NOTE: This story was originally published in February 2016, and has been edited since the store in the accompanying photo, Simply Couture, has closed.
Upscale consignment has long had a place in Charlotte’s fashion scene. But as the city’s luxury retail offerings have grown to meet the needs of the city’s swelling well-heeled ranks (think Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, Capitol and Coplon’s before that), so has the demand for places to offload the high-end goods once their owners no longer want to wear them.
So more boutiques take high-end brands in near-perfect condition (think Tory Burch and above; Gap need not apply), have opened, Instagramming and Facebooking every Prada bag and Jimmy Choo shoe that walks through the door.
The last few years have seen the advent of a new mechanism as well: Online retail sites like The RealReal, which now has a full-time representative based in Charlotte, cater to women looking to buy and sell from the comfort of their homes.
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Breathless for Louis, Chanel
Charlotte’s luxury-loving women are predictable; just ask anyone who works in one of the city’s high-end consignment stores.
Lululemon leaps off racks. Wait lists stretch for high-end denim: Hudson, AG, 7 for All Mankind. Tory Burch flats and boots never linger.
Then there are the goodies that make store owners’ pulses quicken when they come through the door: Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags top the list. They sell within hours. Sometimes, minutes.
At Dilworth’s Sweet Repeats, one of the city’s longest-running luxury consignment shops (it turns 20 this year), sisters Amy King and Jenny Burnett and longtime staffer Jennifer Libman still laugh about the day they text-alerted customers about a coveted Louis Vuitton “Neverfull” tote. A Neverfull – which retails for $1,180 to $1,340 depending on size, and sells for as much as $900 pre-owned – had just come in. A runner saw the text during her jog around Dilworth and literally sprinted in, breathless, to snag it.
St. John is a must-carry for boutiques looking to serve the more conservative and mature audience. Some stores constantly accept and sell labels such as Worth and Doncaster, direct-sale brands with establishment followings.
A surprising lot of Charlotte’s luxury resale goods are “NWT,” or new-with-tags. The idea that someone would purchase a $500 dress, then never wear it, brings no scorn from resellers.
And while Charlotte is a growing town, it can seem a little small when it comes to who is wearing what to the handful of galas where the city’s most elite clink champagne flutes.
So King and Burnett at Sweet Repeats say they keep mental and written tabs on who’s worn which gowns to various events. Although they keep the names of consignors and shoppers at HIPAA levels of discretion, they will raise a flag if they think an awkward moment may come from a purchase.
Because it happens.
A shopper mentions that they’re perusing gowns for the annual Heart Ball, for example, and the store owner realizes that the dress the shopper is trying on came out of the closet of someone who is very likely also on the guest list.
“I wouldn’t tell them who it belonged to,” Burnett says, “but I would say, ‘You might run into them there.’ ”
But is it real?
You’ll find luxury women’s consignment in many corners of town: Sweet Repeats in Dilworth, J.T. Posh on Park Road (a favorite among stylists hired to dispose of their clients’ best castaways), Divine Consign in the Fountains Shopping Center at Ardrey Kell in south Charlotte, Summerbird boutique, which recently relocated to NoDa, and since fall, a new addition: Nouveaux in Ballantyne Village.
Don’t confuse them with thrift stores. You won’t find any underpriced $5 Nanette Lepore skirts hiding undetected within the racks. And expect the shopping experience to be akin to a retail boutique in atmosphere and customer service.
In Ballantyne, Carly Edmiston opened Nouveaux with co-owner Julia Austin, for whom Edmiston had worked at Fifi’s Fine Resale in Cornelius before graduating college and trying her hand in the corporate world.
Edmiston’s dream was to open her own high-end consignment shop, so when her research pointed her to Ballantyne as an untapped market, she and Austin decided to make a go of it.
So far, Edmiston says, business is swift, with Ballantyne women bringing in impressive designers (she recently showcased a $1,000 Brunello Cucinelli leather briefcase in the window) and shoppers asking to be put on lists alerting them when certain items in their sizes hit the sales floor.
Customer service is key in the luxury resale business, Edmiston and others say, because shoppers are more likely to pop in if they’ve been called or texted that their favorite size and brand are in the store. And the more they get to know store owners, the more comfortable they feel that they’re getting fair prices for selling their goods – and that they’re not overpaying when they shop.
Verifying luxury goods is key. Store owners literally shudder at the thought of selling counterfeit, which would be a surefire business killer.
Edmiston, at Nouveaux, subscribes to a verifying service to ensure that the high-end handbags she carries are authentic. (Not all brands are verifiable through these services, although many are.) She snaps photos of key details – zippers, linings, pockets, labels – and sends them off to be verified before agreeing to consign them.
Others who’ve been in the industry longer say experience and research make them able to sniff out a fake, although counterfeiters are getting better by the day.
Online on the rise: The RealReal, others
One major player in Charlotte’s upscale consignment market has no storefront or sales counter – the Internet. Online sites like ThreadUP, The RealReal and Tradesy are having real impact.
Locally, the face behind one of the hottest online luxury resellers is Beverly Sokol, a regional “luxury manager” for The RealReal, who once had a brick-and-mortar consignment store in town (Consign by Design) but closed it and became The RealReal’s first staff member in the Carolinas.
Much of Sokol’s time is spent collecting Chanel, Hermes and Céline from women’s and men’s closets (she estimates the Charlotte metro area accounts for 70 percent of the approximately 400 consignors she currently has), but she drives all over both Carolinas, visiting homes to decide which items make the cut, then packing and shipping them to the company’s New Jersey warehouse, where they’re authenticated, priced and put on the website.
Sellers receive 60 percent. When their sales top $7,500 in any given year, they earn 70 percent.
Sellers can log in through an online account to see what items have sold and how much they’ve earned. Sokol says a big draw for clients is being able to easily track how their items are selling and for how much. When some items fetch into the thousands, that becomes key, she says.
“I’ve seen several (Hermès) Birkin bags (which retail for about $9,000 to $34,000), and some $50,000 pieces of jewelry,” she says.
So does potential resale value play a role in how wealthy women shop for high-end goods?
Charlotte personal stylist Linda Martinez of Styled NOW! says no. “Absolutely not,” says Martinez, who often consigns her customers’ clothing at J.T. Posh. “I do not purchase clothes with the idea in mind that this would be a good consignment piece. My clients do not purchase items with future consignment in mind, either.”
Anyone who works with the public has stories of strange happenings, but buying and selling people’s belongings can create all sorts of drama.
One of the Sweet Repeat sisters’ favorites is the downtrodden-looking woman who lugged three black garbage bags through their doors. They sighed. Bringing trash bags of clothes to upscale consignment stores is a no-no; clothes must be brought in on hangers.
Then they looked inside: more than 200 designer handbags and accessories, ranging from Chanel to Louis Vuitton to Burberry. The woman, who the sisters say later confided that she was in the midst of a divorce, made $55,631 once all the pieces were sold. And they went fast, the sisters said.
How does it work?
How much do I get? Upscale consignment stores typically give sellers 40 to 60 percent of the selling price for their goods, and consignors are not paid until items sell. Online reseller The RealReal pays consignors 60 percent, 70 percent once the consignor hits $7,500 in sales in any given year. Many stores pay sellers higher percentages for certain items such as highly sought-after handbags.
How much will I pay? Items are typically priced at about half to one-third of what you’d pay in a retail store, but that number also grows for the ultra high-end goods. (A $700 Louis Vuitton wallet in near-perfect condition, for example, might sell at a consignment shop for $470.)
Can I set prices? Sellers are typically not allowed to set asking prices for items, but in the case of extremely high-valued items, store owners will often negotiate a price with the consignor.
What about consignment for men? Yes, men can also buy consignment luxury goods at a handful of shops in town and online. Revolve Upscale Men’s Consignment in Dilworth buys and sells high-end designer clothes, shoes and accessories, from Gucci briefcases to Prada loafers. And Jilson’s Men’s Consignment in Myers Park also specializes in high-end menswear.