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By Lili McMurtrey Leopard print, disco balls and faux fur filled the room as attendees filtered in from the biting cold to see the latest fall fashions come to life on the catwalk. Quinn & Foster, a local clothing store in downtown Bellingham, hosted a charity fashion show on Thursday, Nov. 8., benefiting the local nonprofit Women Sharing Hope. According to Heather Hulbert, a member of Women Sharing Hope, the local organization is completely run by volunteers and raises funds through different types of events each year. She said for each event, the membership of volunteers votes on which charities proceeds will be donated to. “One of the most unique things about Women Sharing Hope is that each year we are kind of a fundraising thinktank and events-driven organization,” Hulbert said. In the past, Women Sharing Hope has donated money to organizations such as Skookum Kids, a group aiming to repair the foster care system by training foster parents and facilitating placement, according to their website. Hulbert said she’d been involved with the nonprofit for about 14 years and that the group is a mix of many different people, each interested in helping their community through volunteering and fundraising. “We have members who are 20 years old and all the way up,” she said. “We’ve got a member who’s 82.” Kelly Sygitowicz, Quinn & Foster’s floor manager, said she hopes the event will become an annual tradition. This year, 10 percent of the ticket sales went to Women Sharing Hope’s Community Fund, which is used to fund individual requests for help. While this may be Quinn & Foster’s first charity fashion show, Sygitowicz said they are following in the footsteps of other Bellingham retail stores. Quinn & Foster took over the corner storefront at 128 Holly St. after the longtime clothing retailer, Gary’s, left the space in 2016. Sygitowicz said Gary’s was a downtown fixture for about 40 years and held their own fashion show each fall. Sygitowicz said she was a Gary’s customer and even modeled in a few of their shows. When she began working for Chris Hayward, the owner of Quinn & Foster, she suggested continuing the tradition. The store’s tall, wide windows were carefully decorated with mannequins wearing chic modern clothing. Inside, the walls were filled with modern artwork and colorful mismatched rugs. Clothing racks lined the perimeter to make way for the L-shaped catwalk and rows of white folding chairs. Guests browsed the clothing racks with wine glasses in hand as the models got ready to strut down the runway. Star-shaped lanterns twinkled above and the upbeat music fueled the crowd’s anticipation. As the models came out one by one, the crowd cheered and snapped pictures. Outfits started out casual and gradually moved into evening-wear. Sygitowicz said the store itself is organized to show the many ways pieces can be worn to fit each customer's style. Each rack is filled with pieces that could work together in a few different ways. She said the store focused on building an entire wardrobe for its customers.

Models strut their stuff on the catwalk at Quinn & Foster in downtown Bellingham. // Photo courtesy of Eliza Culhane
With about 40 people in attendance, and a diverse set of models ranging in age, size and appearance, the evening was a vivid mix of prints and patterns. Some models danced and laughed, showing off their carefully curated looks, others worked the runway and playfully tossed their jackets into the audience under the sparkle of bright lights. Many of the organization’s members, including Hulbert, modeled in the show. She said she even convinced her husband to walk the runway too. The two shared a giggle by the stage in between outfits. “I think the disco ball is my favorite part,” event worker Eliza Culhane said before she circled the stage, camera in hand. Guests admired the head-to-toe ensembles as all the models filled the catwalk for their final strut. As the show came to a close, the crowd left their seats to peruse the store’s clothing before heading back out into the chilly night. The fashion show was one of many events Women Sharing Hope has participated in. They will celebrate their 20th anniversary in the spring of 2019 with their annual Handbag Auction and Champagne Luncheon. Hulbert said the proceeds of the event will go to two local charities the group will vote on in the near future. In the future, the group hopes to someday offer class credit for college interns and is always looking for more volunteers, Hulbert said. Active members are required to attend three meetings or work parties minimum per year. The group’s charitable spirit went hand in hand with Quinn & Foster’s eye for fashion to create a unique event in the heart of downtown Bellingham. “I just think it’s nice to get people together and offer something different. Some entertainment and a way to see the fashion of the season,” Hayward said. “It’s always nice to have a party.”

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