Children at the Cathy Taylor School of Dance worked for months to collect clothes as part of a fundraiser to send a group of kids to a national dancing competition in Virginia Beach. Bag after bag after bag of shirts, jeans, boots and other items.
“I want to dance really well because my parents pay a lot of money for this,” dancer Isabelle Zukowski said.
For more than a decade, the school has worked with New Jersey-based Fashion Republic, which took the donated clothing and sold it in impoverished countries. The people or groups that gather the donated clothing gets a cut, anywhere from 13 to 18 cents a pound, Cathy Taylor told NBC Boston.
But the Auburn-based dance team was left in the lurch this year. After collecting 8,000 pounds of clothing, Fashion Republic did not compensate the dance team for its efforts. The dancers are out $1,500.
The Cathy Taylor School of Dance isn’t the only group who says they got stiffed. The NBC Boston Investigators received complaints from viewers along the East Coast -- Boy Scout troops, church groups, cheer teams -- all left in the lurch because, according to his wife, the owner fled the country for Poland.
Over the course of their fundraising efforts throughout the years, they’ve raised nearly $12,000 dollars, and in previous years, the check had come two weeks after pickup. But the dance team’s contact, former Fashion Republic salesman Tom Woloch, told them that it would take longer this year.
“That was okay,” Taylor said. “I had trusted this company for years.”
Taylor waited, reassured in emails from Woloch that their money would be coming soon.
In one email Taylor shared from Woloch, former Fashion Republic employee wrote, “We are sincerely sorry for the delay in payment for your collection. We apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may have caused.”
He assured her that it was a temporary situation, writing in another email, “We have put a payment plan into effect however it may take additional weeks until you will receive your check.”
“It wasn’t really until the end of June that I realized it was never going to come,” Taylor said.
Other groups have put in the work, gave Fashion Republic the clothing, but were not paid.
“It’s a bummer because it’s kids,” one mother said. “You’re really just hurting the kids.”
The NBC Boston Investigators tried to reach Fashion Republic, but their website has been taken down and owner Peter Frydrych did not return calls or emails. The Investigators went to Cranston, New Jersey, and found three Fashion Republic warehouses. All of them were deserted.
One local business pointed to a different clothing distributor a few miles down the road. Frydrych wasn’t there, but Woloch was. He talked candidly about his former employer, saying that Frydrych cleared out the warehouse in April. Registration is still active with the New Jersey Secretary of State, though.
“We had financial problems,” Woloch said. “We believed we could come out of it, but it just didn’t happen.”
He did, however, seem to be unaware of what happened to clients like Taylor’s School of Dance.
The Investigators knocked on Frydrych’s door, but his wife, Ilona, said that he left for Poland and hasn’t been heard from since. “He disappeared,” she said.
When asked what she thought about her husband taking people’s donations and not giving them their money, Ilona said, “That’s disgusting.”
As for Taylor’s dancers, they’re in good spirits at Nationals, but it doesn’t appear that they’ll be getting their money anytime soon.
Frydrych couldn’t be reached despite several attempts. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office says that they have received six complaints and are investigating.