Consignment clothing is having a moment, at least on Prince Edward Island.
Consignment is when someone gives, or consigns, a piece of clothing, footwear or other goods to a retailer to resell. Usually the two will sign a contract specifying things including the price of each item, how long the item will be displayed, what percentage each will take of the price, and what should happen to the items if no one purchases them.
CBC checked in with one Islander who’s about to open a shop, one who has had a shop for a year, and another that has been open for a few years.
“Consignment is such a great way for people to hand down their items as well as keep clothing out of the landfills,” said Michelle Hodgson, owner of Salvage Garden Consignment.
She and her family moved to the Island last year and noticed there was a building for sale in their community of Murray River that had been a shop for many years — it was formerly the Magik Dragon.
“I just decided to take the leap on it,” Hodgson said. She has already been accepting items for consignment and selling online, and is preparing to open her storefront in April.
‘Getting better quality’
Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, Hodgson said more people want to shop locally. There aren’t many places to shop for clothing in the Murray River area, she said, so a clothing store seemed to fill that demand.
Items at consignment stores are curated, so the quality of goods is higher overall than at most second-hand clothing stores.
Customers might be less likely to score Louboutin pumps or a designer bag unwittingly priced for $5, but will also be less likely to have to sort through piles of broken, stained or out-of-style goods.
“People are coming in knowing that they’re getting better quality for a fraction of what the retail price would be,” Hodgson said.
‘Pretty cool to see what walks in’
Consignment stores will usually set the price for an item, since they know the market.
The percentage split on selling price of an item is typically 60/40 or 50/50 between seller and buyer.
Mary Beth Campbell opened Luxury Market Consignment Boutique on Queen Street in Charlottetown three years ago, and says consignment has never been more popular.
She said on high-end luxury goods over $500, she usually agrees to give sellers more like 70 per cent of the selling price.
Consignment stores typically keep items for 90 days, after which time the buyer may retrieve them, or the seller will donate them to a local charity.
Shopping at a consignment store will often mean customers can find styles and brands that aren’t sold in local stores, especially higher-end designers like Yves Saint-Laurent, Chanel and Gucci.
“It’s pretty cool to see what walks in the door,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of like a Pawn Stars type thing for clothing!”
Shawna Perry opened Little Black Dress Co. in Summerside last February, just four weeks before COVID-19 hit, in an effort to bring one of her passions — quality second-hand clothing at good prices — to her hometown.
The pandemic didn’t kill the business though — it has just expanded to a much larger space on Water Street.
Even though there were no customers in store for three months, and Perry had no idea how to start an online store, she put her best assets to work: her knowledge of fashion and gift of the gab. Three or four times a week, she taped and posted videos on social media, describing items she had for sale, including prices.
Customers tuned in by the hundreds and she sold 80 per cent of what she posted in the videos within the week. Customers would message her after the videos were posted, they’d arrange payment and Perry would drop off the purchases, often right to customers’ doorsteps.
“It worked really well, it’s something that we decided to continue doing even after we were able to reopen again in June,” she said. They continue to make about three videos a week, and sell most of those items.
Perry said she posts items on Facebook that would suit customers 30 and over, while posting trendier items for younger customers on Instagram, in shorter video clips. She also frames the sales pitches differently.
“Our Instagram, we try to make that a little more eco-friendly, cause we notice that Gen Z is all about environmentally friendly,” she said. “Used clothing is eco-friendly and good for the environment.” For Facebook followers, she emphasizes value for money.
“We try and engage with them how we think they would like to be engaged.”
That’s a lot of folding and ironing
Keeping track of who owns what is definitely a challenge, the owners say.
“Right now I have over 600 consignors, and I originally started doing everything by hand, but once you get over 100 it’s a little bit harder to track,” said Campbell. She has invested in special software that allows sellers to check the sales of their items online, and request a payout at any time. Then, she simply e-transfers them the money.
Those consignors usually each bring in several things, so she has thousands of consignment items in her store, and is constantly unpacking new items while packing up old ones.
COVID-19 had an impact, Campbell said. She had to hire more staff for cleaning, but there was less foot traffic in the store even when it was allowed to open.
Bringing in new inventory was also a challenge.
“A lot of my best clients are actually in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and I would drive over there once a month and go through their closets,” she said. Islanders stuck at home cleaned out their closets and brought more inventory, and helped make up for those losses, however.
Campbell also sells Luxury Market items online, and said she ships a lot to the U.S.
Some second-hand items worth more
Customers have shied away from buying tailored clothing for work meetings or going out, in favour of more casual pieces they really love.
“We just have to start saying no to those amazing products because we know they are just going to sit on our shelves,” said Perry at Little Black Dress in Summerside.The big sellers in the past year have been nice T-shirts and jeans for men and sweaters and Lululemon tights for women.
She is developing an original line of clothing that she hopes will be manufactured and in store this summer, and launching an online storefront.
Did you know some (very few, but some!) items can even gain in value? Things like hard-to-find vintage items, limited-edition designs or Louis Vuitton purses in good condition can hold or even increase in value.
These store owners may be competing for Islanders’ business, but they all communicate and offer one another ideas. Hodgson even dropped by Campbell’s shop recently to say hi and give her a doughnut.
“I think business-to-business communication is just as important as local support,” Perry said. “It’s so important this year especially, and especially on P.E.I. where we’re so small, to have good communication with your quote-unquote competitors.”