Payback can be sweet.

For Lou Lou, a women's accessory boutique, setting up shop comes with a global responsibility.

In mid-January it opened its 25th store in the country, at 143 S. 13th St. in Center City. The boutique caters to women of all ages and claims to sell uniqueness. It sells boutique brand items, as well as private-label brands, among its stock of jewelry, sunglasses, scarves, gloves, and handbags.

"It's like a candy store for accessories," said Ben Wegdam, who owns Lou Lou with his wife, Tara.

But a closer look at the items reveals something else: Many come with tags that list where some of the money goes after customers make the purchase. Among the beneficiaries: the national Alzheimer's Association; Aid Through Trade, which helps women land jobs in the Third World; and Banded, which helps feed the poor in Uganda.

Retail experts say such altruism has been around for a while - such as with UNICEF stores - but now it's gone mainstream.

"It's a new trend in retailing in the last five years," said Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, a consulting company in New York. "It goes back to millennials, and what they're buying, and why. It's a feeling, 'I can make a difference.'

"The owners are on to something, as well," he said. "They are feeling empowered with a purpose."

Phibbs, who counsels retailers on customer service and sales, said this was more than a PR move.

"I call this the third wave of younger retailers, who built their businesses and are opening the door with the idea, 'We are going to help people.' "

"This whole idea of sharing and helping somebody else is not just sending charity water to Africa, but a new DNA to make a difference."

Phibbs cited how Home Depot recently stepped up in Chicago to clean city parks by donating lawn mowers, seed, and mulch.

Others have taken the Good Samaritan route: Toms Shoes matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. Blue Planet Eyewear is doing the same with glasses with its "Buy a Pair = Give a Pair" global project. Online eyewear company Warby Parker, which is opening another retail store in Center City this year, says it donates a pair of glasses for every one sold through a nonprofit partner.

For its part, Lou Lou won't say how much it donates per sale. For each of the last two years, the firm has donated $25,000 to Dress for Success, which offers training, mentoring, and clothing for women going back to work.

Such as Jane Jackson, 55, of Washington. When several family members fell ill beginning in 2003, Jackson chose to care for them. But years of heartache followed. She lost her mother, four brothers and a niece all within a three-year period, from 2006 to 2009.

Having missed a number of work days, Jackson said, she lost her office manager job of nearly 25 years, and with it, a steady income. She was forced to sell her home and car, and moved into a small apartment while looking for another job.

When she interviewed for a part-time job in July 2012 with Linden Resources, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that helps veterans and the disabled, she wore a red power suit from Dress for Success. She also took classes on salary negotiation and related topics.

"Clothes can make you feel good," Jackson said by phone recently. She was recently promoted to project manager in Linden's Silver Spring, Md., office. "I could go to work looking decent and not have people feel sorry for me. It really made a difference."

Of Dress for Success' impact, "it completely opened my eyes to what we take for granted," said Tara Wegdam. She said Lou Lou also asks its customers to give items, such as handbags, to Dress for Success boutiques that open throughout the country.

The first Lou Lou opened in Middleburg, Va., in 2004. It has added stores in Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia, among other states, and now Pennsylvania.

Tara Wegdam, who hails from Nashville, said she and Ben are very selective with each store location. It took four years of looking for the right spot in Philadelphia.

She met Ben, who is from the Netherlands, in Paris in 1990, when both were students. France is where they also met "an incredibly nice" guy, whom people affectionately called "Lou Lou," recalls Ben, which stuck when naming their store.

Ben and Tara, both 46, live in Marshall, Va., with three children. Daughters, Kiki, 13, and Paris, 12, are very involved in the family business. They make a jewelry line for preteens and teens, and their stuff is sold alongside Mom's self-designed jewelry in the Philly store.

On a recent Friday, the store near 13th and Walnut Streets was busy. "I'm really impressed," said University of Pennsylvania graduate student Caitlin Ward, 25, as she was shown bracelets that help artists in Nepal and India by store manager Mieke Ellis.

That same afternoon, Caitlyn Arduino, 27, an occupational therapist from Fairmount, checked out headbands with Emily Asher, 26. "1 headband = 3 meals" read the sign for Banded above the rack.

Lou Lou started a loyalty program a year and a half ago and already boasts 15,000 members, said Ben Wegdam.

"We like to be in a community and be part of it," Tara Wegdam said. "We want to be nice to people, and that comes before the bottom line.

"You have to give to get."

215-854-4184@SuzParmley