The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 12, 2012

Jo Ellis: Cancer survivor finds ‘repurpose’ in life

CARTHAGE, Mo. — “Spunk,” meaning one is spirited or plucky or brave, is sort of an old-fashioned word, but it fits Heather Orscheln’s life.

Her business venture, Repurpose Boutique, has a double meaning for her as well, for she has definitely repurposed her life. A teacher in the Carthage School District for 10 years, Orscheln stopped teaching to raise her young family as her husband’s business required him to travel out of town frequently.

As her two daughters and son grew older, she was preparing to go back to teaching when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, described by several in the medical field as inoperable. Surgeons at M.D. Anderson Medical Center at the University of Texas in Houston proved that was not the case.

After many months of recovery, Orscheln was ready to get back to work again, but she didn’t know where to focus her energy. At a card party with girlfriends, they threw out suggestions: real estate agent, interior decorator, personal shopper? They knew she had always enjoyed decorating her home for her family.

When someone said: “We should give you our (unwanted) stuff, and you should sell it,” Orscheln was instantly intrigued with the idea. At first, her efforts were limited to selling online for a commission.

“I’m very customer-oriented,” she said. “I would go to their homes, sort and purge their items, and sell them on eBay or in storefronts I rented. My motto was ‘Clutter for Cash.’

“I have sold boats, hot tubs and cars, but mostly jewelry, clothing and home decor items. On larger items, I didn’t ask for a percentage, just an agreed-upon amount. Facebook exploded my business.”

After a couple of years, Orscheln realized that the growing business needed a more permanent base. She rented a booth at the Country Mall Flea Market. “At first, they didn’t want me to sell clothing, but I told them I had accumulated a mailing list and had over 3,000 followers,” she said.

Her one booth grew to eight, and just over a year ago, she opened her own shop, Repurpose Boutique, next door to the flea market.

“Three months after I opened, the Joplin tornado hit,” she said. “I couldn’t keep stuff in here. All of the clients I sell for gave me permission to give things away.”

She teamed up with Kristin Stovern, one of her clients, to give away tubs of items to tornado victims. Each tub had three matching, fashionable outfits in specific sizes, so the recipient could use everything. Shoes were donated by Sophie Shoes in Joplin.

“All kinds of women from the community worked in my garage,” Orscheln said. “Basically, I gave away all my inventory.”

True to the classic adage of “what goes around comes around,” the next year those recipients became clients.

Staying true to the store’s mission, many of the tables and counters in Repurpose Boutique (even the dressing room) are built from doors and posts salvaged from the tornado. The store also features artisan items from about 20 local artists, mostly jewelry, pottery or fashion accessory items. The artisan items will be added to her website by Oct. 1.

“I want to be more than just a consignment store,” she said. “It’s a feel-good job. When you almost lose your life, you learn to love every minute of it.”

Store information

The store, located at 530 Fir Road, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email


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