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In between the categories of resale shops and vintage stores lies consignment: boutiques that will take the “good stuff” from your closet and (attempt to) sell it to someone else. These often cater to a higher-end seller and shopper; if resale shops like Beacon’s Closet are where you bring old Zara and Aritzia, consignment stores like INA in New York and Decades in Los Angeles are where you bring what once came from Barneys.
Consigning can be a little tricky; it involves dropping your stuff off without the guarantee that it’ll ever be bought, and you don’t get the money up front. (Vintage stores often double as consignment shops, too, so the line can get a bit blurry). The upside: consignment is a better bet for pieces that’ll pull in a bigger profit (in other words, don’t bring anything Gucci to Buffalo Exchange).
Below, Meredith Fineman — the founder of Consign + Co, a company that advises buyers and sellers on all things consignment — answers our most frequently asked questions, like which brands have the highest demand and how much you can expect to get back.
When you’re getting ready to consign, is it better to try to do a bunch of things at once — like a major closet sweep — or piece by piece?
What I do personally and what I tell clients and friends to do is to break the pieces they want to sell into four categories. The first is higher-end items and designer pieces. Those matter more in terms of the prices you will be getting.
The second category is contemporary labels: Theory, Vince, Rag & Bone, Paige, Joie. The third is lower-end but desirable (actually, very much so): Lululemon, J. Crew, Zara, and H&M. The fourth is things to donate (sorority tee shirts, sweatpants, random labels) or give to friends.
That's the system I normally operate by and consign accordingly. If I know I'm not going to get a ton for something I consider high-value, like a Theory blazer, I'll give it to a friend who I know will enjoy it.
So on that note, is it usually more profitable to consign one big piece from a high-end label, or several smaller things from mid-range designers?
I advise people to know what their consigning for. What’s the goal here? If you want money, that's going to look like a different process than if you want to use the credit at the store, because many stores offer more in credit than they do in cash. Consignment stores are often 50-50 and don't do that, but resale stores like Buffalo Exchange will offer you more in-store credit [than they will cash].
I keep my credit in the stores as a revolving shopping budget, versus pulling out my wallet. I personally don't consign much online, although all the new platforms are changing that for me. Except for when it's a large ticket item — something that will sell for over $1,000. Then the percentages really do matter, and I usually sell on Tradesy where you get about 90%. I've had good experiences thus far, but then you're a salesperson and have to answer lots of questions.
What are some of the most valuable brands in the consigning world today?
It's funny, the most valuable brands are actually not the niche and more artistic brands like Comme des Garçon or Balenciaga, but actually more mainstream: Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and then labels like J. Crew, Lululemon, and Theory. The wider the appeal, the more chance you’ll sell the item quickly.
What are some of the brands that people expect to bring in a lot of money, but don't for whatever reason — like oversaturation?
It's funny, it's not over-saturation that doesn't get people the money they want, but rather that, for particular and interesting, unusual pieces, it takes a highly-specific kind of buyer. People will think that special collaborations or crazy runway/couture pieces are what people would really desire, but that's actually only a small savvy group of people. Most people want things they recognize. (But I'll take all your crazy conceptual pieces!)
How do you go about finding a really good, legit consignment shop? Where’s the most trusted place to look?
There are so many to choose from! I tell clients I’m consulting with to begin at more high-end consignment stores where the pieces are more organized, and then work their way down in terms of organization to a place like Goodwill (if you're brave enough, it's one of my absolute favorite stores).
When I travel, one of the first things I do when I get to a city is look on Yelp or ask a friend who lives there which consignment and vintage stores are best.
If you're in New York, for example, you have amazing places at your disposal. My personal favorites from around the country and world are Secondi, Junction, and Reddz Trading in Washington D.C.; Decades and Wasteland in Los Angeles; INA in New York (I always go to all five locations); Eva Gentry in Brooklyn; Feathers in Austin; and Episode, Kiliwatch, Kilo Shop, and Didier Ludot in Paris, France.
Is there an industry "standard" for how much you get back when an item sells?
There's a big difference between consignment and resale. Consignment means that your garment is on loan to the store. This means if it sells, you get usually 50% only when it sells, and if it doesn't sell, often a store will give you the chance to pick it up.
Resale is different; it means the store is actually buying your things from you — you no longer own them, and you get money upfront. But it's way less than consignment. For example, at Buffalo Exchange, your things will be sold for way less and you'll get less, but you get the money right there. And a lot those stores will offer you less in cash and more in store credit.
Prefer to sell online? Check out our list of the best sites to sell your stuff.