Care through clothing

Crystal Johnson

Photo by Cathy Wagner

Crystal Johnson, a Chico resident for 30 years and the owner of Curvy Gurlz Boutique, has been deeply involved in caring for people her whole life. She and her mom, Kathy Baker (pictured at left), who was a nurse, opened and ran two care homes for the elderly from 1994 to 2002. That latter year, Crystal decided to become a foster parent. She ended up adopting twins who are now almost 5 years old. In 2014, Johnson began the Making a Difference in America (M.A.D.I.A.) Project, a nonprofit designed to help foster families provide clothing for the children in their care. Two years later, she opened up Curvy Gurlz Boutique, a plus-size thrift store, to support and connect with other plus-size women. This past summer, she found a way to combine both of her passions—supporting foster families and curvy women—with the women’s boutique in the front of her shop and children’s clothes for the M.A.D.I.A. Project in the back. Check out Curvy Gurlz at 1376 Longfellow Ave. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

What gave you the idea for Curvy Gurlz?

I’ve been a plus-size my whole life and so has my daughter. So, I got this idea to see if I could do a plus-size store. This friend of mine, I told her that I wanted to do that and … she had all these clothes and she just wanted to get rid of everything. Then some of my friends started giving me their stuff and pretty soon I had a pretty good inventory, so I decided to just go for it.

Tell me about the M.A.D.I.A. Project.

The M.A.D.I.A. Project came out of the fact that when you do foster care, they bring kids into your care and, most of the time, they come with nothing, no other clothes besides what they’re wearing. We came up with the idea of having a clothing exchange kind of thing, and it started out where we were doing it amongst some of the other foster families and then I just started collecting stuff. I started going to yard sales and talking about the project. Pretty soon … we had to buy shelving and bins. It became its own thing pretty quick.

How does it work?

We have vouchers for families in need, if they qualify—and really it’s if they’re on food stamps or cash aid or something like that, if they’re low-income. We have a partnership with the Chico Unified School District, so they give us referrals and then we sign them up to the program and they get a voucher. It’s meant to be a temporary thing to help people out, but if people want to volunteer here, they can earn vouchers, too.

What are your plans for the future?

What I’d like to have Curvy Gurlz be is more than just a store, but a kind of movement. I’d like to have social events, things where we’re interacting. I really feel strongly about women in business, too, so I really want to try to connect with other women, especially plus-size, so that it can be integrated into our movement of body positive and be yourself and all that.