A market for selling quality used clothes well below original retail prices has flourished both here and nationally.
At least a dozen for-profit stores have opened in Spokane within the past five years, including some in recent months, from those carrying trendy teen and young-adult clothes to smaller boutiques that display vintage dresses and wool blazers.
At such stores, a pair of designer jeans that originally sold for $200 is listed at $30, and a $300 homecoming dress is priced at around $20.
Many of these shops cater mostly to women and teenage girls who seek fashion for less, although a few, including Plato's Closet, Fringe & Fray, and The Bachelor Pad, have clothing for male teenagers or men. For babies and young children, stores such as Once Upon a Child and Other Mothers stock "barely-worn" Carter's or OshKosh B'gosh brands. Additional stores hereCarousel and Veda Lux, among othersoffer women's vintage clothes.
"We estimated the resale industry has grown at about 7 percent a year in the past two years as far as the number of stores that have opened," says Adele Meyer, executive director of the St. Clair Shores, Mich.-based National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. "Even if people aren't terribly hurt by the recession, people have so many needs to save for, such as their retirement or their children's education."
Resale clothing shops typically sell items for a half to a third of what they sold for when new, and another popular draw is that many stores pay cash for pieces that customers bring in, based on a percentage of what they estimate the resale value to be. In some cases, retailers also allow store credit.
However, a number of resale clothing store owners here say another factor has emerged that seems to have staying power: Vintage or bargain shopping, in itself, now is considered fashionable.
"In a number of cities, that's the way people shop," says Cheryl Wood, co-owner with her husband Francis Wood of the store Sequel Resale Boutique, at 413 W. Riverside, on the first floor of the Paulsen building. "It's a great way to reuse and recycle things and get unique things inexpensively. We're trying to get people to think about that and shop that way."
Fringe & Fray co-owner Grace Johnson, who opened the store in January 2010 at 1325 W. First, says she too thinks resale stores are increasing in popularity.
"I think there is a growing market for that type of store and people wanting to shop that way," she says. "It's partly because of the economy and partly because people are finding out they can look great and shop for less."
Adds Jenny Stabile, who opened her vintage shop Carousel, at 110 S. Cedar, in August last year, "No one brags about paying full price for an item. I think you'll see a rise in the resale clothing business. People are seeing it as a business opportunity."
Plato's Closet and Once Upon A Child here are independently-owned franchises of Minneapolis based Winmark Corp.
Spokane has two Plato's stores, one that opened nearly five years ago at 5625 N. Division, on Spokane's North Side, and another that launched two years ago in the Spokane Valley, at 15735 E. Broadway. A Once Upon A Child store, at 14401 E. Sprague, has about 70 percent of its merchandise in clothes for newborn up to sizes 16-20, and the rest of its inventory in children's toys and equipment.
"We've seen growth not only at our store, but industrywide," says Once Upon A Child franchise owner Tom Lewis, who opened the store 4 1/2 years ago. He says revenue has increased about 10 percent a year annually.
That shop and Plato's both have in-store computer systems to calculate resale clothing values. His and other resale shops also inspect the used clothes brought in and often take popular brands that resell well. Clerks or owners make sure items don't have rips, stains, or defects, and most pieces they take look new, Lewis says. Some items even come into his store with price tags still on them.
"We're buying a lot more this year from people," Lewis adds. "People are bringing in about $200 a day more that we buy this year over last year. That's about a 25 to 30 percent increase. I think the economy is putting a real hurdle up for them."
He says his store will pay on average 30 percent to 40 percent of what the store can get for resale of the piece, or a higher percentage for store credit. He says his store resells items on average at 40 percent to 50 percent of original retail price.
Beth Jepsen, manager of the Spokane Valley Plato's Closet, says that Plato's typically buys or offers credit for clothes that were bought within the past two years. The computer discounts it about 60 to 90 percent of current retail prices, she says, and customers can receive 30 to 40 percent of that, with higher trade-in value for store credit. Plato's caters to ages 12 to 24, she says.
Both Jepsen and Lewis report that the back-to-school season remains their busiest time.
"It was definitely a crazy summer," Jepsen says. "With our three months back to school of July, August, and the beginning part of September, we increased 11 percent from that same period last year.
Vintage or retro fashion
Carousel is among a handful of stores in Spokane that have opened in the past year primarily focused on vintage fashion.
"I've had quite a few people find me who are from San Francisco, and they've told me vintage is popular down there," Stabile says. "People are wearing clothing from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. In places with a bigger emphasis on fashion, like L.A., this stuff is what's hot."
She adds, "I literally picked up a Vogue magazine recently, and I'm thinking, I have all that stuff," she adds. "Capes are super hot right now."
She says other drivers are customers who enjoy hosting themed parties. Stabile is a resale shop owner more likely to go out and find her own inventory, and she buys mainly from thrift stores.
The nearby Fringe & Fray offers customers a mixture of vintage and relatively new, as well as home decor, accessories, and cowboy boots, says Grace Johnson.
"You can come in here and find a dress from the 1950s or '60s, or one from last year," she says.
Inside Sequel, customers also will find both vintage fashion and newer popular brands.
Sequel's Wood adds that her store draws ages 15 to 70. She'll pay people for clothes she wants to have in her store, and the amount she pays averages 30 percent to 35 percent of the potential resale value.
The Reclothery, a resale store here since 1979, uses a traditional model of consignment for used women's apparel. Located at 613 S. Washington, it displays items for 70 days, and if the piece sells in that time, the owner receives 40 percent of the selling price. New owners bought that store recently, although details weren't immediately available.
Meanwhile, the region's many nonprofit thrift stores also continue to draw customers looking to fill out wardrobes. Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest still gets plenty of donations, says spokeswoman Diane Galloway.
"When all that resale started, we were afraid that it would cut into our donations, but it really hasn't," Galloway says.
She says Goodwill's sales last year from all of its 11 Inland Northwest retail stores totaled $14.3 million, and 46 percent to almost 50 percent of that was from used clothing sales. That sales total was virtually the same as the previous year.
A newer nonprofit thrift store here, Global Neighborhood Thrift, opened in mid-July at 902 W. Indiana, near the corner of Indiana Avenue and Monroe Street. Brent Hendricks, executive director of the nonprofit Global Neighborhood, says the store focuses on high-quality donated clothing.
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