Yes, you can shop the closets of Real Housewives stars while doing good for cancer patients and the environment. Founders and cancer survivors Shelly Tinney-Miller, Katy Tinney, and Kerry Solmonsen combined their passion for fashion and philanthropy to create Cancer Cartel, a nonprofit that sells gently used luxury fashion items and gives 100% of the proceeds to help people fighting cancer with their living costs, so that they can focus on their recovery.
"Our tagline is 'Fashion Funds the Fight,' because our mission is truly to clean up the cost of cancer. Cancer is unfairly expensive, and it dramatically increases your cost of living in so many ways. We knew that it was important to provide financially for people struggling with things that we knew all too well," Solmonsen tells WhatRivaWore.
The ladies noticed that there are several organizations and charities to further cancer research and help patients with medical bills, but very few that help cover the unexpected costs of cancer — such as loss of wages, groceries, power bills, mortgage payments, gas and parking for hospital visits, and meals away from home.
"One thing that we say is that there's money out there to fund research for the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen. That's important too. But we're funding people. We're funding life," says Tinney.
So in 2018, they set out to create TheRealReal of nonprofits. Working out of a donated office in their small hometown of Enumclaw, Wash., the power trio has taken a grassroots approach to reach and gain the support of influencers and celebrities in major cities including Los Angeles and New York City.
They recently kicked off the Cancer Cartel Closet Challenge on Instagram, which asks participants to choose a piece of gently-used luxury fashion to donate, post a video about it, then nominate a friend to do the same. The challenge has already been picked up by the likes of Brooke Burke, best-selling author Christine Handy, Mexican Dynasties' Doris Bessudo, Real Housewives of Orange County's Braunwyn Windham-Burke, country artist Kimberly Dawn, and Real Housewives of New York alumna Heather Thomson, to name a few.
You can shop dresses from celeb-loved L.A. designer Jonathan Simkhai, Ronny Kobo, and Isabel Marant; jackets, footwear, and bags by Chanel; pieces from Alice + Olivia; Christian Louboutin heels; and more.
The year 2020 was tough, but these ladies are tougher. Tinney survived Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Tinney-Miller survived breast cancer, and Solmonsen won battles against spinal meningitis, near-fatal pneumonia, skin, thyroid, cervical, and breast cancer.
The pandemic forced them to shift their fundraising model from in-person pop-ups to social media challenges and branded merch online. But that didn't faze them. In fact, despite the world being shut down, in 2020 they were able to raise and donate $58,000 directly to patients.
We sat down with the Cancer Cartel queens to learn more about their cancer journeys, their fundraising model, how they plan to bring beauty into their initiative, and how people can help further their mission to revolutionize the way cancer patients worldwide receive financial support.
P.S.: Glamhive is hosting its virtual Winter Style & Beauty Summit on Saturday, Feb. 27 featuring an amazing lineup of founders, stylists, and editors. A portion of sales will benefit Cancer Cartel. Enjoy 15% off your ticket with the CODE: CancerCartel15.
What inspired you to start Cancer Cartel?
Shelly Tinney-Miller: We loved fashion and beauty before we got sick, and they were very important to all three of us when we were going through cancer. We felt awful and sick, but we always got up every morning and put our makeup on and got dressed. It made us feel good. It was something we used to get us through it. It's okay to not put your makeup on or get dressed —we know not everyone feels this way. But our connection to fashion and beauty inspired us to create this platform where we can give back to others
Tell us more about Cancer Cartel's fundraising model.
Kerry Solmonsen: We fund our mission by collecting and selling donated, luxury handbags, shoes, jewelry, clothing, and accessories on our website and at events. People can mail their donations to 1731 Cole St., Suite B Enumclaw, WA 98022.
We accept monetary donations and fund our operation with grants from community foundations and individual donors.
Another source of growing revenue comes from our direct-to-consumer branded clothing and accessories. We also raise funds through strategic brand partnerships. Last year, we partnered with luxury skincare brand Immunocologie, which gave us 20% of their sales. And we're planning another collaboration their team.
We've also teamed up with celebrity makeup artist Elan Bongiorno and MAC Cosmetics on a virtual makeup session, with Zoé DuFour on their tourmaline jewel bracelets and necklaces, and with GotBallz for their gemstone bracelets. A portion of profits from each activation helps cancer patients with living costs.
We're adding to our Fashion Funds the Fight' trademark with the launch of 'Beauty Funds the Fight' this year, and are excited to partner with some fabulous beauty brands.
When we set this up, we wanted to make sure that 100% of the donor funds go back to the people that we are supporting, all the fighters. The three of us haven't paid ourselves a dime this whole year and a half. We're doing all of this out of the kindness of our hearts.
You have support from a bunch of celebrities and personalities. How did you get Cancer Cartel on their radar?
Katie Tinney: Starting out, we knew that the people who owned the kind of luxury fashion items we wanted to sell live in L.A. So we reached out to people in L.A., because we knew their influence was what was going to drive our mission further and faster.
The support we've seen from people willing to help us has been incredible. We slide into their DMs and ask them to donate a luxury item or shop with us. So that's really how our support grew. It's bananas how disproportionate our support in L.A. is compared with everywhere else.
What was your inspiration for the Cancer Cartel Closet Challenge?
KS: The idea came from the Ice Bucket Challenge. We thought, why not challenge our incredible influential supporters and even everyday people who love fashion? We not only have support from Bravo celebrities, but also real celebrities, and ordinary people who are incredibly generous and are willing to put us in contact with people who want to participate in the challenge.
Who is eligible to receive support from Cancer Cartel?
KT: Don't let the pink fool you, we help everyone including women and men. To be eligible, one must be a current cancer patient or caring for one, and within 12 months of completing treatment. We ask that applicants submit the proper paperwork showing their diagnosis. Then once a quarter, we review all the applications, and depending on how many funds we have, we'll decide how many people we can give money to.
We also send out a $100 Amazon gift card right away to support them. One mom was like, "I couldn't afford to buy my daughter a birthday present, but now I'm so excited that I can," because she was spending all of her money on cancer. The stories we hear would blow your mind. It's so sad. But that's why we do it.
How can people get involved?
STM: We accept luxury fashion donations, monetary donations, and monthly pledges. And if you think that $5 doesn't count, you're wrong.
For people that can't afford some of our luxury resale items, we have branded Cancer Cartel merchandise, like sweatshirts, hats, and water bottles.
There are also a couple simple ways that you can help us that cost you nothing. You can select us as your charity on choice on Amazon Smile, then Amazon will donate 0.5% of what you buy there to us.
You can follow us on social media, and share our mission with your community. That helps us find people that need our help. You can also start a fundraiser with your own friends and family. When people donate five bucks here and there, that can raise a $1,000, which helps pay someone's rent.
Where do you hope to see Cancer Cartel in the future?
STM: We have huge dreams of building other aspects of Cancer Cartel, so we're officially launching our Beauty Funds the Fight initiative this year. We've partnered with a new lash enhancing serum brand called Lash Spell. A percentage of all their eyebrow serum sales will go toward Cancer Cartel. And to show their commitment, they gave us a $10,000 check upfront.
We see partnerships with major luxury fashion and cosmetics brands, like Chloé and Chanel in the future. We want to scale this nationwide so that it affects a dramatic amount of people and creates a better life for those who are fighting cancer.
Our goal is to partner with corporate sponsors or angel investors to cover overhead costs, so that we can make this our full-time job and get to the point where we're giving away $11 million a year. Last year, we got a $5,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped cover our overhead.
Some of our dream supporters would be ladies like Jennifer Aniston, Chrissy Teigen, and Kris Jenner.
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs?
KT: Just do it. Don't be afraid. Everything is 'figure out-able.' You can do it. We had no idea what we were doing, but we believed in our mission and we just said yes—yes, we can do this, and it's going to get messy and it's been messy. But every day we move forward.