Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
January 25, 2009
It cost me $44.93 to look like a million bucks.
That's how much I spent on the resplendent sampling from my wardrobe I'm currently wearing. The outfit would have easily cost more than $1,000 -- if purchased new from brand-name stores. But the garments all came from thrift stores.
My suit, a charcoal-gray herringbone in mint condition from Brooks Brothers, cost $12.95. A like-new, spread collar, sky-blue dress shirt from Banana Republic cost $2.99. My tie, a rich paisley by Ralph Lauren, was $1.99. A pair of Cole & Haan black wingtips set me back $12.
The suit wasn't perfect. The jacket sleeves were too long. For $15, my trusted tailor, Moses, shortened them for a perfect fit.
I'm a thrift store clothes addict. That makes me a bit of an exception to my gender, based on what I've seen at thrift shops and vintage clothing stores over the years. So, men, here's a chance for you to benefit from something women have known for years: There are great bargains in thrift store clothes if you know where and how to look.
Linda Stephens, who runs the Huntington Collection thrift store in Pasadena, agrees that men have largely avoided shopping for secondhand duds.
"But that is changing because the economy is bad," she said. She's noticed a brisk traffic of men coming through the store looking for shirts, shoes and $25 suits.
"We're talking $1,000 these days for a good men's suit," she said. That's new, of course.
At least 90% of my suits, sport coats, shirts, ties and shoes were purchased at thrift stores. I draw the line at socks and underwear, but I have picked up suspenders, cuff links, hats and even cutaway tails and morning trousers (a newsman must be prepared) in the resale market.
All of these purchases are of the highest quality. I like well-made clothing, but I dislike prices that require me to be well-heeled. If I had purchased my clothes new, the tab would have easily jumped into the thousands. But my annual total wardrobe investment, as a result of strategic thrift store shopping, runs less than the cost of a couple of suits at Nordstrom's.
As the recession cuts deeper into our wallets, more people appear to be buying preowned fashions. A survey of members by the National Assn. of Resale and Thrift Shops showed a jump of more than 35% in sales during September and October compared with year-prior levels.
But it didn't take a recession to get me into thrift stores.
Years ago I fell into the habit of acquiring things that had previous owners. It began with stocking my library with books from used bookstores. Next came the purchase of a used -- excuse me, "preowned" -- car.
Then one day, having time to kill, I strayed into a Goodwill store in Pasadena next to the tire shop where my car's flat was getting fixed. Noticing a rack of suits, I slipped on a couple out of curiosity. To my surprise, they fit, were in excellent condition and cost less than a week's worth of lattes from Starbucks.
To start shopping for secondhand clothes, you need to know the terrain.
First, all thrift stores are not created equal.
At the bottom of the pecking order are the ubiquitous Goodwill Industries and the Out of the Closet stores, which tend to put anything and everything on the rack. As a result, finding a high-quality suit at one of these stores is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.
On the middle-and-upper end of the scale are the thrift shops operated by charities, including the Council Thrift Shops run by the National Council of Jewish Women, the House of Return operated by Beit T'Shuvah charity and the American Cancer Society's Discovery Shops. These stores often stock designer clothing donated by well-heeled members, not just someone's old socks and T-shirts.
At the upper end are specialty vintage clothing stores, such as Aardvarks and It's a Wrap, which sells studio wardrobe clothing at steep discounts, though at higher prices than a nonprofit organization would.
I steer clear of EBay, arguably the world's biggest thrift store. It's always a risk to buy clothing without trying it on first. A satisfying winning bid doesn't count for much if the jacket or slacks ultimately don't fit.
What's it worth?
Next, you need to know the going rates.
Thrift store economies mean you should generally be able to buy a suit for under $20, a sport coat for around $12, pants for no more than $10 and shirts for no higher than $6.
At some thrift stores a high-end, brand-name suit can run $30 to $40 -- and in some instances even more than $100. But all the prices tend to work out to 10% to 20% of an item's value if purchased new.
A quick check lays out the savings. A new Brooks Brothers suit can run around $1,000; a new Polo herringbone blazer commands about $1,300; a new Hickey Freeman suit can sell for more than $1,500; and a J. Press suit is about $800. These are not newsman-friendly prices, especially if a newsman desires to own more than a single garment.
But I recently scored that herringbone Brooks Brothers suit for $12.95 at the Goodwill on Fairfax, and a J. Press chalk pinstripe for $29.95 at Out of the Closet in Glendale. If I didn't admit these facts in print, none would be the wiser.
There are also some land mines out there.
For starters, give the article of clothing a close inspection, looking for holes, tears and stains -- especially on those pinstripe suits. I'm still smarting from the time I paid $19 for a Paul Stuart seersucker suit only to discover a hole in the trousers the size of a quarter.
Questionable merchandise is usually not a problem at upper-end thrift stores, but pay special attention at the chains that stock everything.
The best days to find new inventory are Monday and Tuesday because that's when the weekend donations make it onto the floor.
And, between you and me, the best thrift stores tend to be located in upscale areas. You're more likely to find that $1,000 suit in Beverly Hills than in, well, you know where.
It's also important to be patient. If you're going to buy your clothes at thrift stores you have to put up with the sometimes frustrating task of inspecting racks brimming with discardable items to find the genuine, quality article. After all, 99% of the clothing in a thrift store is probably not something you would ever want to wear.
'Keep coming back'
"It's about the treasure hunt," says Arlene Ford, a manager at House of Return in Culver City. "It's not like shopping Ross or Nordstrom. You have to keep coming back."
"It doesn't work for the guy who has to show up tomorrow morning in a business suit looking perfect," Ford said. "That's part of the joy of people coming back day after day. Thrift-store shopping is more of an experience."
In my years of shopping secondhand, I've learned that the common perception that thrift stores are stocked with raggedy clothes meant for the destitute is just plain wrong.
The truth is, most of the men's clothing found in these stores is perfectly acceptable.
"Women are the deciders," says Ford at the House of Return. "They are the ones who go through their husbands' closets and decide when [their spouses] are done with it."
By Jessica Santina
More stories by this author...
Ashley Jennings posts illustrations like this one, as well as artistic house wares, for sale on Etsy.
PHOTO BY LAUREN RANDOLPH
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Pamela Robinson had a hard time deciding what she wanted to be when she grew up. After graduating from Platt College in San Diego with a degree in graphic design, she eventually relocated to Reno and began a series of unfulfilling jobs—sign maker, seller of ski classes, model, teacher’s aid, physical therapist assistant …
“My interests were in so many different places, but I was never happy,” she says.
A few birthdays ago, she was given a sewing machine. She found some interesting scraps of fabric and made a few purses for family and friends, who loved them, and she realized she was onto something.
But while hawking her wares at a craft fair seemed like a good idea, she was quickly disappointed.
“Because of my design background, I had created my own marketing materials,” she says. “Everything was really professional … and nobody believed I made the purses myself. So I didn’t make any money. It was very discouraging. I packed everything up and put it in my attic.”
Then, in October 2007, she found herself on Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade goods.
“I was so excited, I was like, ‘Finally, I found my thing!’” says Robinson.
Back to the basics
Robinson’s thing, it turns out, is a lot of other people’s, too. As the RN&R reported in a Dec. 11 feature story, Do It Yourself culture is on the rise. Call it a response to the crappy economy, or a trend launched by such reality shows as Project Runway, but handmade is hot. Home improvement stores around the country are reporting increased enrollments in DIY classes, and craft store giant Michaels is one of the few retailers in the country reporting increased revenues this past holiday season.
And Etsy.com, which connects artisans and consumers around the world, broke records in November and December, taking on 135,000 new memberships and listing 1.1 million items for sale—more than doubling the previous year’s figures. Some artists even had to close their Etsy shops for the holidays when sales far exceeded projections, depleting their stocks.
“I’m proof you can definitely make money on Etsy,” says Robinson. “But you have to give 100 percent to make it work. It’s a full-time job.”
Jen Graham sells some of her wares, like this embroidery, on Etsy.com
PHOTO BY LAUREN RANDOLPH
The science of selling
The site, which launched in 2005, explains that its mission is “to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers.” The site not only features the work of thousands of artists from around the world, but its commitment to quality, apparent in the clean look of the site, easy navigation and high-quality products, is in itself a marketing tool.
Buyers can search handmade or vintage items and supplies, as well as particular sellers, and can narrow searches by community or even color.
Sellers are walked through the fundamentals of creating and naming their shops and taking good photographs of their work, and can find marketing tools, connect with other artists, receive selling tips, track sales and even blog with other users. It costs 20 cents to list an item for four months—arguably less than one might pay for booth space at a craft fair, or to sell through local consignment shops, with far more exposure.
Ashley Jennings, a Reno artist who sells illustrations at PaisleyAnn.etsy.com, as well as plushes, furniture and pillows at PaisleyAnnHome.etsy.com, says that while she’s seen occasional great results on Etsy, it’s not easy. And it can end up being expensive.
“I think Etsy has more than 200,000 shops now, so to find one person is really difficult, and you have to relist over and over, at 20 cents each time, because items are listed by date,” says Jennings, explaining that while more shops obviously means more choice for shoppers, it can be discouraging to artists trying to stand out from the crowd.
Robinson’s first shop, BeadsInATwist, which she created for selling crochet jewelry, found great success—especially when she added her handbags to her product offerings.
“I had sold something like 87 handbags by the time I realized the shop name didn’t really fit,” she says. “I wanted to change to UniqueHandbags.net, and I knew a lot of people struggle with changing their names because you have a clientele that marks you as a favorite. But I took the risk because I was looking long-term.”
Her sales dropped markedly. Her handbag sales this holiday season only numbered around 10. Still, she sees things gradually picking up, and her belief in the potential holds firm. Robinson now operates two shops on Etsy—UniqueHandbags and Uniques, where she sells items such as leather accessories and jewelry.
Adrienne Mineiro, a local jewelry artist, just set up shop on Etsy last summer at TheVintageEmpire.etsy.com. Her sales thus far have been modest, but she remains optimistic.
“The amount of both finished goods and supplies you can find there is unequaled,” she says, referring to many of the vintage items she uses to make her jewelry, such as typewriter keys and pocket watch dials. “I wish I hadn’t invested the time and money in making my own website. I should have just started with Etsy. It’s incredibly inexpensive, and the framework is there, the e-commerce aspect, which is expensive to get on your own.”
Local sewer/crafter Bean Paulson sold 18 items in December—not bad, she says—on her site CoyoteCraft.etsy.com. She subscribes to the “under one roof” philosophy, choosing to sell all her products from one shop, which keeps users from having to click through. She has this advice: “Do a good job. Pay attention to detail. Take nice pictures. Make smaller things so you don’t have to charge a lot for international shipping. List and relist often, to make sure you stay near the top of the search results.”
Pamela Robinson’s handbags looked too good to be true at craft fairs. She’s had better luck at La Bussola, where she is here, and on Etsy.com.
PHOTO BY LAUREN RANDOLPH
The artists agree on the following:
1) Never underestimate the power of good photography—without it, your work simply won’t sell; and 2) The greatest benefit of Etsy is its power to build community. None of them use Etsy exclusively—it’s one tool of many. Local artist Jen Graham, who sells photography and sewn objects through WormEatsBird.etsy.com, has had limited sales but finds that for local artists, Etsy’s resources are invaluable.
“You get a lot of great feedback, so you’re really forming a community,” she says, adding that the feedback she receives tells her what to make more (or less) of. “It’s hard for people doing this to survive, especially in this town. So with Etsy, I can get people from around the world buying my stuff.”
Capitalizing on the community aspect, Etsy recently launched another feature: Etsy Teams, which unites members by craft, community or other common interest, to share marketing resources, network, promote each other’s work or learn from each other. Jennings, Robinson and Paulson have formed a Reno-based team, Handmade Hustlers. Their ambitious promotional plans include online tutorials and regular local shows.
“People like to shop locally, I’m finding, but only if they can find good stuff,” says Jennings. “It’s just a matter of getting our names out there.”
And as Robinson has found, Etsy is an excellent way to start. “I’m so excited about the opportunity Etsy has given me. It’s given me so much confidence, and opened my eyes to a whole new way of life.”
By JASON CLAFFEY
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — When millions of children's toys imported from China were recalled in 2007 because they contained too much lead, Jen Houghton, owner of The Little Hat Company in South Berwick, said customers would come to her store, which features handmade goods, specifically to avoid buying contaminated toys.
The Little Hat Company carries a variety of children's items, from mittens made out of old sweaters to winter hats made by stay-at-home moms who work for the company — and people were comforted by the fact they didn't come from China, she said.
But now a federal law passed in response to the imported toys debacle could have the unintended consequence of putting small shop owners like Houghton out of business, along with independent crafters.
As of Feb. 10, any consumer product designed for children 12 and younger can't be sold if it contains more than 600 parts per million of lead. On Aug. 14, the limit will drop to 300 ppm, and the products will be required to be tested by a third party (other than the maker and seller) — which can cost $350 per item component.
The law was broadly worded to include not only imported toys, but items like children's books and clothing accessories.
While large toy makers like Mattel, which had millions of its toys imported from China recalled, can absorb those costs, small businesses like Houghton's can't.
"It's scary. We're hit already with the economy, and if we lose our children's hat market ...," Houghton said, trailing off.
She is currently selling hats for half price and turning away local crafters who want to sell their handmade goods in her store. She has been contacting lawmakers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pleading that changes be made to the law.
Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing the law, said store owners like Houghton "should be prepared to comply with the law."
The commission is aware of the effect the law could have on shop owners, Davis said, but may not be able make exceptions because of its strict wording. It applies to any "consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age and younger," according to the law's text.
The law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was revised by lawmakers in 2008 to require the testing of both imported and domestic children's items. It was overwhelmingly supported, passing by a vote of 407-0 in the House of Representatives and 79-13 in the Senate.
Christina Buteau, who runs the Cuddlebee's craft business out of her Durham home, said lawmakers had good intentions by putting safeguards in place to protect children, but overlooked the impact the law would have on small businesses.
"I don't think they intentionally meant to hurt the little people, but that's what they've done," she said.
Buteau, who sells baby blankets, bibs, and burp clothes to hundreds of customers and vendors across the country, including The Little Hat Company, is afraid she won't be able to continue her business.
"What are you going to do?" she said. "These are all handmade products made in the United States ... we're just sewing fabrics together. (The commission) is going to have to come to some middle ground."
Earlier this month, the commission issued a statement saying resellers and sellers of used children's products will not be required to test their products if they already meet safety standards, as the law states manufacturers are responsible for testing their products. But for crafters who make their own goods, even goods that are made from tested materials, would still be required to pay for testing, because they technically act as the manufacturer.
Lead is a neurotoxin that even in small doses can stunt growth in children and cause learning disabilities, hearing problems, anemia and brain-related developmental problems.
Houghton said she understands children should be protected from lead-tainted products, but finds it ironic owners like herself will be disproportionately affected when contaminated toys imported by large companies were the impetus for the law.
Adam Brown, a spokesman for Etsy.com, an online market for buying and selling handmade crafts, agreed the law unfairly affects small businesses.
"It's ironic and funny, if it wasn't tragic," he said. The law "is really intended for big companies who make thousands of toys."
Houghton said about 25 percent of her inventory is comprised of locally made craft items, which she will no longer be able to sell come August. She has been contemplating putting all children's items in storage in the hope the law will be revised, or selling them for adults and pets only.
"Whatever we have to do to stay in business," she said.
Kerry Wood, co-owner of the Noggin Factory in Dover, said she will be forced to no longer accept toys from local crafters because they can't afford the testing.
"It seems to me a bit of an overkill," Wood said of the law.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission currently has no plans to subsidize testing costs for small businesses. The penalty for violating the law is a fine of up to $100,000. Before the revisions to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act were ratified, the maximum fine was $5,000.
The commission has the authority to interpret how the law is enforced. Davis, the commission spokeswoman, said her organization has been receiving comments from small business owners and will issue another statement before February.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who voted for the law, said the commission hasn't given clear guidance to store owners.
She added that she will work with the commission to "improve the clarity of these new regulations to prevent unintended consequences from negatively impacting our nation's businesses."
Maine's 1st District U.S. Representative, Democrat Chellie Pingree, urged the commission to exempt items that contain materials that "aren't risky" like wool or unfinished wood.
"I'm deeply concerned about child safety, but also sensitive to any unreasonable regulations that might drive small companies out of business," she said in a statement.
Buteau, the owner of Cuddlebee's, said she hoped an exception could be made for owners like herself.
"These are little people. Isn't that supposed to be the American dream, to own your own business?" she said. "I'm just really hopeful something will change."
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DRESSMAKER'S DESIGNS: Home business of Niagara Falls seamstress grows in global village - niagara-gazette.com
— t really is a global village when a young dressmaker with a fledgling business in Niagara Falls has fansin Alabama.
Thanks to a Web site that sells handmade art, a librarian from a small college in Anaston, Alabama, wears an assortment of dresses she purchased from Kathleen McKee of Green Mountain Threads.
McKee, who works out of her 74th Street home, specializes in creating handmade tops and dress with flowing Celtic and nature patterns.
The Alabama librarian has purchased four of the dresses on a Web site, www.etsy.com, and when she wears them to work, her students notice.
“The students love them,” Laurie Charnigo, a librarian at Jacksonville State said of the dresses. “They always look forward to seeing what I’m wearing.”
The long dresses McKee creates seem made in another era and the dressmaker suspects that is partly due to her fascination with faraway places and long-ago times. She’s drawn to Celtic symbols and stencils them onto the fabric of some of the 50 dresses she has created since she started sewing in 2001. She also loves dinosaurs and dragons and images of Merlin the Wizard.
McKee studied anthropology in college, but the dressmaking called to her. “I just felt my life totally took another direction towards art and sewing, so much so that it was impossible for me to pursue another path.”
But while she creates the clothing, she only wears it some of the time. “Whenever I wear it people say ‘Oh there’s that hippy girl,’ ” she laughed.
Looking at McKee, who is expecting her first child in March, with her long hair curled about her shoulders and wearing a long, loose navy-print dress she made, it is easy to imagine her living in the era of the flower children.
She is, however, an artist at home in many eras. Beyond the dresses, she also creates contemporary clothing, including hoodies like the one she recently made for her boyfriend. She likes to sew the hoodies as she listens to heavy metal music, a soundtack for someone who also appreciates popular music’s cutting edge.
She recently taught herself to do screen printing and she’s now creating T-shirts with imprints of famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who helped to harness the power of Niagara Falls.
Her work may seem an odd crossing back and forth between time periods and cultures, but all the different types of clothing she makes are similar in one key way, each item is unique, she said. She believes that her handsewn products are the perfect antidote to franchised stores where people buy clothing that all looks the same. “There’s just no soul to it,” she says of the consumer culture.
Although McKee is going to spend the next few months getting ready for the birth of her baby, she’s already dreaming of new directions to take her clothing line.
“I love monastic text and the Book of Kells. I would like to draw something like that on linen,” she said.
Whatever designs she decides upon, it’s a sure bet the students at Jacksonville State will be watching to see them modeled by their librarian.
Contact editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.
Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.
Librarian Laurie Charnigo, of Jacksonville State in Alabama, models some of the Green Mountain Threads she has purchased on the internet.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
- Story Highlights
- Some people who need extra cash are selling crafts or belongings
- There are Web sites where you can set up a virtual store
- Some Web sites narrow items to crafts, wedding-related items
- Consignment stores are good places to sell clothing or furniture
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Jessica Marquez was facing the exorbitant expense of living in New York City with nothing but a newly minted Masters of Arts degree and $70,000 in student loan debt.
The recent transplant to the Big Apple has the enthusiasm of someone with her whole life ahead of her, but as bills rolled in, so did reality: Her day job as an image archivist at a Chelsea art gallery just wasn't cutting it.
So to earn extra income, Marquez, 27, started selling her embroidered artwork online at Etsy.com.
"It's become an obsession," she laughs. "My boyfriend says he's widowed to Etsy."
Etsy.com is an online marketplace for homemade goods. Sellers create a profile on the site and upload photos of the crafts they want to sell. There's a 20 cent per item listing fee and Etsy.com takes 3.5 percent commission on sales.
On the site you can find handmade candles, needlepoint, pottery and purses. "People are really passionate about what they make and the DIY movement," says Adam Brown at Etsy.com. Plus, it's a way to make some extra cash. And that's what Brown says is fueling the site's popularity.
Marquez had never sold anything online before. But the process wasn't difficult, and then of course, there's the paycheck. To date, she figures she made about $600.
"I had no idea if people would be able to find me and actually like what I do," she says.
"I was so shocked when I made my first sale. I did a dance. When I do make sales, it makes me feel like I can do this! Maybe I can be my own boss."
Selling your stuff online may not allow you quit your day job, but more people are finding that it's a viable way of making ends meet.
And that's a trend that's likely to continue says Ina Steiner, who runs the e-commerce and online auction industry newsletter, AuctionBytes.com.
"Some people got into selling online because they got laid off or they needed to make extra cash. I definitely foresee that people will be selling more online to make a little extra cash and buying online to save more money," says Steiner.
Aside from eBay -- which Steiner says can be challenging for newbies -- there are a number of smaller venues that make it easy for casual sellers to make a buck.
This is a very visual and shopper-friendly online marketplace, says Steiner. It's geared toward more unusual items such as collectibles, antiques, unique fabrics or furniture. You can sell your items at a fixed price but there's also a live booth chat feature that lets buyers and sellers haggle back and forth. Listing is free and your item remains posted until it's sold, or until you remove it. You will pay a fee when your stuff is sold.
You can create your own online store for free at this online marketplace. Upload your photos and descriptions of the things you want to sell. You'll be able to customize the look of your "store" with different color templates and fonts. There's also a feature to allow sellers who list on other venues to import listings to eCrater.com. Listing is free and you don't pay any fees.
If your engagement didn't work out, you can sell that ring or other jewelry on this Web site. It was created by a guy whose own engagement was broken off. Items for sale also include wedding dresses, watches or necklaces.
This site specializes in selling used wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses or other special-occasion gowns. There's a $25 listing fee and you can upload photos and descriptions of the dress you want to sell. Dresses on this site generally sell for less than $1000 says founder, Eva Lo.
For sellers, Steiner recommends visiting a number of sites to see what layout and design is most appealing, before listing with a service. Check out the forums and see what people are complaining about or discussing. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Other sellers are usually pretty friendly.
If you don't have some specialized items and you don't want to sell things separately in a virtual marketplace or a yard sale, there are good old brick and mortar stores where someone else will handle reselling your lightly used clothes.
Here's how it typically works: You drop off your items at a consignment store and when they are sold, you get a percentage of the proceeds.
For example, if you bring in a leather coat, you may be given 50 percent of the final price if it sells within 30 days. If it takes longer than one month, the shop may drop the price and you may only get 40 percent of the final price. Generally after 90 days, you have to pick it up or give it up, says Susanne Dennis of Consignmentshops.com.
But there are rules. You can't just drop off any old, tattered thing.
"Consignment stores aren't looking for old things," says Dennis. They want things that are in demand for the current or upcoming season. Go through your closet in February for what you're not going to wear this spring. That's the way to approach your merchandise.
Designer clothing, shoes, purses and jackets are typical consignment fare, but some stores will also stock furniture, toys and accessories. If you're interested in selling at a consignment store, Dennis recommends you spread out your wares over a few stores. And before you do any business with a shop, check out the organization with the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no complaints on file.