Twice As Nice: Frugal Finds For Local Fashionistas
A black Gucci baguette for $172.99?
Red, white and blue satin Prada mules for $156?
A Badgley Mischka black and white ball gown for $129?
Fashion is indeed sweeter the second time around at Swap, an upscale consignment and boutique overstock haven for designer bags, clothes and accessories that caters to fashion-forward locals who know how to divine a deluxe deal.
“Our customers are knowledgeable about brands, prices and trends,” Swap Boutique owner Michelle Reinhardt said. “So our pricing model goes according to their expertise.”
At Swap, consigners contract to sell their new or like-new items during a 90-day window. Swap prices each item at 60% to 80% off its retail value, considering its label, condition, style and demand, and when it sells consigners make 40% commission on each item sold and 50% commission on specialty designer handbags and shoes.
To increase the chances of a final sale, Swap marks down its contemporary inventory an additional 20% after the first 30 days on display, 40% after 45 days and 60% after 60 days. If a dress, pump or purse doesn’t sell in 90 days, consigners can reclaim their stash or have Swap donate it to charity.
“Condition of each item is really, really important,” Reinhardt said. “We showcase an high-end edited boutique selection of which many items still have their original tags, and our fashion-minded customers get the luxury of choosing from the best labels and brands at an amazing price.”
“Consigners make money, and customers make a great deal,” she said. “It’s our customers and consigners who evolved our business because they’re the ones telling us the trends by their supply and demand. Whether it’s crop tops or poncho sweaters, they tell us what’s ‘in.’”
According to NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, resale is a $16 billion a year industry and one of the fastest growing segments of sales. They chart growth at about 7% a year for the past 2 years, and estimate there are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and Not For Profit resale shops in the United States.
Reinhardt opened up Swap 7 years ago, and her designer driven dynasty has grown to 4 stores strong, plus a Swap For Kids. Each of her 4 locations, Maple Street, Magazine Street, Severn Avenue and Perkins Road in Baton Rouge, move an average of 1,000 items a month. With 20 employees, an online division and a marketing team Reinhardt sells, ships and consigns around the globe.
“We don’t have to pay on the front end,” she said. “There is no loss purchasing outright, and our consigners make commission on every item we sell. Our biggest cost is labor, looking up each item and pricing it right. It’s also the fun part for the staff. Ninety-eight percent of what I wear I purchased from Swap, and the same goes for the employees.”
Reinhardt said her favorite piece to ever come through the store was a vintage Geoffrey Beene. The Louisiana designer’s classic black cocktail dress, dating back to the 50s or 60s, is still current and relevant today, she said, with a heavy A-line skirt, high neck and long sleeves and geometric cut outs on the back. At $200, Reinhardt admits she was her best customer for that rarefied raiment.
Recent couture coups at Swap include a brand new Chanel tweed suit, that retailed at $6,000+, and sold for $1,500 and multiple pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes, which retailed at $800+, and sold for around $200 a pair. Expect to see deep discounts on designers gems like a purple lace Marchesa Voyage peplum dress reduced from $650 to $150, Diane Von Furstenberg dresses priced at around $50 and a Nanette Lepore floral silk dress, which retailed at $398, was marked down to $82.99 and was being offered at an additional 40% off.
While labels range from Herve Leger, Halston Heritage, Tory Burch and Jimmy Choo to Banana Republic, BCBG, Free People and J Crew, budget conscious consumers don’t have to worry about quality. Items for consideration to be resold at Swap have to be free of stains, holes, missing buttons, and excessive wear and any label, trademark, insignia, logo, design, authenticity information and embossment has to be authentic of the designer it represents.
“We are not a thrift store,” Reinhardt said. “Swap is a true boutique experience due to the quality of our consigners’ exquisite taste and surplus.”
Buffalo Exchange was opened in 1974 in Tucson, AZ, and operated out of a small 450 sq, ft. store. Now, the company boasts 48 stores in 17 states including an outpost on Magazine Street. NARTS reports the resale giant employs more than 700 and in 2012 generated $81.6 million in revenue.
The New Orleans branch opened in 2005 and curates a sought after selection of contemporary, classic and vintage apparel and accessories. Their heavy costuming customer base enables them to highlight unique and one-of-a-kind finds all year long.
The Encore Shop consignment store on Maple Street benefits the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and is exclusively owned and operated by LPO Volunteers. The store has offered women high quality and gently worn designer clothing at bargain prices for more than 40 years, with the added bonus of all net proceeds going to the LPO.
Bridal Revenete on Magazine Street is not currently accepting wedding dresses for consignment due to its generous inventory, but they are still showcasing processional show stoppers, some of which had the privilege of having walked down the aisle once before.
Operated by mother and daughter entrepreneurs Elizabeth Miller and Katie Ward, Bridal Revente is the sister store to Bliss Bridal in Fairhope, AL. Bliss Bridal is a traditional bridal shop that allows brides-to-be to try on samples and order new dresses, and many of those samples, once they are discontinued, are sent to Bridal Revenete for resale. Bridal Revenete also resells veils, belts, jewelry, shoes and accessories to brides and bridal parties who are looking for designer brands at affordable prices.
Prima Donna's Closet on St. Charles Avenue considers itself the trendiest consignment shop for the savviest fashionistas in the Big Easy. They feature new, vintage and used designer and boutique labels in sportswear, dresses, Mardi Gras gowns, prom, Mother of the Bride, event attire, bags, shoes, jewelry and unique home decor.
At their second location on Royal Street, you’ll find Prima Donna's Closet’s Lagniappe for Men that resells hats, T-shirts, jackets and ties and men’s casual attire.
Prima Donna’s Closet offers 3-month contracts with consigners receiving 40% of the selling price.
According to consumer research firm America’s Research Group, 12% to 15% of all Americans shop at consignment and resale shops. In comparison, they also found 11.4% of Americans shop in factory outlet malls, 19.6% in apparel stores and 21.3% in major department stores.
Lakefront resident Cynthia Sanders said she never shops anywhere else but Second Act on Metairie Road.
“I pass up all the stores,” she said. “This is where I shop, and I’ve been coming back for 20 years.”
As Sanders was paying $41.33 for a second-hand Liz Claiborne navy dress with ¾ sleeves and a tie belt, she said 85% of what’s in her closet comes from Second Act.
“You get very good, well made clothes here,” she said. “They’re in great shape and you feel like you’re the first time buyer. I always find something here.”
Second Act opened in 1972 when store founder Ruth Tolmas and her friends decided they had too much in their own closets. Current owner and daughter Pam Tolmas said even though her Mom passed away in 2004, they adhere to the same time-tested principles and ethics in procuring and selling chic, delicately-used items handpicked by an experienced staff.
“Mom worked very hard,” Tolmas said. “I never anticipated taking over the business, but I realized I was having so much fun with the clothes and with the customers.”
When Second Act reopened on October 1, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, most of the store’s loyal following found their wardrobes were destroyed. Tolmas’ store was intact and became a beacon of benevolence. “People didn’t have anything,” she said. “We gave away all our clothes to our regulars who were looking for clothing to wear, and we donated the rest.”
“Our customers want to look nice, but they don’t want to spend the money to purchase retail pieces,” she said. “Here, it’s fun to go on a hunt.”
Second Act celebrates 2 seasons, Spring/ Summer and Fall/ Winter, and end each with a blowout 50% off sale. They actually shut down for 2 days and paper the windows when they flip their inventory twice a year.
Clothing is organized and displayed by color palette, and designer finds are plentiful.
Tolmas said the number of items they turn over per 6-month season is about 6,500 or 12-13,000 per year. That number includes items that did not sell which are picked up by the consigners at the end of the contract or donated, at their request, to charities at the end of the season.
Tolmas said unlike other consignment stores they don’t lower the sales price during the term of the 90-day consignment contract. “We price items for what we really believe they should sell for at the beginning,” she said. “We take clothes Monday through Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and sometimes there’s a waiting list when we don’t have space.”
“We’re picky, but we have to be,” she said.
A black St. John Evening satin collared cocktail top with 2 elaborate rhinestone waist clasps commands attention at $350. A pair of Chanel mauve and ivory slingback peep toe 3.5” chunky heeled shoes beckon at $310. A Diane Von Furstenberg white long sleeve scoop neck jacket with grey sequins and grey threads thrills at $190. Alluring Hermes square scarves enchant at $120. And an Armani stone colored zip front jacket with a peplum waist and long sleeves tempts at $68.
“Old Metairie socialites wear a dress or an outfit once and don’t want to be seen it in again,” Second Act sales associate Marie Celino said. “They turn over clothes a lot and they bring in what they don’t want anymore. Our price is 50% to 75% off retail and whatever we make, we split it 50/50 with our consigners.”
Celino said they have more than 3,600 consigners who send in their luxury cast-offs from coast to coast.
One local and loyal consigner recently brought in 36 pairs of coveted Christian Louboutin shoes to resell.
“I can’t wear them, but they are so beautiful,” Second Act sales associate Judy Fosco said, wary of the shoes impressive heel height and diminutive size 6 stature. “As you can imagine they sold quickly for between $200 and $300 a pair. One of our customers bought 5 pairs all at once.”
Before you even get to the recessed designer room, where Donald Pliner, Stuart Weitzman, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik and Ferragamo shoes vie for valuable real estate among the shoe racks, it’s easy to lose your way when you start picking through the racks in the front room where you’ll find enviable finds attached to labels like Jones NY, Chico’s, Lilly Pulitzer, Ellen Tracy, St. John Sport, Limited Express, Michael Kors and Ann Taylor. You can spot a Talbots summer dress that’s navy with pink floral designs and a belt for $32 and a fuchsia Worthington collared and cuffed long sleeve shirt for $14.
If you’re looking for more sticker shock, try the jewelry armoire brimming with $4, $6 and $8 steals.
You’ll also find sizes and shapes to flatter those who wear up to 4x.
“We have a market for it,” Fosco said. “Larger sized ladies come here to shop just because of that. We have exceptional choices in all those sizes.”
During Mardi Gras, the front room is awash with full skirts and beads and sequins, which adorn the racks of gowns that flood the showroom floor. Celino said it’s a win-win for those trying to rid their wardrobes of multiple Carnival gowns from last season, and for those value-conscious consumers looking to buy “throwaway” dresses for $40 to $60 to be trashed at future Endymion or Bacchus Balls.
Owner Tolmas say they sell about 250 ball gowns a season.
The upcoming Fall/ Winter season also brings a flurry of furs including full length, strollers, stoles, and stone martens that sell from $400 to $2,000.
Despite the price, fashion still follows function on the shelves of Second Act where an unique Carlisle pewter colored purse with silver beads and barrels is selling for $80.
“The only reason it’s still here is because you can’t fit an iPhone 6 in it,” Celino said. “You can fit a 5, just not a 6.”
Swap Designer Consignment
7716 Maple St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
Additional locations on Magazine Street, Severn Avenue and Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.
3312 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
The Encore Shop
7814 Maple St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
4712 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70115
Prima Donna's Closet
1206-1212 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Prima Donna's Closet & Lagniappe For Men
927 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA 70116
Second Act, Inc.
2019 Metairie Rd.
Metairie, LA 70005