“I don’t consider myself to be in the fashion business. I am in the recycling business,” says Megan Graham, owner of Into the Wardrobe, a consignment store on the East Side of Providence. Megan is driven by that premise, recycling more than just clothing and money, but energy back into the community.
Resale is one of the fastest-growing segments of the retail industry, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. The trade association estimates that there are more than 15,000 resale shops nationwide. In a recent survey, members found that 66.2% of the stores saw sales climb from January through August 2008, compared with the same period of 2007 with an average increase of 35%. The survey found that 85.8% of stores have seen an increase in new customers and 74.5% are seeing new suppliers or donors making the resale industry one of the few recession-proof segments of retailing.
“This industry just keeps growing, but especially during slow times,” says Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the 1,000-member National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. “Once people find that great bargain, they’re hooked.”
Into the Wardrobe opened in late 2002 with two rolling racks of clothes. “I had 22 consignors when I opened, all friends and family,” Megan laughs. “I knew exactly how much money I needed to make each day, in order to cover my expenses. And I was willing to sleep in the back room.”
Today, Into the Wardrobe boasts 1,500 consignors, though they are not all active. “Sometimes people will consign for a year, and then just be buyers for the next two years. It’s all about cycles.”
Megan offers this advice to potential consignors:
- 1) What do you have? What aren’t you using? Take inventory of the things that you can recycle – not necessarily just clothing.
- 2) Consider what you want to do with these things? Do you want to turn the items into cash? Consider consignment.
- 3) If you have donated items in the past instead of consigning, ask yourself why? Consider speaking with a consignor first. Perhaps your items have a greater value in the resale market and you can give that money as a donation to the charity instead of goods.
“We are the experts – let us shop the pieces first. The staff at thrift stores and charities is not trained to sell these items and many pieces still end up in landfills and as unused goods. Letting a consignee sell them means that you can give that charity what it needs most – money.”
Consignors generally make between 30-50% of the sale price of their items. Some stores are on a system that mark the price down according to tag color, some other stores use a timed mark down system. Both allow stores to turn inventory frequently and keep the racks fresh. The stores are a reflection of what is actually going on in the present moment – in the economy and in peoples’ lives.
Once pieces have been sold, consignors can often use their profits right away in store credit. Each store has its own policy, but consignors can also choose to receive a check if their profit exceeds a certain amount. It’s a win-win for everyone.
In addition to shopping local (another important thing to do), by shopping consignment we better protect the environment. Buying and recycling clothes means that new items don’t need to be produced and we can reduce the amount of chemicals in the water to dye cotton clothing, downed trees for paper, oil and gas consumption to deliver goods from far away places like China and Korea.
Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff (http://storyofstuff.org), contends that the US produces approximately 33% of the world’s waste with 4.6% of the world’s population! The average person consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.
Consigning items we no longer use and purchasing consignment pieces are both great forms of recycling. We are “reassigning” our items for use by others. We are rewarded for taking good care of our items by passing them through a system to new owners that compensate us!
Of course this doesn’t mean that we have to give up comfort or style. You might be surprised to find that the trendiest and most sophisticated designer items are available right now at your local consignment shop. Many of the items have never been worn and still have the original tags. Consignment stores have become regular retail stores for many shoppers. Take note of the BMWs and Mercedes in the parking lot: shoppers of all income levels have discovered the hidden treasures in resale!
Even the fashion lovers who can afford to spend money on clothing and accessories have reassessed their priorities. Many who consign items are putting their money right back into the same stores, feeling less guilty about splurging on items at 50% or less of their retail value.
Consignment stores don’t sell items at retail prices. Even when retail stores consign their items (yes, they do!) that may be overruns or from prior seasons, the items start 40-60% below their original retail price. Another benefit of shopping consignment is that most stores have a wonderful selection of designer clothing, rare pieces, and couture. Megan quips, “If I took every pair of Gap khakis that people tried to consign, I’d have a whole store of Gap khakis! I prefer items that are not mass-produced. There’s not one in every store or every city. I love to support smaller businesses and designers.”
Many consignment boutiques host events at their stores. In addition to attracting new business, regular customers know that this is often how stores create a platform for things that are important and relevant to them.
The location of a consignment store sets the tone for the contents inside. In a larger city, a consigner may carry a variety of styles and tastes, finding support regardless of the address. In a smaller community, the business will generally reflect the neighborhood and the wants and needs of the customers.
Consignment store owners connect with the people who come through their doors, building communities, listening to personal stories and dilemmas about shopping, clothing prices and fit. Megan says, “Sometimes a person will stand in front of the mirror and say ‘I love it, but I don’t really need it’ and I tell them that they don’t NEED anything in my store. That’s not what it’s about. I don’t think it is my job to be in sales or to tell people where they ‘should’ be. It’s about service. Where are you now? How can I help take you to the next step?”