Monday, April 25, 2011

Thrift Shopping at Value Village: This Spring Your Wardrobe Can Be on Trend and on Budget

Many people find themselves reluctant faced with the idea of thrift shopping, but this fashion segment can be very rewarding. Thrift shopping is not only about merchandise at low prices, but it’s also about great and unique style, a style that can make you stand out of the crowd, a style that won’t be copied by anybody else.

When we say thrift shopping in North America, the first place that comes to our mind is Value Village. Debbie Wright is a style expert at Value Village, as well a fashion stylist and confidence builder at Project Closet, a fashion consultancy company. I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie, and in the following she is going to share with us some great tips and ideas on thrift shopping.

Victoria West: How long have you been in this business?

Debbie Wright: I have been in the fashion/wardrobe business for over 25 years; I established my fashion consulting business, Project Closet, in 1997.

VW: How do you acquire and select the merchandise for the store? Do you follow a specific guidance when selecting the merchandise?

DW: Every Value Village store has a nonprofit partner, and those partners ask people in the community to donate gently used items. Value Village pays the nonprofit partners for everything donated to the store. Then, Value Village team members sort through every item and only the highest quality reusable items make it to the floor. Each Value Village has over 100,000 items on the floor at any given time, and they go through roughly 5,000 items every day.

VW: Do people find shopping in a thrift store overwhelming? If yes, what makes them reluctant in becoming Value Village customers?

DW: I do hear from time to time that many people find thrift shopping overwhelming due to the large amount of inventory and selection. Value Village merchandises their inventory by category i.e. jackets, then by size. Merchandising this way makes it easier for the shopper to find great fashion pieces.

I also recommend my THRIFT SHOPPING 101 strategy:

First, shop by choosing a category. For example, jackets. Once in jackets, comb through the different types. Think about what you need a jacket for; meaning do you need a nice blazer for work, a denim jacket to go with a cute dress you just got, or a warm outdoor jacket.

Second, remember that vintage sizes are different. When you are thrift shopping make sure to look at sizes above and below what you normally wear. You might just find a great vintage Chanel piece that is labeled as two sizes too big, but that fits you because of the vintage sizing.

Third, try not to get overwhelmed. Thrift stores, especially Value Village stores, have a lot of merchandise to look through. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothes you can easily change out of.

Finally, keep your eyes open and try on everything. Thrift stores are a creative person’s dream. You have to be willing to try on anything and everything that looks semi-interesting. Let’s say you find a great purple shirt, but it’s a purple you normally wouldn’t wear. You’re reluctant to even try it on, but then you do and you can’t imagine your life without it.

VW: Once they had their first shopping experience at Value Village, do customers tend to come back?

DW: Absolutely, shoppers become addicted to the “hunt.” Thrift shopping is one of the most EXCITING ways to shop. You never know what treasure awaits you at any of the Value Village stores. They add tons of new merchandise to the floor daily. Most customers can’t drive by a store without stopping in to take a quick peak and they LOVE to talk about their finds.

VW: What are the greatest advantages of thrift shopping, aside from the low cost of the merchandise? Why would a fashion consumer become a constant Value Village customer?

DW: There are many advantages of thrift shopping. Having great style does NOT have to cost a lot of money. When you thrift shop, you have an opportunity to shop for high quality classic items like trench coats, black skirts, white blouses and wrap dresses as well as many unique pieces from vintage jewelry to designer shoes. Your style should express your personality and thrift store shopping finds are endless. The styles found often at the malls are all the same. Thrift opens up an avenue of flair and creativity.

VW: Do you shop at Value Village? If yes, can you give us a few examples of some of your greatest finds?

DW: I shop weekly at many of my local Savers stores. Value Village is owned by Savers, Inc. and the stores in most of the US are called Savers. I have found Marc Jacobs classic pumps that were under $30, Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses, and Vintage Chanel handbags. Most recently, I found a David Meister dress and it's perfect for a Kentucky Derby Show I have – it was only $12.99. I have also found many pairs of designer brand jeans like Citizens of Humanity, and Sevens for All Mankind for $39.99.

VW: Can you share tips on how to build a great style with what Value Village has to offer?

DW: You can stay on trend shopping thrift and I recommend “Making Your Own Mannequin”. When you shop bring pictures of outfits and looks from your favorite, current fashion magazines. They can often be duplicated shopping thrift for much less money.

We also recommend shopping with specific items in mind, for example two new pairs of updated jeans for your wardrobe. Find a pair that fits and flatters your shape today. Choose one darker wash denim that can be dressed up or down and should be a little longer to accommodate a heel. The other pair should be lighter and long enough to wear with flats. Value Village offers a wonderful versatility in your closet.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Emergency Rooms in Toronto and Their Non-Emergency Policies

This is not my usual fashion article, but I feel I have to do this, and I can only hope that someone will hear me.

On Thursday April 7th, 2011 my 19 months old baby got sick. While at work, I was called by the manager of the day care he attends to advise me that my baby was sick, and to summon me to come and pick him up. Since my son started attending day care last November, he got sick a few times; and each time I was called by the day care staff to come and pick him up. Now, when I see their caller ID on the phone, my heart stops, because I know they are going to deliver bad news. They don’t make courtesy calls. The only reason they call is to let me know that my baby is sick and I have to come and pick him up. They don’t give me any options, I can’t argue with them that I am at work, I MUST go there and pick up my child. So on the said day, this is what happened – I got a call from the day care, I was summoned to come and pick him up, I took a day off from my work and I took my baby home to attend to his health. He had stomach flu.

By the next day, Friday that is, he felt better, so he attended the day care with no troubles. Thank God, I didn’t get any phone calls from the day care anymore and I could work in peace. But over the next weekend he felt worse, especially on Sunday, when his stomach flu symptoms worsened – watery diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, shaking, stomach ache. Here I am, on Sunday afternoon at 4pm, with my baby sick, when my family doctor is not available, when any walk-in clinic in the city is not open anymore. So my only option was to go to the Emergency Room of the closest hospital – North York General Hospital.

I have never gone to any emergency room in Toronto before, primarily because I knew about long waiting times; and until recently, I have successfully avoided going to the emergency room for any health problems my family has had in the past. But this time I was not so lucky, as it was on a weekend, too late in the afternoon for a better option. So here I am, with my sick baby and my husband, at North York General Hospital Emergency Room. Before getting there, I was silently praying in my car for a reasonably short line; I was genuinely hoping that maybe not so many people in Toronto were sick and in need of emergency care that day; but of course, no such luck. When I got there, dozens of people were already waiting in the line.

First, we needed to register at the front desk. Fairly promptly. Then we were advised we would be called to a triage room. Only two triage rooms for whatever the number of patients. After about 40 minutes, we went to triage. Then, registering for the actual doctor consultation. And then – God help you, we will call you and you will be seen by a doctor. When I tried to ask about average waiting times, the nurse muttered something about “it’s very busy, maybe a couple of hours”.

So we took a sit in the waiting room, and waited. And waited. And waited. While sitting there and waiting, we saw different degrees of suffering. We saw a lady in her sixties who could barely breathe or stand. When she entered the room, in a shaking state, a staff told her “to stand in this line to get registered at the front desk”. That sounded ironical, because the woman was unable to stand, literally. I couldn’t figure out what exactly was the severity of her condition, but she was in a really bad state. However, for several minutes, nobody paid her any attention. Finally she was given priority and taken to be seen by a doctor.

Then I saw another guy (or maybe before that, I don’t even remember) who came there helped by a couple of his buddies. The man was in his thirties, and he had an excruciating pain in his arm. He seemed to have suffered an injury due to some sporting activity, like soccer. When their group arrived, there was nobody at the front desk or at the information desk. Just like the lady before, he had to wait a too long time for his condition just to get acknowledged by someone from the staff.

Four hours passed, and nothing, nobody called us. My baby was starting showing signs of deep exhaustion, and I don’t even try to complain about me or my husband. So I went to one of the triage rooms to ask about our turn. The nurse from there showed me her computer screen – there were about a dozen people in the queue in front of us, but that could change any time for priority reasons. There were 3 doctors attending to patients. So I went back to my sit – at least I knew where I stood.

Some half an hour later I went to triage to inquire about the line again. This time, there was a different nurse in the triage room. So I kindly asked her where I stood, but her response was not as kind. She refused to give me an exact answer; more than that, she raised her voice at me. I insisted on asking how much more time I should expect to wait till I get to see a doctor; she told me maybe another two hours. Another two hours??? I couldn’t believe it!!! I had already been there for almost 5 hours!

I gathered there was no point to argue with her. Some time later (after 5 full hours of waiting there) I asked the same question, but of the lady from the registry, who was free at that moment. She sent me off to triage for an answer. That moment I lost it and broke into tears. While crying, I told her that I had been there for 5 hours and this is just not right. Then a security lady approached me and tried to calm me down. She was asking me “to stop yelling, because yelling does not improve anything”. The thing is that I was not yelling, I was crying. The woman, accidentally-on purpose, mistook my crying for yelling. She kept saying that she knew it was frustrating, but I should try to calm down. Only I didn’t need them “to know”, I needed them to act. Their “knowing” didn’t cure my baby instantly and didn’t make him feel any better. I needed a doctor to consult my baby, not them to know that it was frustrating.

It was 10pm, and for another unknown number of hours we had no chance to be seen by a doctor. By their standards, my baby’s case was not emergency enough. So after 5 extremely long hours of waiting for nothing, we just gave up and left, without any doctor seeing my baby. When we were exiting the room, the same security lady asked me with irony: “What, you’re not waiting anymore?” “No, I have been waiting here for 5 hours, I can’t wait anymore”. Unless I decided to move in, there really was no point to wait any longer.

When I got home close to 11pm, I was boiling of aggravation inside and out. I couldn’t believe I had to go through all of this. Why on earth do they call themselves an emergency room??? In my book, emergency means 5 minutes, not 5 hours.

The next morning, on Monday April 11th, my baby was feeling a bit better, so I took him to the day care, and my husband and I went to work. But during the day his symptoms worsened again. No wonder, since no doctor had seen him the night before. The manager of the day care called us to let us know about our son’s condition. Also, she made her case in pointing out that we should take a better care of our baby, almost accusing us of irresponsibility. Well, since my child care provider has such a fine sense of justice, she would be better advised to go to North York General Hospital Emergency Room and tell the staff from there that they are irresponsible for keeping me waiting for nothing for 5 whole hours, not us for being completely powerless in a long line in a so-called “emergency room”.

I had to take another afternoon off from work (yet again!), to pick up my child. This time I took him to my family doctor. But I wasn’t satisfied after this visit either. My doctor saw him. I mean, literally, just “saw” him, like in “I acknowledge your presence in my office, nice of you to visit”, nothing else. Due to the fact that my child is under 2 years of age, no actual treatment for his diarrhea has been recommended. My 19 months old son was expected to heal by himself, and his symptoms were expected to go away by themselves as well. I begged for something, anything. My doctor kept shrugging: “He’s under 2 years old, no prescription drugs are available for him. What can I do, what can I do?” Well, you’re the damn doctor, you should know better what you can do!!! Whatever home and non-medical remedies I have been trying for the past 5 days, it was just not working. Finally, after an extra hour spent in his office, I was recommended some over-the-counter medication.

But my son’s condition didn’t improve overnight, so the next day I took him to SickKids Hospital Emergency Room, where a pediatrician could see him. I really hoped this time would be different in terms of waiting, since it was a medical facility dedicated to children only (vain hopes, of course). I got there in the morning. The triage and registry process was much faster than at North York General Hospital. But after that, the same obscenely long waiting. They always tell you “maybe two hours”, but make no mistake – there is no such thing as two hours in an emergency room. Two hours would actually be nice, kind of waitable. After 3 hours, I asked a nurse about where I stood. She explained me very nicely that my baby was assessed in the second category of emergency (out of three categories), and at that moment there were 5 people in front of me (2 in the first category, 3 in the second, or vice-versa, I don’t remember); but that could change any minute, depending on the new incoming patients. 20 doctors. Ok, that should make a difference, as opposed to the only 3 doctors from North York Hospital. And I couldn’t help but notice the careful way she spoke to me, comparing to the other one from North York, who practically yelled at me when I insisted on finding out what was going on.

After another hour, I asked again – 5-6 people in front of me. Uh-uh, nothing changed in the last 60 minutes, at least not for my baby. Also, I was told that other people had been waiting for even longer – and this was supposed to make me feel better or what??? This was supposed to instantly cure my baby? And what baffled me the most was how come the waiting times were just the same, with 20 doctors? With so many doctors, one would think, the line should go just like that, but no! I was already starting feeling sick after so many hours, on top of the fact that my baby was sick, but nobody was going to give me, an adult, any medical care, since it was a children’s facility, right???

Then I tried a different approach. I asked the nurse why I wasn’t told that I should expect a much longer time, due to the fact that my baby was assessed in the second category of emergency, and not in the first one, in the first place? Her answer was that they never do that, because if a patient wants to see a doctor, they will see a doctor, but no “when” mentioned. Oh, so now they are politically correct. They will never say to a patient’s face that they shouldn’t stay there, if they wish to see a doctor. Now, after 4 hours, they’re telling me that I will get to see a doctor, sometime in the near future. But I really would have preferred them to be honest with me, rather than being politically correct, and tell me from the very beginning something like: “Don’t expect to be seen by a doctor in the next 10 hours, because by our standards you are not an emergency case". Neither their politically correctness nor their nice speaking won’t help me and won’t cure my baby, but their honesty would be much more useful, so at least I could know what are my chances.

And so, after 4 hours wasted there (two times in a row!!!), I gave up and left. I can’t live in an emergency room, can I? Thank you for nothing.

By the end of the week my child got well, finally. Now he is ok, but NOT thanks to the doctors, and certainly NOT thanks to the emergency rooms.

From time to time I get phone calls from political parties asking me about my voting intentions. They are very careful to attract voters, but next time when they call me, I’ll ask them what are their strategies to improve the public health care system and the emergency room policies. And let’s make it clear – just because it happens in every single emergency room across the country, it doesn’t make it right. Unless you are shot, have a heart attack or have been in a car accident, nobody deigns to even look at you in an emergency room. This is unacceptable, as “the understatement of the year” as it may sound. As for me, after this distressful experience, now I seriously question my trust in doctors, and I will never ever go to an emergency room again. Ever.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Heart Truth Fashion Show, Toronto, March 2011

What is The Heart Truth Fashion Show?

The Heart Truth Fashion Show is the signature event of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s The Heart Truth campaign.

The Heart Truth campaign shares the lifesaving message that while heart disease and stroke is the leading of death for Canadian women, they can reduce their risks for heart disease and stroke by as much as 80% by making lifestyle changes.

Men too, can help protect the lives of women they love by supporting them to make healthy lifestyle changes, encouraging them to talk to their doctors about blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and by recognizing the warning signs of heart attack and stroke.

The Heart Truth Fashion Show takes place in Toronto annually, in March, in the opening of Toronto’s LG Fashion Week, and it began for the first time in 2008. This year it was its fourth annual show, and it was held at downtown Toronto’s preeminent historic venue, The Carlu (444 Yonge Street, College & Yonge). The event took place on Thursday night of March 24th.

This year’s Heart Truth Fashion Show featured top Canadian fashion designers’ original red dresses created in celebration of women and heart health awareness, modeled by some of Canada’s most celebrated talents in television, film, music, the arts, sports and media.

Who is participating in The Heart Truth Fashion Show?

Original red dresses featured in this year’s Heart Truth Fashion Show in Toronto are created by Canadian fashion designers including: Jessica Biffi, Marika Brose, Izzy Campanelly, Joeffer Caoc, Farley Chatto, Greta Constantine, Ines di Santo, David Dixon, Kaelen, Karamea, LOVAS, Ross Mayer, Vanessa Pagwandas.

Modeling The Heart Truth Fashion Show are Canadian women from television, film, music, the arts, sport and media, including: Bal Arneson, TV host; Tré Armstrong, dancer; Isabelle Brasseur, figure skater; Deborah Cox, singer; Wendy Crewson, actress; Arlene Dickinson, TV host; Mylène Dinh-Robic, actress; Megan Follows, actress; Chan Hon Goh, ballerina; Christiane Laberge, doctor; Debra McGrath, actress; Andrea Martin, actress; Dina Pugliese, TV host; Emmanuelle Vaugier, actress; Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer; Elisha Cuthbert, actress; Enuka Okuma, actress; Sangita Patel, TV host.

For the first time ever, men graced the Heart Truth runway at the fourth Heart Truth Fashion Show at The Carlu in Toronto from March 24th 2011, demonstrating their support for the cause and encouraging men across Canada to help protect the lives of women they love. Male celebrities walking this year’s Heart Truth runway included Colin Mochrie, actor; Rick Campanelli, TV host; Jim McKenny, former hockey player Toronto Maple Leaf. Men’s attire for the show was generously donated by V Hazelton.

What’s next for the red dresses featured in The Heart Truth Fashion Show?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is asking designers to donate or loan their dresses to The Heart Truth campaign, to be used to continue raising awareness of The Heart Truth and its official symbol, the Red Dress, through ongoing displays of the designer originals.

What are the origins of The Heart Truth Fashion Show?

The Heart Truth Fashion Show is modeled in Toronto after the very successful Red Dress Collection Fashion Show, which has taken place every year since 2002 at New York Fashion Week. The Heart and Stoke Foundation of Canada is proud to partner with the Canadian fashion industry to raise awareness about women and heart disease, and deliver the lifesaving message of The Heart Truth to Canadians through the powerful Red Dress symbol, which represents women’s courage, passion and their power for change as they share the truth with others and raise awareness about the importance of heart health.

Who is behind The Heart Truth Fashion Show?

The Heart Truth Fashion Show which tales place in Toronto annually is the signature event of The Heart Truth campaign, launched by The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The Heart Truth campaign gratefully acknowledges the support of founding sponsor, Becel, and contributing sponsors Rogers Consumers Publishing, Post Shredded Wheat and Health Check, without whom the program would not be possible.

What is The Heart Truth campaign?

The Heart Truth is a national public health education campaign to raise awareness that heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death for Canadian women. The Heart Truth campaign educates women about identifying their risks and warning signs of heart disease and stroke, and shows them how to take charge of their heart health by taking action to improve their health and making lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk by as much as 80%.

Canadians can show their support for The Heart Truth campaign by purchasing and wearing a Red Dress pin, available for a $2 donation at local Heart and Stroke Foundation offices. 100% of all proceeds will be reinvested into women and heart disease initiatives.

About The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

The Heart and Stoke Foundation of Canada, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.

This year’s show was an invite-only event, and I had the pleasure to be invited to 2011 The Heart Truth Fashion Show, by the Public Relations department of the campaign, as a media representative. The show was spectacular, and the featured red dresses were fabulous. The celebrities didn’t just neutrally showed the dresses like professional models usually do on a runway, but they made the show entertaining and engaging, as most of them are actresses.

The material for this article is a press release kindly provided by The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Deborah Cox, singer, wearing Kaelen

Megan Follows, actress, wearing David Dixon

Chan Hon Goh, ballerina, wearing Ross Mayer

Emmanuelle Vaugier, actress, wearing Greta Constantine

Debra McGrath, actress, wearing Karamea

Colin Mochrie, actor, wearing V Hazelton

Sangita Patel, TV host, wearing Ines di Santo

Mylène Dinh-Robic, actress, wearing Simon Chang

Gabrielle Miller, actress, wearing Eugenia

Tré Armstrong, dancer, wearing Joeffer Caoc

Bal Arneson, TV host, wearing Jessica Biffi

Jim McKenny, former hockey player Toronto Maple Leaf, wearing V Hazelton

Isabelle Brasseur, figure skater, wearing Marie Saint Pierre

Dina Pugliese, TV host, wearing LOVAS

Rick Campanelli, TV host, wearing V Hazelton

Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer, wearing Paul Hardy

Elisha Cuthbert, actress, wearing VAWK

Andrea Martin, actress, wearing Farley Chatto

Photo: Victoria West