Giving thanks to one pair of stylists: Cathy Sullivan and Eileen Kelly

March 14th, 2018

One of the big differences in our clothing program is the individual styling that clients receive.  Giving personal attention can often be more impactful than the clothes they leave with.  This month, we give special thanks to one pair of stylists: Cathy Sullivan and Eileen Kelly.

Cathy Sullivan (right) styling a client

Q: How did you become involved with Uncommon Threads?

A: I saw Susan’s interview on WCVB Channel 5, and I was captured.  I immediately contacted Susan.  She invited me to the boutique and she identified my passion and talent for styling and recruited me on the spot!  I work fulltime at the IRS, but have Friday’s free, so I volunteer on Fridays and it’s been SO good for me. I love what I am doing at UT.

Q: How many clients have you styled?

A:  I’ve been styling for almost a year now.  I’d estimate 50-60 clients at least.  Eileen and I are going to up our numbers this year! 

Q:  What life experiences have prepared you for this role?

A: I have always had a passion and talent for style and design.  I have been styling friends and family since college – in fact I’ll style the random shopper in TJMaxx in the dressing room with me if she wanted my help! Really, it’s been done!  I’m a bargain shopper too, so I know how to put an unbelievable outfit together without it breaking the bank.  I also can relate to many of our clients – I am a survivor of abuse and raised my kids as a single parent. I know how a woman can feel at her lowest, and I also know that putting on clothes that make you feel how you WANT to feel can change your outlook.  Its attitude. I see it with every client.  The transformation is amazing.

Q: Has the experience been what you expected?

A: Oh, my, WAY more than I could have expected. Even with all I’ve been through in my life, I still am shocked at how bad others have it.  Some of the women we see can’t even look at themselves in the mirror when they arrive.  I know I am making a difference in these women’s lives, that I am having an impact by giving them hope and inspiration to go out into the world and succeed. It’s the best feeling in the world. Especially their hugs – I am hugged every Friday! It also wonderful to know what I am going to do when I retire in a couple of years – I’m working for Uncommon Threads.

Q: Can you provide one or two examples of that impact?

A:  Only one or two?! Sure – here is one: A woman Veteran recently came in, unkempt, a bit disheveled.  She was battling health issues, that left her with a distended stomach on her large frame. Her hair was thinning and getting grey. What she said to us was this: “everyone thinks I am a man” when she goes to her Dr’s appointments at the VA, etc.  We got right to work to provide clothing and tips on styling to feminize and flatter her statuesque figure.  A week or two later she came back – beaming in one of her new outfits AND a new haircut and color from a Walmart salon.  “I feel like a woman!” she announced, and you could see how much better she felt. Without a doubt, changing her mental attitude was helping her battle her body’s health issues.  

Q: Who is your inspiration for empowerment and fashion?

A: Susan Kanoff!


Eileen Kelly

Q: How did you get started volunteering with Uncommon Threads?

A: I first learned about Uncommon Threads via social media actually, finding a watch I knew my son would love being sold by Susan [founder] as a fundraiser for Uncommon Threads. I won the auction, and met Susan when I picked up the watch.  She told me about her new organization.  I followed up with donating clothes, and asked about volunteer opportunities, as I was looking for more meaningful work now that my boys were off to college. Before you knew it, I was “hired!”

Q: How many clients have you styled?

A:  I’ve been styling almost every Friday afternoon since last August.  So I’d estimate over 30 clients at least.

Q: What life experiences have prepared you for this role?

A:  I grew up in Ireland, and moved here when I was 26.  I was pretty determined not to lose my sense of style, and continue to dress “up” as opposed to dress down as I think Americans can do.  This was especially important as the only female engineer in my workplace!  It was important to me to distinguish myself with my male peers – not to be looked upon as their administrative assistant.  I had to create my own style in the workplace. And what I choose to wear made a difference to me. To my self-esteem. I get it.

Q: Has the experience been what you expected?

A: Oh, better than expected! Hands down this is the best volunteer work I have ever done! It’s so much fun, the clients are so wonderful, so grateful. I can’t think of a better way to start my weekend. I leave so happy – I’ve only cried once.

Q: What happened?

A:  One day we had an urgent request – a woman came in from Puerto Rico [after the hurricane] directly from the plane. She had nothing but the clothes on her back and spoke no English. Her son was being rushed to Children’s Hospital and she was fearful and unprepared for the cold. I knew her anxiety as I too previously had my boys in dire straits in hospital. We got her prepared as best we could. But we were all crying.

Q: Eileen, what impact do you think you are having on women’s lives?

A: I’ve got so many stories.  Here is a couple to illustrate: one women comes in, hunched and so dejected. Most of the stylists work as a team, and my partner Cathy, starts the process with conversation to identify the needs of the client. As they converse, I observe and can start picking items for her size, shape and objective – in this case, her immediate need was to be prepared for court. She needed to make a positive impression, it was so important to her.  We encourage her to try, and reject if needed, whatever we pick out, that we will work together to get her an outfit she feels empowered in.  As she appeared from the dressing room in the first outfit we selected, she was beaming, her shoulders were back and she no longer looked defeated.  It was amazing. I saw it.  And by the way, we later learned it did make a difference in court. Another example is a woman had recently succeeded in graduating from her program, and there was a celebration that night with her family. She had lost a lot of weight and the clothes she came in with were 4x too big, hiding her great figure – we took a dress from the mannequin and encouraged her to try it.  She looked unbelievable! Her family didn’t recognize her as she walked out to the party that night.  As I said, I love starting my weekend after working at UT!

Q: Who are your inspirations for empowerment and fashion?

A: Marie Curie and Marilyn Monroe – brains and curves!