Clothes With a Cause: Carmel resident turns love of shopping into store that gives back


Clothes With a Cause had a modest start in Kelli McLaughlin’s living room with one rack of clothes.

“I invited my girlfriends over to shop just to see what would happen,” she said. “That turned into two racks and then four, which turned into me convincing my husband we need to redo the dining room to put a little shop in the house.”

Then the Carmel resident started conducting festivals for her business, which donates profits to charity.

“We gutted a 1972 vintage camper and turned it into a mobile boutique to take to shows, except for this year,” McLaughlin said.

The camper is named Betty June in honor of her late grandmother.

“She loved to shop, so it was a fitting name for the camper,” McLaughlin said. “The business just exploded, and this space came up.”

Clothes With A Cause, which started in July 2017, moved into Clay Terrace in Carmel in October 2019. The store, at 14300 Clay Terrace Blvd., Suite 105, is moving to a larger Clay Terrace spot across the street next month.

“The concept of the store is twofold,” said McLaughlin, a 1995 Carmel High School graduate. “We donate 100 percent of our profits every month to a different local charitable organization. Our goal is to bring awareness to the good things that are happening locally and then help raise money for them. The other side of things is pretty much everything in the shop is giving back in some capacity. I only stock things that are already paying it forward.”

For example, the company that makes the tumblers the store sells donates 25 percent of its profits to whatever cause is displayed on that tumbler.

“So, everything we sell has a purpose,” said McLaughlin, who taught private piano lessons for 22 years before the Clay Terrace store opened. “We make sure everything is ethically sourced and people are being paid for their wages and things like that.”

In addition to clothes, the store sells gifts and accessories for women. There is a section featuring items made in Indiana.

McLaughlin is in the process of receiving nonprofit status for the store, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the effort. She has been told it will likely be another 12 months before it is granted by the federal government.

“We have a few high school girls that work here and they are paid a fair wage,” McLaughlin said. “I just started taking a small salary. Obviously, I want to pay my workers, but what is most important to me is we are doing good out in the community.”

Store sales were going well before it had to close in mid-March for two months because of the pandemic. Online sales were offered during that time.

“I have a Facebook group of about 1,000 women, and they bought a lot of masks during that time,” McLaughlin said. “I started ordering masks about the beginning of March because I sensed things weren’t going to get better for a while, so I had them in stock before a lot of other places did.”

In December, profits from store sales will go to the Indiana Center for the Prevention of Youth Abuse and Suicide, formerly known as Chaucie’s Place. The following two months, the profits will be donated to COVID-19 relief funds.

“We also do smaller fundraisers where people can invite their friends to do two or three hours of shopping and we’ll donate the profits after that,” McLaughlin said.

The shop is a family affair. McLaughlin’s mother, Gloria Abell, a former Mohawk Trails Elementary School teacher, helped in the store regularly before the pandemic struck. Her father, John Abell, who was a history teacher and then assistant principal at CHS before retiring in 2008, is president of the board.

“The whole idea is what we can do for people rather than worry about profit,” said John, who moved with his wife from Carmel to Westfield 12 years ago. “It’s grown tremendously. She’s done great work.”

McLaughlin’s daughters, CHS senior Kayla Phillips, and 2019 CHS graduate Madyson Phillips, work in the store. Madyson, who attends Hope University in Los Angeles, works when home from college.

McLaughlin initially got the idea for fundraising for a cause after watching her brother, Ryan Abell, and his wife raise money to pay for the adoption of two boys from China.

“I thought, ‘What can I do to alleviate some of that burden for people?’” McLaughlin said. “I thought, ‘What are profitable things that people can use for every day?’ I love clothes. I came up with the idea and ran it by my brother. At first, I said, ‘I’m going to donate 10 percent of my profits.’  He was honest and said, ‘With what we are doing, people are looking for checks with two zeroes, not three zeroes, so think bigger.’  Bigger to me meant donating 100 percent of our profits. We’ve been doing that faithfully now for 3 1/2 years.”

Gloria said she wasn’t surprised that her daughter created the concept.

“Kelli enjoys shopping and enjoys putting things together at displays,” Gloria said. “Her dad and I were behind her 100 percent.”

Project supports homeless

Clothes With A Cause owner Kelli McLaughlin describes the Hoosier Humanity Project “as a side brainchild of mine.”

The boxes include handmade fleece blankets from the Carmel High School National Honor Society, a fleece hoodie, socks, personal toiletries, hat, gloves and nonperishable food items. The boxes will be sold for people to donate through Dec. 23.

“We’re selling 100 boxes at $50 a box and we’ll be delivering them to the homeless in Indianapolis on Christmas Eve,” McLaughlin said. “We’re hoping that this is a project that takes off every year that we can take to surrounding large cities as well.”

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