Boutique Shopping at a Bargain
A customer runs her fingers along the sleeve of a black Valentino jacket enjoying the feel of the luxurious leather. The retail price for the jacket, which still has its original Neiman Marcus tags, is $2,498. The label on the jacket is $598. Unbelievable.
Consignment stores recent inventory acquisitions is an example of the high quality, designer-brand merchandise available in upscale consignment shops around the Bay Area. For a fraction of the retail price, shoppers can find new to gently used, moderate to high-end brand clothing, designer jeans and accessories from $10 and up. “Because of the economic downturn, there is a real market for designer labels in the consignment setting,” says East Bay fashion blogger Moya Stone, “Right now, people are not comfortable to pay full price for designer wear, but they still want it.”
Angela Valente-Romeo is always on the lookout for consignment shops that carry designer apparel. She began shopping at consignment stores in the 80’s when she was looking for business clothes on a budget and got hooked. “I look for the higher-end, more unusual labels. They are a really good value,” says Valente-Romeo. And if she likes a consigned piece, but the size is not right, she finds that well-constructed, designer brands can often be easily altered. “You get a great bargain, even with the cost of alterations. It’s a no-brainer.”
Recently there has been an upswing in both consigning and shopping at consignment stores according to Stone. “The economy is a big factor. Women are turning their clothes over more quickly, opting for the cash or store credit,” she says, adding, “The increased commitment to recycle and reuse plays a part as well.” The availability of maternity and men’s wear, petite and plus sizes and deeply discounted new apparel are factors that contribute to the surge in consignment store shopping, but it’s the boutique shopping experience that gets shoppers in the door.
A look inside four local consignment stores reveals what is unique and “boutique” about consignment shopping today.
A Dress Change, Danville
One of the attractions to consignment shopping is the search for a great value, says Donna Read, the owner of A Dress Change in Danville. “It’s all about the hunt, finding that diamond in the rough.”
When Read opened her consignment store in November of 2009, she knew that, in addition to carrying upscale merchandise ranging from jeans to minks at ¼ to ½ of the original cost, the store’s personality was integral to the shopping environment she wanted to create. The walls of Read’s 1,800 sq. ft. space on Railroad Avenue in Danville’s Old Town district are faux painted in rust and sage green, the dressing room curtains are made with a leopard-print fabric and there is an inviting smell of eucalyptus in the air. “When you walk in my store, you feel like you are in a fine boutique, and you are treated that way. My staff knows the inventory, and they are attentive and helpful,” says Read.
“The neat thing about Danville is that it is a destination for consignment shoppers. There are four consignment shops in this city,” Read says, a self-described consignment junkie who formerly worked in human resources. “Having a background in human resources is a plus, because this really is a people job. I love working with clients.” She sells about 1,400 items per month. To manage the movement of so much inventory, Read has a robust, automated tracking system which allows consignors to check their accounts online to see what has sold and for how much, which they can take in cash or as store credit.
Molly B’s Maternity Exchange, Walnut Creek
For 30-year-old Molly McCann, the idea of maternity resale made sense. “I have always shopped at consignment stores, and the availability of maternity clothing was really limited or nonexistent. I couldn’t understand why,” says McCann, who opened Molly B’s Maternity Exchange just off north Main Street in Walnut Creek this year. She buys, sells, and trades new and very lightly used maternity wear, and pays cash or gives store credit up front.
“Everyday a pregnant woman’s body changes,” says McCann. Sensitive to the pregnant woman’s need to continually resize, McCann keeps her prices low. Most of the clothing is priced at $25 or less and women can “trade up” in size throughout their pregnancy. Designer jeans sized for the pregnant body are one of the most popular items. “Almost 80% of designer jeans are available in maternity styles but are not sold in traditional retail outlets, just maternity stores,” says McCann, whose recycled maternity jeans range from $50 to $65. She also sells lightly used parenting books, like the compulsory What to Expect series, for $3 to $6 and handmade baby, toddler and mommy items by local crafters including sleep sacks, diaper bags, and nursing cloths.
Labels, Walnut Creek
Nice opened Labels’ Walnut Creek location 12 years ago and was a forerunner in the area to the concept of combining consignment and designer apparel in a boutique setting. The storefront window displays three chicly dressed lady mannequins (who would look at home lunching at one of the many outdoor cafes nearby) and a stack of brightly colored handbags. Inside, the 3,000 sq. ft. boutique has hardwood floors, high ceilings with white crown molding, and several custom built-in cases to display the clothing which is organized by designer including top tier names like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes and ready-to-wear princess Diane von Furstenberg. The expansive variety of colors and styles, and lack of repetition, provide the only clues to the fact that the inventory is not traditional retail apparel.
Dressed in a yellow and green swirling patterned long skirt paired with a mock-neck black top and low-rise stretch boots with peek-a-boo heels, Nice moves energetically about the store, greeting customers and providing personal attention to their shopping needs. Her style is artistic, elegant, and always welcoming. “Shopping for clothes is an outing. I like to make it personal and enjoyable,” she says. Nice has over 5,000 active consignors, many of whom have consigned with her for several years, and she estimates that 75% of her consignors shop consignment as well, even if they were reluctant to at the start. “It’s all about quality. I try to carry designers that are attentive to construction, fabric, and detail. Quality pieces that literally last a lifetime.”
Consigning Women, Napa
Rhonda Jamison describes herself as a tomboy who loves clothes. Her nickname is Bruce, she knows how to build and fix things, and she is the owner of Consigning Women in Napa. “I’m in this business to be a service to my community,” says Jamison, who took ownership of the store last September. “Consignment shopping is a great option because you can find great pieces at reasonable prices.”
Consigning Women has a cool, urban vibe. Recycled vintage wood doors serve as counters and wall décor. “The whole store is green,” says Jamison, who drives a compressed natural gas van for the business. “I’m in the consignment business so it is important for me to be consistent across the board.”
After relocating several times during its 13-year tenure in Napa, Consigning Women is now centrally located in the tourist district and the store is attracting a new segment of shoppers. “Women on vacation come into my consignment store then hit the wineries,” says Jamison. “They can find that one unique thing that their friends back home won’t be wearing.”
In addition to high-quality consigned clothing, Jamison also carries new apparel that she sources from buyers’ markets in Los Angeles and as far away as Santiago, Chile. “I get boutique style and quality at low cost and pass the savings along to my clients,” says Jamison. She sees her inventory moving toward half consignment and half new, but all available well below the cost of retail. Jamison has also introduced consignment kids, maternity and menswear. “For men, the focus is on casual wear with brands like Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole,” says Jamison. “I can get your husband dressed smartly and inexpensively for a night out,” she adds with smile.
Not long after a kidskin Valentino jacket was on the floor, a new client tried it on, loved it, but decided not to splurge on herself. Two days later her husband found his way to his wife’s favorite store (his wife had mentioned the jacket in passing) and purchased the jacket for her as a birthday surprise. It was wrapped in a shiny black box with white satin ribbon, and he picked it up just in time for her birthday celebration. The client came in to the store shortly afterward and she was just thrilled. She plans on having the piece forever!
Andrea Firth is a freelance writer based in Moraga, CA. She likes to spend her free time running, hiking, golfing, traveling … and occasionally shopping.