On the 500-square-foot second-hand clothes store at 836 E. Johnson St., there’s one query that proprietor Lindsay Leno and her staff hear so much: “The place are the worth tags?”
When Leno opened Upshift Swap Store in 2013, the fundamental premise was that nothing could be on the market. As an alternative, consumers would carry a bag of gently used garments to commerce in, pay a $20 “swap payment” after which choose new objects to fill the bag.
For Leno, who teaches style merchandising at Madison School, swapping is a lifestyle. This mannequin, she believes, gives recent model with out all of the waste that comes with the “quick style” business. She is aware of that business properly, having spent seven years working for a Minnesota huge field retailer earlier than shifting to Madison.
“I used to be going into work and … contributing to one thing that didn’t align with my private values,” stated Leno, a sustainability fanatic who claims she hasn’t used a dryer in 20 years. Swapping, she stated, not solely retains garments out of the landfill, but it surely reduces the client’s carbon footprint as a result of garments proceed to flow into regionally.
Together with her upswept hair, colourful costume and cat eye glasses, Leno calls herself a “strolling commercial” for her swap store, modern proof that swapping doesn’t imply sacrificing model.
“Each single factor I put on is from right here, and I pleasure myself in dressing good,” Leno stated. “I actually do consider that you probably have stuff sitting in your closet, it’s going to go to a great dwelling inside your group.”
Basement boutique to storefront success
When Leno got here to Madison in 2009, she began internet hosting weekly clothes exchanges in her lounge on the close to east aspect, inviting mates to carry what they have been able to half with and take dwelling new-to-them treasures. Earlier than lengthy, she’d turned her basement right into a curated “boutique” of swap-ready attire.
She requested mates in the event that they’d take into account paying for the service, they usually agreed that $20 appeared truthful. She began taking donations.
Nonetheless, Leno figured internet hosting swaps was only a passion till strangers began displaying as much as swap too.
“I (figured) this positively could possibly be a enterprise, as a result of individuals are simply coming in off the streets and displaying up with mates of mates,” Leno stated.
As she and her husband have been biking dwelling from downtown one night, Leno noticed an East Johnson Road storefront that had lengthy stood empty. Earlier than, she’d felt nervous about opening a retail location, however the place simply felt proper. She met with the owner and negotiated a lease she might handle. If her enterprise might make it by the upcoming main street building, he advised her, she’d be superb. She did.
In 2016, Upshift survived one other blow when an SUV drove into the store, shutting down enterprise for almost two months. Native artist Steph Hagens painted a mural throughout the shop’s short-term picket wall, emblazoned with the phrases “Change is nice.” Immediately, it gives a backdrop for the store’s becoming rooms.
Then got here the pandemic, forcing the store to adapt as soon as once more. Leno briefly revived the shop’s supply mannequin, which allowed clients to mail in a field of things to swap, pay a $49.99 payment to cowl transport and styling prices, and obtain a field of clothes hand-picked by a store stylist. That summer time, as an alternative of setting out bins of free garments throughout its twice-yearly stock purge, workers stuffed Ziploc luggage with a number of objects, sorted by measurement, to reduce the COVID danger.
As soon as once more, the store made it by the tough patch, as Leno anticipated. “There by no means was a second … the place I believed, ‘That is it. We’re gonna shut,’” Leno stated. “I simply refused to consider that.”
A revolutionary mannequin?
Immediately, the store is again to completely in-person operation. Open seven days per week, it’s busier than ever, Leno stated. The place earlier than the principle clientele was mothers searching for garments to accommodate their altering our bodies throughout and after being pregnant, the store now sees plenty of younger adults searching for one-of-a-kind objects.
Leno has additionally added the choice to purchase as an alternative of swap. Those that don’t carry garments to commerce should buy most objects for $5 every, or fill a bag for $30. Some significantly fashionable objects are $10 every, whereas a $2 sidewalk rack showcases reductions.
She thinks it’s a super time for a swapping enterprise, as many individuals emerged from their sweats-wearing pandemic isolation and located their closets missing.
“With that two yr hole … style modified so much,” Leno stated. “All of our closets grew to become very stale … so we even have an enormous inflow of stock proper now.”
Leno, who takes pleasure in conserving a well-curated store, stated she and her workers have been overhauling their choices, making shopping for journeys to different native thrift retailers and donating denims that do not match the looser model that purchasers now need. The store largely shares sizes 4 to 12.
What doesn’t promote on the retailer goes to Agrace Thrift Retailer or the native Goodwill. The store additionally hosts free procuring periods the place residents of native midway homes can take dwelling the brand new outfits they want for his or her subsequent steps after getting out of jail or rehab.
Staffing the store this summer time are a handful of interns: style college students from Madison School and excessive schoolers from La Follette. Interns earn credit score as an alternative of cash, however Leno stated most select to remain on as paid staff as soon as their internships finish.
Although the store didn’t flip a revenue at first, Leno stated it now makes sufficient to pay its few staff, although Leno nonetheless doesn’t pay herself. As an alternative, she works two jobs, at Madison School and Lake View Elementary, and places earnings again into the enterprise to cowl renovation prices and the like.
To her, it’s price it, as a result of the enterprise mannequin is so vital. “I actually consider that this swap system, if it grew to become a mainstream method of retail, would utterly change the place consumerism goes,” Leno stated. “You can nonetheless have a closet filled with clothes, however with out hurting the setting.”
She’s obtained a storage unit stuffed with sufficient stock to open two extra shops. She’d wish to open a second location for maternity and youngsters’s clothes, and ultimately broaden into dwelling items, athletic gear and even unused cosmetics.
“The market is method past once I first opened,” Leno stated. “I believe, in the long run, it is gonna proceed to develop.”
For now, although, Leno’s simply proud that the gospel of swapping has received so many converts.
“There was a yr or two the place I simply had many, many nights of sitting right here going, ‘Individuals do not get it.’ (Now) individuals lastly get it. We’re fortunate.”
The 4 questions
What are an important values driving your work?
I insist my workers method all confrontation and interplay by kindness, which I do know sounds tacky, however that’s how I dwell my life. Additionally, communication is big. I need individuals overly speaking with one another. After which, in fact, there’s the sustainable piece. Scale back, reuse and recycle. That’s how my husband and I dwell our lives, and if I’m not doing that in my work life, then what’s the purpose?
How are you creating the form of group that you simply need to dwell in?
Individuals stroll in they usually’re like, “Oh, what a fairly retailer.” That’s nice, however behind the scenes, I consider in working with the group to make it a greater place. That’s why I’ve interns, as a result of I actually consider in guiding them in direction of their future. Additionally, I simply attempt to educate individuals on how one can dwell a life that’s extra sustainable.
What recommendation do you could have for different would-be entrepreneurs?
Soar in and do it. You possibly can put together and put together, however until you simply resolve to get that key and open a constructing, or get that URL … The opposite factor that I at all times inform my college students is to learn the ebook “The E Delusion.” (With out it,) I completely wouldn’t have been capable of open a enterprise.
Are you hiring?
No. However that adjustments. I at all times inform individuals to return again on the finish of the summer time or when the semesters change over, as a result of I’m primarily based on my college students.