by Elisa Goldklang
Buying and selling used children’s clothing has become such a popular trend in Atlanta that many stores have expanded their square footage or added locations. Lauren Hise opened Baby Love just 14 months ago in the Grant Park neighborhood and says that business has improved each and every month. “If you give people an opportunity to make money, save money and help the environment – well, I don’t know many people who would say no to that,” says Hise.
Sweet Repeats is the “grandma” of quality Atlanta consignment stores, simply because it’s the oldest in town. More than 30 years ago (and now in its third Buckhead location on Miami Circle), Sweet Repeats was about the only store of its kind. Today, the region boasts dozens of resale and consignment stores specializing in children’s and maternity clothing.
How has the business changed in the past quarter of a century?
“Nowadays people just have so many clothes!” says Elsie Brumby, who has been a sales associate with Sweet Repeats for 30 years. “The volume – that’s what really flabbergasts me. Years ago, our children didn’t have so many clothes. About 25 years ago, people might bring in about 25 items; now they bring in 100 items on a regular basis – and many are brand-new items with the original store tags on them.”
There’s been a “huge boom” in consignment in recent years, says Kelly Collins, an 18-year veteran of the consignment/resale trade and owner of Sprouts in Conyers. Five years ago, Collins moved into a 4,200-square-foot “consignment haven” to meet the expanding needs of her customers.
Lana Tolbert has been consigning her daughter’s clothing since she was a baby. Because Myla, now 9, is confined to a wheelchair, “her clothes stay looking new longer, so they sell well.” A few years ago, Tolbert “was making so much money” consigning her daughter’s clothes that she decided to leave the corporate world and open her own shop: MyMy’s Closet in Johns Creek. (“MyMy” is what daughter Myla called herself when she was little.)
“I’m a Macy’s/Bloomingdales’ girl,” says Nancy Warr-Bayonne, a Duluth mom of a 5-year-old daughter. She had “never, ever shopped consignment” before she met Tolbert of MyMy’s Closet. Like many other consignment store newbies, Warr-Bayonne assumed that clothing in a consignment or resale store would be “older and used, like Goodwill.” She was happily surprised to find upscale brands – even new items in Tolbert’s shop. Not only that, “MyMy’s Closet is one of the best-smelling stores I’ve ever been in!” Tolbert strives to make sure her shop always has a fresh and clean aroma.
When you shop at a thrift store, such as Value Village or Last Chance, you’re buying merchandise that has been donated, and that store’s proceeds often benefit a specific charity. Those who donate clothes and other items to thrift stores receive receipts that might help them take a tax deduction, but they get no cash or store credit. Consignment shops, on the other hand, want to help you make money from the items you no longer want or need. If your daughter’s like-new skirt sells in a resale shop, it’s a win-win for everyone: the customer who bought it at a good price, the store, and the consignor. Stores set their own price guidelines, although it’s common to see a 50-50 split (store and consignor share the sale equally), or a 60-40 or 55-45 split, with the store getting the higher amount. The store may also offer the consignor a store credit option for future shopping there. If a store is “strictly resale,” then it will select specific items from what you’ve brought in and give you cash or store credit on the spot. Cash up front usually means less money than if you wait on a consignment sale – but you profit whether or not your clothes sell.
Most consignment stores only accept high-quality “in style now” merchandise in like-new condition. “The only things we turn down,” says Brumby of Sweet Repeats, “are clothing with a stain, a button missing, or a broken zipper. Or else it’s been sitting in an attic for 10 years and it’s not in style and children won’t wear it.” Generally, Sweet Repeats, along with other consignment stores, asks clients to stick to clothing that is not more than two years old. At the end of each season, items that have not sold are returned to consignors or donated to charity. (One item that has been a huge hit at Baby Love: cloth diapers. They must be in perfect condition to be consigned, and sell for $5-$15, depending on the original brand/price.)
It’s important to know that each privately owned store – whether resale, consignment or both – has its own intake rules (such as the types of clothing accepted) and payment policies, so always take time to learn how each store operates. Check a store’s website or call stores to find the best option for your items. (To maximize your consigning experience, see our “Clues” box.)
Experienced consignment sellers and shoppers tell Atlanta Parent that they love having store credit on file because it almost feels like getting clothes for free. Elizabeth Ryll, a Buckhead mom of two, laughingly recalls the time she got a parking ticket just outside the consignment shop Rhubarb and Custard. She was able to pop into the store and get some of the cash from the $150 she had on credit; she took care of that parking ticket then and there.
Shopping consignment allows parents to “purchase higher-end clothing on a Walmart budget,” says Chrissy Freeman, creator of the Consignment Mommies website. With the downturn in the economy, Freeman says that moms with “discriminating tastes” are “reconsidering buying new when they can get the same well-made, quality clothing for less at consignment stores.” Freeman’s blog provides tips for optimizing the consignment shopping experience. For example, she compares retail and consignment prices, and she’ll mention “hot” kids’ brands (such as Matilda Jane and Kelly’s Kids).
Ryll loves to consign her children’s clothing with Rhubarb and Custard. The owners, Louise and Eric Nyberg, “are so warm and welcoming that they have become good friends. Their clothing is beautiful. I’ve bought Christmas presents there, including the adorable linen dress my daughter wore in her school picture. [And] I have earned more money than I ever assumed I would.”
Tadpoles: Abercrombie and Fitch Polo, $7.99 and Cargo Shorts, $8.99.
With the boom in consignment shopping and selling, some shops that had specialized mostly in baby clothing and gear have broadened merchandise to include larger sizes and styles for older kids.
Baby Love in Grant Park has expanded so rapidly in the past year that it now carries older girls’ clothing brands such as Flowers by Zoe, Justice and GAP in sizes up to 14/16. Due to high demand, Trudy Morse of Emily’s Closet is building up her tween and teen clientele by accepting high-end brands such as Abercrombie, Miss Me Jeans and Aeropostale in junior sizes. Rhubarb and Custard carries a large selection of tween clothing, but the owners prefer to stock classic and traditional brands such as Lily Pulitzer, Janie and Jack, and Brooks Brothers. Sprouts has an entire juniors section designed to attract the teen eye with trendy brands, accessories and jewelry. Plato’s Closet, a national chain with 11 Atlanta locations, offers only current, on-trend, consigned teen clothing and accessories. Parents with older children should always go to a store’s website and/or call ahead to check if the store stocks specific sizes or brands.
Savvy consignors and shoppers often develop a personal relationship with a store’s owner. When an owner knows your child’s size and preferences, she might call you when special items come in or keep an eye out for a requested item. Sometimes, consignment store owners offer extra discounts for their loyal customers or other helpful services. As a longtime pageant dressmaker (“before Toddlers and Tiaras”!), Patricia Green, owner of Patdoodles in Fayetteville, offers sewing, jewelry design, doll-making, inspirational crafts and scrapbooking classes. Kendra Waldron, a new mom in Jonesboro, was thrilled that Green was able to repair, “right on the spot,” the small snag Kendra found on the baby bag she was buying.
Baby Love offers nearly everything moms of little ones could want, from extras such as gift wrapping, gift baskets and diaper cakes to the unexpected, such as prenatal yoga, sewing classes and a parents’ morning/night out program. For kids, there are also “playtime” and “story time” activities. Baby Love even hosts birthday parties.
Personal relationships, community involvement and a love of serving others are the central, driving forces behind lots of consignment/resale stores, including Sprouts in Conyers. “You never know the power of a smile,” says owner Collins.
“We have not been here to make money,” she sometimes reminds her staff. “We’re here to make a difference.”
– Julie Bookman contributed to this story