ctmagClothes-205

Nicole Yannieh, owner of The Label Exchange in Fairfield, holds designer dresses by Tory Burch and Missoni.

Earlier this summer, Neiman Marcus and H&M announced they would begin selling used clothes and handbags through secondhand platforms Fashionphile and Sellpy, respectively. With a leading luxury department store and fast-fashion juggernaut entering the resale game, it’s safe to say there’s no longer a stigma in shopping secondhand. In fact, it’s a growing demand for cost- and environmentally conscious millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular. 

That wasn’t always the case, Connecticut’s consignment retailers say. “When we first moved into our Greenwich store 20 years ago, someone came in and said, ‘You’re not going to last long here,’Roundabout owner Laurie Perren recalls. Now, with booming stores in Greenwich and Westport as well as two outposts in New York City, it’s safe to say Perren proved them wrong, and today, the consignment craze is hotter than ever.

A search for bargains and conscious consumerism is driving the movement across all levels — from thrift-shop dollar bins to high-end designer resellers. The growth of online stores like ThredUp and The Real Real has helped lessen the secondhand stigma, but are online competitors hurting local retailers?

Nicole Yannieh, owner of The Label Exchange in Fairfield, says the more the merrier. “Back in 2009, I would say two out of every 10 clients walking through my door would, for lack of a better phrase, turn their noses up at shopping ‘used’ clothing,” she says. “And now, forget about it — consignment shopping is not only for those looking to find a bargain, it’s considered smart and savvy.” Yannieh says this is in part due to the added exposure brought by e-tailers. And, since each store has its own niche to offer, she doesn’t view them as competition. “We take items that The Real Real would take, but we also take items they won’t. Everyone can thrive.”

Newtown’s The Fashion Exchange owner Janet Falkenthal has felt the effect of increased competition but is adopting an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude. “I’ve been thinking that I need to get my business in the online direction, because everyone today shops online for something,” she notes. 

But while competition is higher than ever, there is more than enough merchandise to go around, store owners say. That’s thanks in part to a woman by the name of Marie Kondo, who has propelled a clearing out craze across the nation with her book and Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, about minimal living and only keeping items that “spark joy.”

“Everyone is coming in and unloading items, saying they’ve read the book and are watching the Netflix series and want to get rid of things,” Perren says. “We’re getting tons of merchandise.”

Related: Meet Connecticut's Sole Certified Practitioner of Marie Kondo's Decluttering System

And it isn’t just on the high end. Marcus O. Notz, chief information officer for Goodwill New England, says the region saw a 27 percent increase in donations from 2018 to 2019 during the typically slow winter season. “We had a big advantage this year with the Marie Kondo show,” he says. “It animated people to clean out and organize and made the connection to Goodwill pretty easy.”

Stratford’s Continuations Consignments owner Erin Wynn says the Marie Kondo movement is twofold. “There’s a force of cleaning out, and others are taking advantage of that,” she notes. “It’s also about being smart with getting new things that ‘spark joy.’

Tips for shopping second-hand

Know each store’s sale structure. “We continuously have sales. To ensure constant turnover, pieces automatically go half off after 30 days. So if you see something, and it’s not reduced yet, I can give you an idea of when it will be. You can take the chance!” — Erin Wynn, Continuations Consignments, Stratford

Ask the experts. “If you’re looking for something specific, like a particular brand or are going to an event and have ideas, ask for help. [Store owners] know their inventory and can lead you to it or help you find alternate choices if they don’t have what you’re looking for.” — Nicole Yannieh, The Label Exchange, Fairfield

Timing is everything. “The best stuff is in the beginning of a season. For us, we store merchandise and put it out each new season. For the best deals, the end of the season is the way to shop. We have a blowout sale in Westport every August.” — Laurie Perren, Roundabout, Westport and Greenwich

Come in often. “We get new clothes every day, so there’s always something new to look at. You could come in two days in a row and not see everything. It’s the thrill of the hunt!” — Janet Falkenthal, The Fashion Exchange, Newtown