Purchasing clothing at consignment shops means sustainability is fashionableBy Samantha House
As soon as you spot the mannequin dressed as a mermaid in EcoChic Consignment Boutique’s window display, you know the store will be full of surprises. Once you step through both doors, you aren’t disappointed. The top of every wall is decorated with a full outfit displayed on a hanger. Curtains give customers trying on clothing some privacy, while the scent of a vanilla candle and the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald accompany shoppers as they browse through racks of formal gowns, fall jackets and an assortment of boots. The fashionably clad ladies behind the sales register greet every customer with a smile and an offer to help.
According to Fran Harwood, this decadent, relaxed atmosphere is part of the experience customers receive when shopping at EcoChic, located in DeWitt. Harwood, the boutique’s owner, says she opened the store in 2010 with a vision in mind. “I wanted to combine the idea that you can buy clothing economically and still be chic,” Harwood explains. Plus, she likes the idea of leaving a small footprint on the earth.With the emergence of the “green” movement, consignment shops have experienced a great upswing in popularity. More and more, environmentally conscious shoppers are beginning to buy gently used, fashionable clothing in lieu of purchasing a completely new wardrobe. By reusing the outfits others no longer want, consignment shoppers are reducing retail waste. With the vast number of specialty consignment shops in Central New York, like EcoChic Boutique and the Golden Hangers, it’s easy to recycle your closet.
How does Harwood find her eclectic collection of clothing? “It finds me,” she says with a laugh. Harwood receives a great deal of her clothing from local consigners, while some is shipped in from out of town. As for her stock of jewelry, half of it—like her costume jewelry—is consigned, while half is brand new and purchased through vendors. “I do try to, as much as possible, get stuff made in the USA or organically made,” Harwood adds. “It’s always hard, but I’m always trying.”
With more than 300 consigners, Harwood has no problems finding women’s clothing currently in style or vintage pieces from the 1930s and 1940s. To become a consigner, interested parties must pay a $15 appointment fee annually. When their items sell, consigners receive 50 percent of the selling price.
Mostly, Harwood looks for quality. “I look for unusual, current, unique pieces,” she says. “It’s not always about the brand. If I think the piece is great, I take it.” Twice a year, Harwood goes to Italy and brings back a mix of unique vintage, new and pre-owned clothing in quality condition for her customers to peruse.
Although Harwood isn’t brand-exclusive, the EcoChic Consignment Boutique is filled with recognizable brands. Harwood carries everything from Anthropologie, BCBG, Fossil and Betsey Johnson to Chanel, Coach and Juicy Couture. But from designer jeans to colorfully patterned scarves, Harwood says she tries to stock something for every woman. “I do cater to all ages, all sizes,” she notes. “I have no limit.”
At the EcoChic Boutique, Harwood and her staff don’t just carry pieces for every personality. They try to cater to every individual who enters the store. “A lot of people coming in are looking for that one piece to make their outfit stand out. So we try to make it very customer-friendly,” she says. “We help them feel comfortable, and we help them find what they want. It’s a family feeling.”
Harwood adds that the majority of people who come into her consignment boutique are repeat shoppers. Many of those regulars bring in pieces of clothing that don’t quite work with anything else in their closets. “That piece would just end up in a landfill,” Harwood says. “We’re helping them use what they have.” In other words, she helps her customers reduce-reuse-recycle their wardrobes.
To further enhance her customers’ experience, Harwood says she has frequent sales and occasionally holds special after-hour events in the store, all with snacks and themed sales. During one, a fortuneteller came in to read tarot cards. “During events, it’s really almost like a party in here,” Harwood says.
In her store’s first year of existence, Harwood has noticed a definite increase in women interested in consignment shopping. “A lot of people are more conscious of not wasting,” she muses. “Something that doesn’t work anymore for one person works for someone else. Not to mention it’s a lot cheaper than buying new.”
Harwood loves everything about her job—from building window displays that tell stories to helping customers find outfits they love, not to mention sharing the benefits of consignment shopping. “For one thing, it’s fun. You’re finding good clothing and recycling,” she says. “Also, it’s economical. It’s ecological. That’s why it’s called EcoChic.”
Ask Beth Green-Smith why consignment shopping has suddenly become popular, and she doesn’t hesitate. While the urge to be “green” and the lure of reduced price tags are part of the draw, another factor is the desire to achieve an individual style. “Everyone wants to be unique,” she says simply.
The Golden Hangers, in Western Lights, has been providing such affordable, oneof-a-kind clothing to Central New York for about 20 years. “It was around before it was even fashionable to have a consignment store,” says Green-Smith, owner of the store for four years. “It’s been around a long time.”
In fact, Golden Hangers survived the taboo many people once attached to consignment clothing stores. “There was a stigma attached to consignment shopping,” she notes. “People used to associate it with dark and dinginess.” But a cursory glance around the shop proves just the opposite.
Carnation-pink walls are decorated with sample outfits—a red- and black checkered coat, a blouse and scarf—and glass shelves hold strappy heels and formal purses. Miniature, headless, black busts hold necklace and earring arrangements featuring fake peacock feathers and statement pendants. A display of clip-on earrings crowns a rack of jackets, while racks of pantsuits, dresses, pants and shirts stand invitingly on the sales floor. A few female customers, all happily absorbed in their hunt for standout pieces, browse sale racks, shoe racks and kids’ clothing racks, while serenaded by Louis Armstrong.
Before she owned Golden Hangers, Green-Smith shopped there because it always had petite designer clothing in her size. Now she has carried on the tradition of providing clothing and accessory items for everyone. “I always make the joke that this is the smorgasbord of consignment shops,” she says. “I try to get everybody something. There’s no specific market.”
Although she tries to select clothing for a diverse range of people, Green-Smith has a few standard guidelines. “I look for anything trendy and unique,” she says, “and obviously, you want excellent quality.” In almost all cases, the owner only accepts clothing that’s up to 3 years old. “People don’t come here looking for vintage, so it’s not fair to take it,” she adds.
In her years as owner of Golden Hangers, Green-Smith says the number of people wishing to become consigners has boomed. “So, you have to tighten down on the criteria each year,” she explains. However, anyone is welcome to consign. Making an appointment with her is free, and consigners get a cut of what their clothing sells for every month.
Although prices vary per item, everything in Green-Smith’s shop sells greatly below the retail value. For example, a pair of women’s khaki trousers from Anne Taylor Loft—still carrying the original $98 price tag—cost $16 at Golden Hangers, while some of her brand-new, sparkling necklaces cost $14.
With all the pieces that find a home at Golden Hangers, Green-Smith says it’s hard not to buy her own merchandise. “It’s so dangerous,” she notes with a laugh. “But eventually, you don’t feel like you have to buy it all. After a while, you feel like you already own it. You feel like this is your closet.”
for a reduced price during a clothing-hunting session, Central New
Yorkers can color their closets with endless, atypical pre-owned pieces.
“You’re able to create your own unique, individual style at a fraction
of the cost,” Green-Smith says. And with the gentle imprint consignment
shopping leaves on the planet and wallets, retail therapy never felt