A paw-ssion for wildlife breeds successful non-profit

Wild Wardrobe officially opens in Cavan Town. The proceeds from the shop support Wild Life Rehabilitation Ireland and Kildare Wildlife Rescue and the outlet is a non-profit store. From left: Caroline Vandenberg and Joanna Birsanu. PHOTO: SEAN MCMAHON

What started as tentative steps into the unknown world of online business has now turned into a physical shop in Cavan Town.

Johanna Birsanu and Caroline Van Den Berg set up the Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) Charity Shop last summer after both found themselves out of work during the pandemic. Their passion for wildlife prompted the decision to support charities in the sector.

They operated solely online in a bid to gauge interest but it’s proven so popular they’ve opened a physical shop at St Clare’s Court in Cavan Town.

Now called Wild Wardrobe, the shop’s official opening took place at the end of March, with all profits still going to charities.

“We support Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland and Wildlife Rescue,” Caroline told the Celt recently.

“It actually exploded! It grew bigger than we had ever expected. We were working out of our two spare rooms and it just exceeded the capacity that we had in our homes. Feedback has been so great.”

Charity shops across the country are well known for the surprises and hidden gems that one might find but Johanna and Caroline took the novel approach of styling the clothes they have been donated and posting them on Facebook.

“We found ourselves in a little niche market where second hand clothing was being styled and put online daily. We’re not aware of anybody else that’s doing that.”

The shop’s stock is made up solely of donations made to Caroline and Johanna or to the charities themselves. The majority is made up of clothing but some small household items are also accepted. The surge in online shopping during the pandemic helped as some people were not quick enough returning things they did not want.

“We’re only as good as our donations is what we say but we’re really grateful for every item that’s donated. The majority of the stuff we get is lovely,” says Caroline.

“I think a lot of people in lockdown were buying online and then not returning on time. We’d see a huge amount of stuff come in with tags still on.”

The impact of the pandemic on their jobs saw both Johanna and Caroline out of work. In Caroline’s case it worked out for the better as she was working as a flight attendant based in Frankfurt, Germany.

They are both now working with Wild Wardrobe, which has morphed from a charity shop to a non-profit. They’re now hopeful of drawing a wage at the end of this month, their first from the shop since they set it up.

“We have been able to create employment out of it,” says Caroline. “We wanted to combine our passions; we love animals and we love clothing and we’re able to feed our families as well. The profit obviously is split between the charities.”

Two staff members will also be taken on through the Tús scheme.

Not even a year operating and the enterprise has proven spectacularly popular, with customers right across the island.

But the store would have taken on its physical being a lot sooner if a suitable building had become available, something that proved a challenge.

“We would have liked to have opened much sooner in Cavan but there wasn’t any suitable premises available. If anybody is thinking of doing anything like this I’d definitely start the search sooner rather than later.”

And the final word of advice for anyone hoping to follow Johanna and Caroline’s steps into the unknown?

“Trust yourself. Just take that step, don’t be afraid of failure.”

Wild Wardrobe is open now at 5 Convent Court in Cavan town.

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