Buttons serves around 300 girls a year and works with 18 organizations from around Polk County like PACE Center for Girls, Girls Inc., Heartland for Children, Sheriff’s Youth Villa, and the Department of Corrections First Steps program. The income from the Boutique Program goes back into funding their full-time charitable efforts with the Wearing Confidence Program.
This program is for young women between 11 and 25-years-old that are nominated by a “civic or religious organization targeting young women in need,” according to the Top Buttons website. Throughout the program, the girls receive faith-based educational sessions on topics such as “On the Job Attire,” “Cultural Impact on Clothing Ethics,” “Understanding Contextual Modesty,” and “Positive Body Image.” Paired with these educational sessions are personal styling services, at least one wardrobe makeover with up to $75 of quality, proper fitting attire, new undergarments, bonus vouchers to receive more clothing based on need, a Top Buttons t-shirt, skincare and makeup tutorial, free makeup carefully selected for their skin tone, a photoshoot with images to keep, and ongoing mentorship.
Young women enrolled in the Wearing Confidence Program come to the store in large groups for private shopping sessions. Each girl is matched with a personal stylist who helps to style them in the clothes that the girls will then take at no cost. “We can serve them for specific things like job interviews, prom, special occasions or for every day,” she said. The girls not only receive this education when they’re in a styling session but also on a broader scale. Top Buttons hosts “Building up Girls” educational events that are attended by 100-120 girls from the organizations they work with. “We talk to them about life skills, goal setting, effective communication, positive body image, how to dress on the job,” said Powers. One thing she always tells the girls is, “You have so much more to offer the world than your bodies.”
Top Buttons is constantly launching initiatives that could fill another need for their girls. A partnership with JOY FM raised money to provide new undergarments for the girls. Powers said that they have seen many girls and women come in with twisty ties used to tighten a poorly fitted bra, wearing their prison bra, or none at all. Something as simple as a brand-new bra, camisole, or pair of underwear is an underappreciated necessity if you’ve always had it, but a luxury if you haven’t.
Top Buttons, whether it’s in Lakeland, Bartow or Winter Haven, isn’t about Sarah Powers. It’s about the girls. It’s about the message. “There is a great team of women and men that care very much about young women knowing their value and having the tools and resources – not just teaching, but the physical resources – to reflect who they are as a whole person without compromising their value,” said Powers in thanks to their community of over 60 volunteers.
What’s New with TB
Powers opened the third Top Buttons location in downtown Winter Haven last Fall. “We have been very encouraged by all the people who have walked through our doors,” she said of the Winter Haven community. “They seem to embrace the mission and love being able to shop while supporting a cause they believe in! The past six months have not been as strong as we had anticipated, but we believe growth will come as we continue to get the word out.”
In addition to their budding Winter Haven store, Top Buttons has started selling online through their @TopButtonsboutique Instagram page, delivering or shipping items that are purchased this way. “We will be selling our top thrift, vintage thrift, and new boutique collection items on the account,” said Powers. “We are also working on providing essential personal hygiene items in baskets packaged with fun board games for our residential organizations like ONE MORE CHILD or Youth Villa. We are working on getting funding to serve all enrolled organizations,” she added.
Last we spoke, an affiliate Top Buttons location was planned to open in Nashville. Powers said she is thankful the couple did not sign a lease for a brick and mortar space before the COVID-19 pandemic. “But they are serving young women out of their mobile Top Buttons Boutique and once businesses open again, they look to find a brick and mortar space. They are building their team and volunteer base and building relationships with the organizations in Nashville who need the resources that Top Buttons provides… Things are going well, and we are excited about how the mission is growing in Nashville,” said Powers.
TB has had several requests for information on its affiliate program, according to Powers. She said, “We are still in communication with a couple of people who are seriously considering taking that next step to begin the official partnership. We have held off on doing any real marketing for our affiliate program until we can show the success of our Nashville affiliate.”
Support Local – We’re all in this Together
Monetary donations, shopping their stores and donating clothes are all positive ways to support the Top Buttons cause. Due to safety precautions amid the current health crisis, the boutique is not accepting clothing donations. “We know people are cleaning out their closets right now because they’re spending a lot of time at home. We appreciate them keeping us in mind for the clothing donations,” said Powers.
“As a nonprofit, our number one need will always be financial. We are thankful that our thrift locations typically provide significant recurring revenue to help cover our operating costs,” she explained. “Our fundraising efforts are very limited right now because our thrift shops are closed, our fundraising event was postponed, and we are just starting our online boutique. However, we know that all nonprofits and for-profits are in the same situation.” Their fundraiser set to take place at Haus 820 in April was postponed, likely to be held in August.
Why is it important to shop locally now more than ever? The Top Buttons founder offered her sentiments as a small business owner and a member of the community. “We are all in this together. If we want to see our communities continue to offer small, unique and locally relevant companies we need to support small businesses now more than ever. In a time of world crisis where there is no control over the situation, small businesses are impacted the most. We don’t have an endless supply of cash on hand to go numerous months without being open. But we want to be open and provide products and services that bless our neighborhood, families, friends, and community as a whole. Small business is foundational for all communities. When community members are determined to shop local it encourages creativity, growth, and connectivity in a way that is invaluable.”
226 W Central Ave.
Winter Haven, FL 33880
236 N Kentucky Ave.
Lakeland, FL 33801
160A East Summerlin St.
Bartow, FL, 33830