First Look: Tour thredUP’s New Austin Store

Just steps from department store stalwart Dillard’s, thredUP’s second brick-and-mortar store wants to "disrupt" everything we think we know about not just secondhand shopping, but retail in general — and a first look at its Austin store, opening tomorrow, did not disappoint. Actually, it was downright dreamy.

The second permanent brick-and-mortar location in the country for the popular e-tailer of consignment clothing, the real-life thredUP retail experience not only mirrors the clean and efficient "thrifting" of the mobile app and website, it felt like heaven on earth for this decades-long thrift shopper (who now continues to shop secondhand for ethical reasons even more so than budgetary ones).

Since first launching as a website to trade men’s and women’s dress shirts in 2009, founder James Reinhart and the team at thredUP have been methodically "disrupting" the market for our castoff clothing by bringing tech-driven enhancements to thrifting, consigning, and swapping clothes, along with all the numbers-geek data analytics to fundamentally improve the secondhand shopping experience and make it a modern, even premium, retail experience.

By combining the best of the online and offline experiences not just of secondhand shopping but of retail in general, this is "thrift" like you’ve never seen before. (Read more about the strategy behind thredUP’s mission to become "the Amazon of thrifting" in our announcement of their first brick-and-more retail store in San Marcos, also in Central Texas, back in July.)

My tour of the Austin store at The Domain yesterday with thredUP Head of Retail Experience Heather Craig felt so much more like walking into a designer boutique than any thrift store or secondhand shop I’ve ever visited — save maybe a few luxury consignors in Boston, Los Angeles, and Austin. Craig says that the store is specifically designed to feel like the average woman’s "dream closet," and I was picking up what they were putting down.

This is not your mama’s consignment shop: on the left is a curated, colorful, and joy-inducing "Summer Bright’s" (sic) section; down the center aisle runs a row of crisp, clean whites — intentional, Craig says, as a gleaming example to prove to both new and veteran shoppers that secondhand does not always have to be dirty or stained or otherwise imperfect in any way. On the right is an expertly styled festival wear collection and designer denim shop sorted by denim style to rival any hipster boutique or vintage store.

Tops — which Craig says the average woman buys in a ratio of four to five to every one pair of jeans — take up the entire center section of the store, sorted not just by colorways but by size, along with a section of new-with-tags activewear from popular brands like Athleta and Lululemon.

The center wall directly opposing the registers is filled with items from J.Crew — one of thredUP’s best-selling brands with current online Austin customers. In addition to all of the point-of-sale analytics the brand is collecting, both online and from associates walking the floors helping to connect customers to their mobile accounts via iPads, Craig mentions thredUP is also currently hiring Stylists for its brick-and-mortar store to insure that customers are also being exposed to new trends and brands.

Behind the sales counter, shelf upon shelf of like-new designer handbags and statement necklaces with labels to rival any Nordstrom beckon, and to their left a wall of designer shoes curated specifically (like everything else in the store) based upon what thredUP’s data analytics show already sell well in the Central Texas market: mostly sandals, dressy loafers, ankle booties, and heels of various heights — all new or like-new.

In the back of the store is the piece de resistance: a sitting room complete with blush-colored velvet couch adorned with cactus-embroidered throw pillows (because, Texas), blonde wood table (to match all the light wood accents and shelving throughout the store), metallic-accented cowhide pouf, brass side tables, and, of course, a tray of designer clutches and coffee table fashion books.

But the real fun part is around the sitting area — the going out clothes, where racks are separated by easy-to-shop materials like Sequins and Lace, designer skirts, and fancy tops separated by size. The entire back wall is dedicated to cocktail dresses and gowns.

White NWT lace dress from New York & Co. ($69.95 retail, $21.99 thredUP); Yellow lace cocktail dress from Shoshanna ($62.99, retail $330)

(Image credit: Melissa Massello)

While you cannot currently use your seller or store credits from thredUP.com and mobile at the brick-and-mortar stores, or bring in your Clean Out Kits to be shipped back to thredUP’s distribution center, Craig assures me that solutions for both of those needs (to truly make the online/offline experience seamless and complete) are coming soon, though new Clean Out Kits are already available in store.

Still, it would be ridiculously easy to forget you were shopping secondhand at thredUP’s retail store, especially given the bright, organized boutique feeling. Plus, every third item I picked up still had its original retail tags attached, and there was nary a Forever 21 label in sight — a welcome change from virtually every Goodwill and Sal’s these days, where fast fashion mall brands dominate the entire selection.

Find something you love but it’s not in your size? In the near future, you’ll be able to call over a store associate with her iPad and have her reserve that same, or similar, item online, even have it shipped directly to the store or your house. Genius.

Miu Miu loafers ($155, retail $630); NTW silver perforated pleather skirt from Sam Edelman ($26.99, retail $109)

(Image credit: Melissa Massello)

The veteran secondhand and clothing swap business cynic in me wonders if, in the future, this will give thredUP the ability to partner directly with other retailers to "seed" the store with liquidated items under the illusion of "peer to peer" shopping, which would somewhat negate the "ethical" philosophy of shopping "secondhand" — although it does still keep liquidated "fast fashion" items from being destroyed and dumpstered, or baled for distribution to third world countries. In addition, Craig told me that with the opening of brick-and-mortar stores, thredUP has now practically eliminated its own need for liquidation, because whatever doesn’t sell in one store can be sent to another location, or back to the central distribution center to be re-listed online for website and mobile app customers.

For those worried that traditional charity thrift stores will be forced to either change or close, thredUP — while arguably not a thrift store in the traditional sense — is not the first for-profit thrift store to enter and disrupt the space (that would be Saver’s, which opened 60 years ago and currently operates 330 stores). The start up also has a massive impact on keeping wearable clothing in circulation and out of the landfills.

Like Saver’s, which gives back millions each year to charity partners, thredUp also plans to be a socially aware community partner to Central Texas — and hopefully wherever they open their next permanent brick-and-mortars.

Craig told me that the team at the distribution center is currently sorting and boxing donations by size (both women’s and kids’ clothing) to be sent to shelters throughout areas of Texas decimated by Harvey, which will be a boon to volunteers and charitable organizations without the bandwidth to sort incoming clothing donations to distribute to displaced families in need. Tomorrow, they’ll also be collecting cash donations at the register to be distributed to local on-the-ground recovery efforts, and Craig said the store is looking to partner with and host additional local businesses and nonprofits in the store for regular give-back nights and other events and meetings in an ongoing basis in the future.

The Austin store’s grand opening starts at 9:45 a.m. CST tomorrow, Friday September 1st, at The Domain South Side. RSVP for the event over on thredUP’s Facebook page if you plan to attend — registered customers will be entered to win prizes throughout the day.

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