LA Downtown News

MADE Makes Empowerment Possible
By Morgan Owen, LA Downtown News Staff Writer Feb 26, 2023 Updated Mar 6, 2023

Nestled in the heart of the Toy District sits an immaculately curated resale boutique. Upon first glance, the store appears sleek and organized with good quality resale fashion items. But as you browse through the collection, displays of handmade soaps, bath salts and soy candles waft to the forefront, all stamped with the logo MADE by DWC.

The MADE by DWC Resale Boutique and MADE by DWC Cafe & Gift Boutique are two brick-and-mortar businesses supported by the Downtown Women’s Center. Behind the scenes of this social enterprise, formerly homeless women work with the collective goal of empowering each other professionally as they develop career-building skills.

The transitional jobs program is a 300-hour paid job training where women who qualify can learn insightful workplace lessons and begin building work experience. Participants can choose from three placements — the resale boutique, where they learn front-of-house and customer service skills, the home goods placement, which teaches warehouse and manufacturing skills, or the cafe, where they learn barista skills.

“People move into those jobs related to what they are learning, but we understand that’s not the biggest placement we are seeing,” said Joe Altepeter, the chief social enterprise officer for the Downtown Women’s Center. “The essential job skills are really important — showing up on time, working well with your peers and your supervisor, and how to work through challenges.” 

In 2022, MADE by DWC employed 39 women in transitional job-training roles. Collectively, the women completed 11,700 hours of training and earned more than $465,000 of income. 27 of them moved into local competitive jobs after completing the program. Occasionally, MADE by DWC asks one or two to stay on and become part-time or full-time employees, like Alexandria Pineda, MADE by DWC’s production associate.

When Pineda first came to LA, she was a bartender. But when COVID-19 hit, she lost her job and became homeless.

“I was new to LA,” Pineda said. “I moved here in December 2019, and the pandemic was at the end of January. I was only here, not even a month before … they shut down all of LA. I didn’t even know how to apply for food stamps.” 

Pineda had no idea where to go until someone advised her to look for resources Downtown. She said she remembers thinking that was a crazy idea but came Downtown anyway. Once she got here, she was able to set herself up with transitional housing and was directed to DWC to interview for the MADE program.

“Once I came into the program, I just fell in love with the work,” Pineda said. “It was really similar to bartending — the mixing and pouring. I strove so hard during the program because I wanted to be able to get a job, not knowing that I was going to get to stay here. … Then they love me here. So they (offered to let me stay.) At first, it was part-time, and eventually, the (opportunity) came for me to be full-time. Now I get to help women that were just like me.”

Pineda said she is very proud of the women who come through the program and that they continue to inspire her. Pineda spoke about one woman who came to MADE by DWC after being released from a 30-year prison sentence. She didn’t even know how to work a cellphone, Pineda said, but now she is thriving and goes above and beyond to advocate for others.

It’s helpful, Pineda said, when the women from behind the scenes come forward to tell their stories. When business goes to craft fairs to sell their products, there are always people who choose to buy because of the social impact MADE by DWC has on the community.

Altepeter agreed, emphasizing that in addition to the commitment of those in the program, it’s the community that helps make MADE by DWC successful.

“This is really a community initiative,” Altepeter said. “People donate clothing, and people volunteer. People shop with us (and they) always come back to buy products. Everyone who engages with the social enterprise is actually having an impact.”

All of the proceeds from MADE by DWC Resale Boutique and MADE by DWC Cafe and Gift Boutique and profits from all their home and goods products get reinvested into the career training and mentorship program. To help fund the business, MADE by DWC receives funding through the city and county of Los Angeles’ “LA RISE” program.

Downtown Women’s Center is one of the only homelessness organization in LA dedicated exclusively to women. In addition to MADE by DWC, they offer housing and other support services. They manage 119 units of permanent housing across LA and serve more than 5,700 women annually. They founded MADE by DWC in 2011 to break the cycle of chronic homelessness through employment.