Dreaming Big

img-2 When Kylen Feltes was considering colleges during her senior year in tiny Prescott, Wis., Minnesota State Mankato was her first—and only—choice.

In Prescott, everyone knew everyone. Everyone knew Feltes’ family. Everyone knew Feltes.

“I knew I wanted to go to Minnesota State Mankato and I loved it right away, absolutely,” says Feltes, who graduated in May 2015 with degrees in management and marketing. “I thought the coolest thing at first was to walk into a room and nobody knew who I was.”

Thanks to Dream Closet, her philanthropic organization that offers free clothes and accessories to low-income families, people now recognize Feltes when she enters a room. And that’s fine with her.

“I found my identity again,” Feltes, 22, says. “I think it’s so cool when people ask, ‘Are you the person who does Dream Closet?’”

IMG_3118-1Dream Closet’s business model is simple. Feltes and her team collect gently used clothes from donation boxes on campus and throughout Mankato. Once a quarter, those clothes are beautifully arranged on racks and tables and given away to the community. For free. No strings attached, no questions asked.

“I really just want to make it so that people get there and they’re wowed and excited,” Feltes says. “Dream Closet will always be free. I don’t want people to think that they owe us anything.”

Feltes started Dream Closet because she felt she owed something not only to her new community, but also to herself.

A lifelong dancer, Feltes’ high school dance team had been perennial state champs; she made the Mavs’ squad as a freshman. But then a back  injury hampered her performance, and her brother’s wedding fell on the same day the team was set to compete in nationals. Feltes took it as a sign.

“When that competition was taken out of my life, I thought, ‘What do I do with myself?’,” she says. “Once I didn’t have dance, I didn’t know who I was.”

Feltes sequestered herself in her bedroom after leaving the dance team. “I was lost,” she admits. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Then she looked at a bag of clothes in her room, garments she’d barely worn and would likely never wear again. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she says. “Why would I sell it to a consignment store for five dollars when I could
just give it away to somebody?”

Thus, the idea for Dream Closet was hatched. But Feltes wasn’t versed in the logistics of organizing a full-scale event. She consulted with professors in the College of Business and her mentor, Sheri Sander-Silva of the YWCA. “They
helped bring me down to earth,” Feltes says. “It’s good to have a lot of ideas, but it’s also good to have someone next to you who helps make them
more viable.”

In December 2013, Feltes launched Dream Closet in a conference room in the Centennial Student Union. She was afraid no one would show up. Much to her surprise, at least 100 people came. Within 20 minutes, the 17 tables and two coat racks full of clothes were empty.

“I remember Sheri saying to me, ‘Kylie, this could actually be a thing.’ And I thought, I guess it could, but I didn’t think about doing it long-term,” she says. “It just took off after that.”

Dream Closet events have since expanded to include used handbags, jewelry and shoes. There are clothes for women, men and children. There are also craft and food vendors and facepainting. Birthright International has a booth
in support of young mothers and families.
“Kylie had this big idea, this spark,” Sander-Silva says. “And that little spark grew into a larger movement. It’s all Kylie—her drive and passion.”

Giving Back
It takes more than Feltes’ drive and passion to pull this off four times a year. She’s got a team of fellow students who help her out—sometimes just by storing bags of clothes to be given away in their closets. And the faculty in the College of Business have been particularly supportive as well.

“I know they’re excited,” says Feltes, who spent the summer using her skills as an intern at the Taylor Corporation Innovation Center. “It’s great to see how people are starting to be familiar with it.”

Brenda Flannery, the dean of the College of Business, lauded Feltes’ business acumen and enthusiasm. “Ideas are easy, but implementation is hard,” Flannery says. “Kylie had a vision that she’s seen through and is engaging with other people.”

IMG_3251-1Feltes insists that the students who volunteer at the event interact with the clients. She sees Dream Closet as more than just a free-for-all clothes giveaway. It’s also community outreach.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” Feltes says. “That’s why I love talking to people. I tell the volunteers, ‘Don’t let someone walk out of this room without saying hi or talking to them, because they have so many stories to tell.’”

Feltes’ next plan is to expand Dream Closet throughout the state. She’s in the planning stages of coordinating a Dream Closet function this holiday season at the University of Minnesota.

“In five years, I would love to see it on at least 20 colleges,” she says. “The concept is so portable, and it would be unique to each place. I always say that it’s by the community, for the community.”

Eventually, Feltes hopes to coordinate Dream Closet events nationwide.
“Dream Closet has been a dream come true,” she says. “I found myself again. I’m not the dancer anymore. I’m the Dream Closet girl.”  —Drew Lyon