Music pulses through the store—upbeat, energetic. Couples, teens and moms browse the well-stocked racks—one woman has her favorite barista beverage in hand. A pair of comfy chairs give husbands a chance for a shopping respite, while two teens in the accessories department try on sunglasses and scarves. At the checkout counter, a woman raves over her fantastic find. “I’m having such a good day!” she gushes
Just another day at the mall? Think again—it’s Sunday afternoon at Avalon Exchange. Call it consignment, resale or recycling, it’s part of a growing trend of buying gently used clothing.
Three such stores—Avalon Exchange, Savvy Fox and Plato’s Closet—have opened in or near Mt. Lebanon in the past three years. This growth made us ponder: could this concept possibly bridge the gap between teenagers’ need for cool clothes and parents’ desire for economy?
To answer the question, we decided to take three Mt. Lebanon High School teens (Marissa Lutz, Rebecca Twinney and Mark Klemencic) to scout the racks of these stores with the goal of finding great school outfits for around $50. Impossible? Read on to see what they learned in their quest for the perfect bargain.
Our first stop was Avalon Exchange on Washington Road. Stuart McLean opened Avalon Exchange as a vintage store in Oakland in 1988. He later moved it to Squirrel Hill and three years ago added a location in Mt. Lebanon.
Lebo store manager Kimmi Helscel says, “We carry a lot of mall brands such as Hollister and American Eagle.” There is a misconception that “used clothing is gross and stained,” Helscel says, “but that’s totally not true.”
Avalon Exchange is a resale store, which means it gives sellers their choice of cash or store credit for their used clothes. Buyers are very selective in the stock; the store has a four-month training program before an employee gets the opportunity to buy anything, says Helscel. In addition to mall brands, shoppers also can find vintage clothes and designer labels such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton. “All are authenticated,” she says. “We take the time to pick a really amazing product.”
Our teen shoppers agreed and had a great time choosing outfits at Avalon Exchange. (Think The Devil Wears Prada, only affordable.)
“Most all of their men’s clothes I had an interest in,” Klemencic says, who scored an authentic Burberry button-down shirt for $54.50 (compared to $250 at Saks.com). This took his outfit over the $50 guideline, but after pairing it with American Eagle pants and a red Polo sweater, the entire ensemble still came in at only $81.
Instead of designer preppy, Lutz went for the biker look with leather and denim. “It’s funky,” she says of Avalon Exchange, “off the beaten path in the sense of their clothes.” Lutz chose Charlotte Russe skinny jeans, a deep red George Orwell 1984 tee, a black leather jacket from H & M and high-heeled black leather boots—all for $51.
“Every time I go there I’m surprised by the prices,” she says, adding, “it’s cool to find something you love—one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Twinney says she likes Avalon Exchange for its “one-of-a-kind things.” She chose a gray knit dress by Guess Jeans and then topped it off with a hot pink scarf. After adding silver ballet flats, her ensemble was still only $38, so she went purse shopping, adding a Bally (yes, Bally) black leather vintage bag for $23 for a total of $61.
After stopping for a quick water break, the group headed to Savvy Fox on Greentree Road. Owner Colleen McKenzie opened this location two years ago—an expansion from her Peters Township location. “We are the only [nearby] store that offers clothing, home décor and furniture,” McKenzie says.
Savvy Fox is a consignment store, which means that consignors bring in their clothing (and other goods) and split the profits with the store once an item sells. McKenzie invested in software so that her 4,000 consignors are able to track online which merchandise has sold.
Because of that, McKenzie says her inventory is always changing. “We put out about 200 pieces per day per store,” she says. Prices generally run about one third of retail, and she says Savvy Fox customers range from teens to moms. “My customers are fashion conscious and want quality.
For example, they want UGGs, but don’t want to spend $150” she says. (McKenzie says she had never-before-worn UGG boots at the Peters location for around $60.)
Apart from variety and quality, McKenzie says Savvy Fox is known for its customer service: “We help customers put outfits together.”
“The employees were very helpful,” agrees Klemencic. At Savvy Fox, Klemencic snagged the least expensive outfit of the excursion—Old Navy Jeans for $2 and a Hollister button-down shirt for $4.99. With so much money left in his budget, he added a pair of Ecco shoes for $22 (a brand found on Zappos.com for around $150) and a Timex all-sport watch that brought the ensemble’s total to $53.
Lutz says she was surprised by the markdowns at Savvy Fox. “It’s like a sale on a sale,” she says.
For her selection, Lutz went for a traditional school look—Banana Republic jeans for $10.50, a drapey Zara sweater (tag still on) for $12.99 and a brown Sak purse for $23.99. Total cost was just under $48.
Twinney also went for the jeans and sweater look (although she drooled a bit over the glittery evening gowns). She chose a striped American Eagle sweater for $14.99 and a pair of jeans for $2 (another steal!). After choosing her clothes, she headed to the jewelry counter, where she found retro flower earrings that gave her outfit a fresh touch. Then she added a Coach purse to round out her look—all for just under $57.(Note to moms: this writer kept getting distracted by the mint-condition table and chairs, framed prints and centerpieces that were calling to her.)
Our last stop was Plato’s Closet in Bridgeville. It was bright, well organized and loaded with name-brand merchandise. Cindy and Jamie Martin opened this franchise store on Washington Pike a year ago when they moved back to Pittsburgh from Kansas. Jamie had seen Plato’s Closet stores in other cities and felt the time was right. “Recycling is a hot topic right now,” he says. “More and more it’s becoming a part of what people will do.”
Like Avalon Exchange, Plato’s Closet is a resale shop that will give you cash or store credit for your gently used clothes. “We are looking for items that have been in stores in the last year and a half,” says Jamie. This keeps the fashions current for Plato’s Closet’s core customers—females aged 12-24. “We also have a very nice guys’ selection for the same age range,” he says.
Klemencic found this to be true. “This (store) was the best organized with the most brands for guys,” he says, adding it’s a good fit for middle school guys; thanks to “a lot of Abercrombie, Hollister and American Eagle.”
That being said, Klemencic found a sophisticated look at Plato’s Closet. Banana Republic jeans for $18 combined with a Hollister shirt for $14. He added a pair of shoes for $14 and topped off the look with a polished Zoo York wool jacket for $14. Head to toe the outfit cost $62.
Twinney raved about the selection. There was “so much stuff I’d seen before, but I couldn’t buy it because it was too expensive,” she says. Twinney found her favorite outfit at Plato’s Closet. She paired $20 Lucky Jeans ($99 to $129 on the web) with a ruffled J. Crew tank. Over that she layered a New York and Co. jersey sweater and added a necklace and a silver sequined purse—all for $49.
Lutz had trouble choosing her outfit because there were so many clothes to pick from, “I feel like I could have spent hours in there,” she says with a laugh. “Things are organized by brand name, which is also really nice.”
Ultimately she settled on a Forever 21 knit dress and Wet Seal leggings for a total of $12. With so much budget left, she added an American Eagle necklace, Jessica Simpson shoes and a purple purse. Total cost for the complete outfit was $38.
Although our shoppers are not ready to totally abandon the mall, they raved about the experience.
“It’s a wake up call for me,” Klemencic says, who admits he had the wrong impression of consignment and resale shopping. “I have a lot of these things at home that I paid $70 for, and here they are $10.”
He says he’s a convert now—particularly when hunting for something unique. “It shows you how good an idea it is to recycle clothes.”
Hands down, the group’s favorite thing about their shopping spree was the savings. “I was surprised how much you could buy for so little—that you could get a whole outfit for $40,” says Twinney.
Lutz liked the broad selection of brands. “It’s kind of like having one giant mall in one store—Hollister, Juicy, Abercrombie all in the same place,” she says.
Whether it’s for that special knockout piece or to satisfy what Lutz calls her “mid-season boredom,” all three teens agreed that consignment and resale stores will have a place in their shopping repertoire going forward.
“Everyone wins,” Helscel saysof Avalon Exchange. The stores gain amazing pieces, the sellers get cash for their used clothes and the shoppers find the hidden treasures. “I like that it’s green.” —firstname.lastname@example.org