Wollert Bros Clothes located in the Wiley School has quickly become one of the most talked about businesses in southeastern Colorado. For those who may not be aware, Wollert Bros Clothes receives softly used, donated clothing from the community-at-large and then gives the clothing away to anyone who comes in looking for coats, shirts, pants, dresses, sweatshirts, sweaters, and boots. They seriously have one of the best collections of prom dresses in the entire area --- all available for free.
Wollert Bros Clothes is a school project-based entrepreneurial endeavor conceived by brothers Garren and Brasen Wollert, who are both 6th graders at Wiley School. With the help of their teacher Brittney Williams they brainstormed their initial idea of starting a coat closet to provide for coats to anyone who needed them. “I had planned on just getting some donations from local families and washing up the coats that are constantly filling up the lost and found boxes in the school,” laughed Williams.
Williams, who is the special education teacher at Wiley, said she has been reading a lot about Project-Based Education (PBE) and thought that was just the thing for her students who were bored working out of workbooks and textbooks—the kind of work that had no authentic application or meaning to the students. Her initial goals were to teach the students life skills and any kind of business skills they could understand. Needless to say, her expectations were far outdone by what her students have demonstrated as part of Wollert Bros Clothes.
They got started by brainstorming their ideas for a coat closet. They had to determine how to start the business, market the business, talk with the administration about obtaining permission to be open during some school hours and after school, and organize the huge inventory that miraculously began pouring in.
By the time the boys had brainstormed their ideas with Williams, they had developed a business logo and donations were already piling up. Williams described the processes the students went through, “The brainstorming sessions lasted a good week of class time and included the design of the logo. Getting them to agree on ideas was quite difficult, so it was basically me designing several different logos until we nailed one they both liked. Finally, together, we created a business proposal PowerPoint that the boys presented to administration for approval of the project.”
The turning point came in October when they were contacted by a former Wiley community member, now living in Nebraska, who runs a non-profit organization called Foster CARE Closets. She and her crew brought down shelving units and a whole U-Haul truck full of clothing to start the business off on the right foot. Williams says, “Since then we have had a steady income of donations and have served well over 100 individuals around the area.”
Williams went on to explain how the business has exploded as they have received clothes and monetary donations from people across the area including from Wiley, Springfield, Las Animas, McClave, Lamar, and Eads.
Wollert Bros Clothes is located in the Wiley School so if a potential customer wants to come in during school hours, they need to contact the school. The boys work in the closet throughout the school day/week doing any number of jobs including sorting, organizing, and hanging the clothing. They have come up with a system to track items.
Williams stated, “The boys are always excited to hear about the number of people their business has been helping. It has given them a purpose for their learning, and even the time spent putting clothes on hangars, a surprisingly difficult task at times, or sorting clothes by gender and size are so beneficial to their overall learning.
In fact, Williams has been tracking the boys learning outcomes and they are now starting to demonstrate strong life skills and basic educations skills. They have been part of interviews where they have to speak to people that they may not be comfortable with. They are able to answer specific questions about their business and inventory, and their organizational skills are skyrocketing.
Most educational experts would agree that project-based learning is the most powerful way our students can learn. Kudos to Brittney Williams and the Wiley School District for thinking out of the box and extending learning in such a powerful, authentic, successful, and beneficial way. Wollert Bros Clothes is a learning project that not only teaches students life skills and academic skills, but also affords wonderful assistance to hundreds of people across the region. This is yet another example of how rural education can be so powerful.
Wollert Bros Clothes plans to be open during the summer with hours yet to be determined. Now that they are established, they hope to continue to run their business for many years to come. But, obviously, they could use your help.
If you can afford to give some of your time to help out in the store or make a donation, Garren and Brasen of Wollert Bros Clothes would sure make it worth your time and effort.