“You are beautiful – but I’m sure that’s the least interesting thing about you.”
For many, Top Buttons is a trendy designer thrift and boutique where you can browse the racks for a new-to-you outfit. For around 300 girls a year, Top Buttons is an interview outfit, a bra that fits properly, an ensemble that resonates confidence and pride – Top Buttons is an incubator for self-worth. Their mission is not only to teach girls and women how to dress but to let them express their style in a contextually modest way by providing them the resources to do so.
This 501(c)(3) faith-based nonprofit was opened in 2012, by Sarah Powers. “We provide confidence-building education and proper fitting attire to young women in need,” said Powers. “We exist to build up girls inside and out through our program.” Top Buttons currently 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.
Through their Boutique Program, Top Buttons Boutique and Designer Thrift Stores are open for public shopping. 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, photoshoot with images to keep, and ongoing mentorship.
The Lakeland shop opens into a cozy, airy boutique featuring modern, modestly on-trend pieces. Passing through the boutique down a few steps is the well-stocked thrift shop with garments like shorts, athletic wear, shoes, bags, dresses, special occasion, tops, plus size, and accessories including jewelry, scarves, and belts. “We call it designer thrift because we curate all of the racks with our girls in mind,” said Powers.
Top Buttons is picky about what they put out on their floor. You will only find quality items, sans holes or stains. The designer thrift store manages to be both high-end and unpretentious. This balance is reflective of Top Buttons’ demographic – everyone. Powers said, “We want women of all economic backgrounds in here shopping, all shapes and sizes, all colors. We want it to be a place where women feel comfortable and no matter what their economic background is, that they are being blessed and they are both giving to, and receiving from. It’s really, pretty beautiful.”
You Are More Than Your Body
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 the 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. The celeb was dressed cute, but provocatively. A blurb on the cover mortified Powers. Explicit 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 body. This idea bloomed organically according to Powers. 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.”
She 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.” This included a fashion blog. Fashion blogging was booming at the time, but Powers didn’t see anyone doing it in a way that she felt would both be a good example and appeal to young people. There were extremes like the impeccably-styled blogs with no boundaries or at least no emphasis on contextual modesty. Then there were extremely modest sites that were well put together, but Sarah didn’t feel would speak to the majority of the youth. 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.
Focusing On Local
Though Top Buttons still has an online presence, Powers said, “Our hearts and our time and energy are all local now and being a resource locally for girls.”
In 2015, Top Buttons had a fundraiser event to fund a brick and mortar store rather than taking clothes to the organizations. Having a store would eliminate the problem of lacking sufficient clothing to fit the sizing needs and style preferences of each girl. Top Buttons opened in Dixieland, they weren’t open to the public, just for the girls they served. Now, Top Buttons has two full boutique and designer thrift shops open to the public in downtown Lakeland and Bartow.
Wearing Confidence Program
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. They receive hair and makeup and even a professional photoshoot. Powers said, “We can serve them for specific things like job interviews, prom, special occasions or for every day,” she said.
The one on one attention the girls receive from their stylists is invaluable. More than stylists, they are mentors says Wearing Confidence Program Director, Emily Trivette. “They speak empowerment and encouragement into their lives,” she said. Often shy and timid when entering the shop, the girls leave with bountiful confidence, knowing that Top Buttons is a safe place for them. “We just want to love on them and support them in whatever it is they feel they’ve been created to do,” said Trivette. As for the educational piece of the program, Trivette explained that through close relationships with the organizations they serve, Top Buttons has been able to tailor a curriculum of sorts around the needs and struggles of the girls.
Emily Trivette, whose daughter went to elementary school with Sarah’s daughter, watched Sarah go from carrying clothes out of the back of her car to now having several stores serving around 300 girls a year. Their daughters are now 15 with Trivette saying, “Having two teen girls ourselves and watching them be bombarded with messages that aren’t necessarily healthy, watching them struggle through their own temptations, is helpful to know what the girls could benefit from.”
Powers touched on one of the main points they convey to the girls – contextual modesty. “Contextual modesty is what we talk to the girls about because we know modesty is subjective to everyone, but most agree there are certain things that are appropriate for certain settings,” said Powers. With a job interview, for example, they talk to the girls about researching their potential employer for what dress requirements they might have. They can then use that knowledge as a basis to choose an appropriate, stylish, and well-fitted outfit to make the right impression for the interview. “We’re trying to help them understand that there will be opportunities for you to express yourself and show who you are, artistically through your clothing, but some environments have boundaries and there are requirements as far as dress for a reason,” said Powers. “There will be places where they can show off their style in a greater way and other places where they have to tone it down a little bit.”
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 which 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 putting a contextually modest and stylish wardrobe in the hands of these girls. Powers explains, “If you want your employer or a young man, a future relationship, to value who you are in your mind, and your heart, your personality, your talents, your achievements, let’s not take away the attention from up here by focusing on your sexuality more than your achievements.” Top Buttons is constantly launching initiatives that could fill another need for their girls. A recent partnership with JOY FM fundraised 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.
For Girls Everywhere
Big news for the east side of the county, Top Buttons is coming to Winter Haven! The nonprofit’s newest location will be opening at 226 W Central Avenue in downtown Winter Haven, with plans to open their doors by September.
Even bigger news for Top Buttons and communities around the country, the nonprofit is ready to open affiliate locations. “From the beginning, it was a message for girls everywhere,” said Powers. In the past, they have met people and received requests from those interested in starting a Top Buttons in their community. Powers feels Top Buttons finally has the legal and financial framework to start affiliate locations. “As cities around the U.S. focus on serving their local community using our model and our systems of operation,” said Powers, “I think that they too can have a really unique impact on their community.”
The first affiliate location is being opened by a couple in Tennessee – Top Buttons Nashville.
Top Buttons, whether it’s in Polk County or Nashville, 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. “We’re really grateful for the support of the community. We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers. We have some incredible people that come alongside us,” said Emily Trivette.
Powers knows what it’s like to need help – a reason she extends herself so much to others. As a single mom in her twenties, she needed people around, especially her mom, to encourage her, to let her know life is one day at a time, that she would get through it, and that someone was there to help her. “Had I not had her, I don’t know where I would be,” said the Top Buttons CEO. “I tell these girls that there is nothing wrong with needing help and accepting help. I’m thankful that I’m in a position where I can offer help because people have been a help to me.”
236 N Kentucky Ave.
Lakeland, Florida 33801
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