Hello, I am Susan and I have been a volunteer here at Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop for almost two years now. Before retiring, I owned and operated Two Big Blondes, a plus size women’s clothing consignment shop in Seattle, where I enjoyed getting to know our customers and learning how to identify and ensure quality in a resale environment. I have been “thrift shopping” since I first moved to Seattle over 35 years ago.
I started out thrift shopping because I love clothes. A new item of clothing (new to me) can lift my day from dull and sad to upbeat and happy. Yes, I probably have self-image issues if it can make that much difference, but it does. Over the years of searching, I have learned about quality brands that wear well and launder well. By quality I do not necessarily mean price. Some high end brands are so focused on current styles that their long term care and wear ability are not that great, for instance, in my opinion, Michael Kors. Other brands such as Eddie Bauer are not that expensive but wear like iron.
As a shopper, owner, and volunteer, I have learned a lot about how to find high quality, fashionable clothing, housewares, and collectibles at great prices. I’ve become a more savvy thrift shop consumer and learned a few things to avoid. Through this blog, I hope to share what I’ve learned with you. This being my first blog post for ECA, I would be especially grateful for any feedback you provide on this post, as well as related questions, which might inspire future posts.
Behind the scenes
Quality -- we know it when we see it, right? For customers and stores that care about quality, it’s critical that certain things happen behind the scenes before resale clothing goes out on the sales floor. When they don’t happen (or don’t happen consistently), it’s pretty unlikely that you will be happy with your purchase for long. The key things that help ensure quality in resale clothing are:
* Checking for defects (stains, holes/tears, missing buttons, zippers that don’t work)
* Checking for excessive wear or age
* Checking for odor
* Steaming to remove wrinkles
I have learned over time that some stores do these things consistently, and others don’t. It will be well worth your time to zoom in on the ones that do. You’ll not only get better merchandise for your money, but you’ll be much more likely to happily wear what you buy.
A real life comparison
To show you what I mean, I recently made a trip to the two biggest thrift stores here in Kirkland to check prices and quality. Below, you will see two photos: on the left, a green shirt from ECA; on the right, a brownish shirt from one of the other stores. They are similar in style, fabric, and size. Can you “spot” the difference (no pun intended)?
At ECA, we carefully check each piece of clothing more than once for soil, odor, wear and any defects. We also steam each piece before it goes on the floor. Our green shirt is priced with a red sticker at $7.00. During August, it is 50% off, and if it is still here in September, it will be 75% off. It looks perfect to me. The brownish shirt from the second store is marked at $6.99. It is badly wrinkled and has some bleach-like stains around the neckline. Yikes.
I confess I am probably a bit (!) biased about our all-volunteer thrift shop, but…the green shirt from ECA sure looks like a superior value even at its full price of $7.00. Do we at ECA ever miss something? Of course. But the key thing is that behind the scenes we are consistently doing our best to ensure quality.
The moral of the story
Be aware of the work that should be going on behind the scenes. Choose to shop at places that consistently take the time to weed out or repair clothing that has “issues” and remove wrinkles. If you actively look for these signs, you are much less likely to take home something you (or your family or friends) can’t or won’t wear. You’ll also get a lot more bang for your buck.
When I first started out thrift shopping, I was willing to go to any thrift shop, no matter how many stained and hopelessly unwearable items were on the racks, and I spent lots of time searching those racks in the hope of finding an item that was in good shape. As I grew more experienced, I found shops that weed out the less desirable items and sell only the good stuff. Those shops are now my favorite places, and I return to them frequently to check what's new. I rarely shop the thrift stores that seem to put out just about anything. I like shops like Seattle Children's Hospital Bargain Boutiques, Mercer Island Thrift Shop, and of course, our Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop (ECA).
Heads up on a pricing "gimmick"
Between you and me, I hate prices that end in $.99. It bugs me that someone at the store seems to think I might be fooled into believing my item costs one dollar less when it is just one penny less. So, does an item priced at $4.99 give you, at first glance, the idea that you’re spending 4 dollars? Or 5? Many stores use the 99 cent technique to get you to spend money on items that aren’t as great a deal as they first seem to be. Don’t fall for it. A buck is a buck.
Thanks for reading my first ECA blog post. I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
Susan is a frequent volunteer at Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop, where she sorts, prices, and stocks merchandise to her heart's content. Before retirement, she owned and operated a consignment shop for women's plus size clothing in Seattle. Through trial and error and talking with customers, she learned a thing or two. An avid "thrift shopper," Susan loves to buy clothing, especially when she gets good quality and value for her money.
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