A different kind of clothing drive: Boutique truck serves needy teens

It’s not often that those in search of clothing donations are treated to an upscale boutique experience.

It’s also not often that a 14-year-old girl founds a nonprofit in service of her peers.

But, in an event that defied those improbabilities, the youth-run Threads for Teens fashion truck on Friday visited Philadelphia, the nonprofit’s 39th stop in a tour of the country’s 48 continental states.

About 20 foster children with the Court Appointed Special Advocates network of Philadelphia stopped by the tricked-out semi-truck parked outside XFinity Live!, leaving with bags of brand new threads donated by companies like Urban Outfitters, Stussy and American Eagle.

“It’s like a VIP shopping experience,” nonprofit founder Allyson Ahlstrom, now 18, said as she showed off the truck’s pink paneled walls, meticulously sorted clothing and curtained dressing rooms.

“Girls are treated with dignity when, sometimes, a lot of these girls aren’t treated with dignity wherever they go. Here, every girl is our friend, we are waiting on them – they are the superstars of the day.”

Ahlstrom at the age of 14 founded Threads for Teens, which she said started in 2010 as a clothing drive “that grew – a lot.”

“I didn’t know if I’d get one shirt donated, let alone to get enough to take over my living room and for my mom to say, ‘You need to find somewhere to put this stuff,’” she said.

Ahlstrom first filled a donated storage unit, then set up a physical shop inside an empty deli space in her hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif.

In a little over three years, she amassed over $135,000 worth of clothing and more than $82,000 in cash from more than 40 national donors and received accolades for her philanthropy from Nickelodeon, Coca-Cola and the Red Cross.

“I like to say that sometimes confidence can come from the outside in, and we definitely see that here at Threads for Teens,” she said.

“Girls can come in here a little shy and timid but then walk away feeling really powerful and successful because they know they look good in what they’re wearing.”

Despite the national acclaim, Ahlstrom’s Philly roots run deep – she three years ago received a cash grant from local women’s advocacy group Soroptimist to get Threads for Teens off the ground.

With the help of Ford and DenBeste Motorsports, who provided a fleet of vehicles, Ahlstrom decided this summer to take the show on the road, kicking off May 29 in Los Angeles with plans to wrap up in Vermont Aug. 5.

But it won’t be long before the teen returns to the City of Brotherly Love – she will this fall study business at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Economics.

“I would love to open a Threads for Teens here in Philadelphia,” she said.

“I want to maybe wait until I’m a sophomore – that way I can kind of get the hang of college and everything. But I definitely want Threads for Teens to be in all 50 states and I would love to help start the expansion.”


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