Despite a tumultuous year for both retail businesses and nonprofits, a Fort Worth social enterprise has risen above the challenges of 2020 to open its first brick-and-mortar boutique. The Worthy Co. shop, newly opened on the Near Southside, aims to help the city's most vulnerable women in a number of ways.
The Worthy Co.'s parent nonprofit, The Net Fort Worth, has served more than 1,000 survivors of sex trafficking through jail outreach, meals, events, support groups, and more since its founding in 2012. The Worthy Co. began as a way to employ women in The Net's programs to make candles and jewelry to be sold online.
Now, the new storefront sells handmade jewelry, clothing, home goods, and hand-poured candles. Each item is either made onsite by survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction, or sourced from a female-owned, impact-driven business, with 100 percent of every purchase benefiting the women. An onsite candle-making studio will open to the public next year, allowing groups to mingle and make candles together, with proceeds going back to the women the organization serves.
The Worthy Co. shop employs survivors in a safe environment where they can work with trauma-informed volunteers, gain professional experience, and earn income as they develop the skills needed to enter back into the workforce, according to a release. By opening The Worthy Co. retail space, they say, women can learn product manufacturing, inventory and fulfillment, and retail management.
“These survivors have so much to overcome, and finding reliable, dignified employment is a struggle for them,” says Melissa Ice, co-founder of The Worthy Co. and founder of The Net, in the release. “The victimization that they experienced holds them back from being able to grow, and we wanted to create a space where they can rebuild their lives.”
The Worthy Co. boutique and headquarters are housed in a formerly abandoned, single-family home built in the 1920s. It was renovated and turned into a space "for women to work and heal," they say. The building includes a retail shop and candle studio, an office and production space, and a job training center.
“Everything is for the women — to provide them with a space that feels welcoming, inviting and beautiful, giving them a feeling of ‘wow, all of this is for me,’” says Melissa Ice, who co-founded the nonprofit with Sarah Bowden, now The Net’s director of operations.
Ice announced plans for the retail shop two years ago at a star-studded fundraising party. At the time, the organization had just a fraction of the funding needed for the project. But, Ice said at the time, the women they serve in Fort Worth would be worth the risk of launching a new retail venture at a challenging time.
"I want my daughters to see a city that says no more," she said in November 2018. "That says, yeah, these women may have experienced this at one point, but we're going to fight for them, we're going to advocate for them, we're going to provide [an] opportunity for them that might not have existed before. And so, we're doing this thing."
The Worthy Co. is located one block off of buzzy Magnolia Avenue, at 1216 S. Lake St. It is currently open 10 am-2 pm Friday-Saturday for in-person, socially distanced shopping. Online purchases can be made directly from the website. They'll be announcing updates about extended Black Friday hours and more on Instagram.