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Working Wardrobes picking up the pieces after blaze

Working Wardrobes Costa Mesa
Paola Escobedo, who manages the Working Wardrobes retail store in Costa Mesa, checks out a customer Monday morning.
(Hillary Davis)

Customers with armloads of clothing cycled through the Working Wardrobes thrift shop in Costa Mesa at a steady pace Monday morning, taking advantage of a 99-cent special. For a little more, but less than $20, they could also buy pinstriped ladies’ suits by Ann Taylor or Kate Spade kitten heels — the kind of smart, better-label designers that can make a worker look and feel like a professional.

These are the kinds of looks that the local nonprofit Working Wardrobes, which provides “the dignity of work” to people in need with career training and wardrobe services, has specialized in for the past 30 years. But a four-alarm fire that gutted its Irvine headquarters early Sunday has left the organization reeling.

Gone are its career center with computer labs and training rooms, its corporate office and the thousands of jackets, slacks, shirts, ties, shoes, jewelry and accessories in its warehouse — everything except what is stocked in the company’s four thrift shops throughout Orange County.

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Working Wardrobes has found a temporary home with Goodwill in Santa Ana and needs donations of all kinds to get reestablished, founder and chief executive Jerri Rosen said Monday.

“After the devastating loss of our entire property yesterday, we’re grateful to have a place to be,” she said.

About 100 firefighters responded to the blaze just before 6 a.m. Sunday at 1851 Kettering St. but they “were pushed back” from battling the flames from inside, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito.

“It was just too dangerous a fire to fight” inside the building, he said.

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Only the exterior walls of the 22,000-square-foot building remain. Bommarito said it will take some time to establish a cause because of the extent of the damage.

OCFA investigators estimate the loss at $10 million for the building and $2 million for its contents, Bommarito said. There were no injuries.

“We’ve received an amazing outpouring of love and help” as the organization essentially starts over, spokeswoman Devon Poer said.

Two years ago, fashion designer Ashley Nell Tipton made television history when she became the first contestant on Lifetime’s “Project Runway” to show a plus-sized collection.

Working Wardrobes launched in 1990 when it served 67 women from area domestic violence shelters. With a staff of two, it opened its first office in Garden Grove in 1994.

Working Wardrobes was based in Costa Mesa for five years before signing a 12-year lease on the Irvine location in 2016. The Irvine headquarters was an upgrade, with a larger warehouse, twice as many career training rooms and computer lab stations, and a larger community room for client meetings, events and workshops. What started as a charity for women has now served more than 100,000 men, women, young adults and veterans.

Starting Tuesday, Working Wardrobes will accept donations dropped off at its temporary location at 1501 E. St. Andrew Place in Santa Ana from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. The organization needs clothes, laptop computers, office supplies and volunteers.

“Writing a check is a wonderful thing to do for us” as well, Rosen said.

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Financial donations can be made at workingwardrobes.org/donate-money or in person at any of the retail stores. People who want to help set up temporary quarters can contact KathiS@workingwardrobes.org or call (714) 210-2460. Poer said to direct clothing donations to the Santa Ana office instead of the stores.

Working Wardrobes’ shops are at 803 19th St. in Costa Mesa, 12761 Harbor Blvd. #I-2 in Garden Grove, 1071 E Main St. and 28051 Greenfield Drive in Laguna Niguel.

Davis writes for Times Community News. City News Service contributed to this report.


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