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Goodwill’s Plan to Attract Young Shoppers Starts With a “Curated” Boutique

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It’s now open on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is stocked with trendier — and slightly more expensive — pieces.

A view of the storefront with mannequins in the window.
Goodwill’s new store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Photo: Goodwill NYNJ

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In a bid to win over younger shoppers, Goodwill is going the way of the carefully merchandised vintage stores dotting New York City. The company is opening a boutique on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, replete with more upscale lighting and fixtures than its standard stores. Known as a destination for dogged thrifters, Goodwill is doing the legwork for its customers and stocking the new store with trendy pieces culled from its other locations.

“Curated by Goodwill NYNJ” is, indeed, a project run by the nonprofit’s New York and New Jersey branch, and it’s extending the concept to some of its existing stores, too. Borrowing from department stores’ “shop-in-shop” model of giving dedicated floor space to certain brands, Goodwill plans to carve out areas in eight of its locations to display fashion-forward items siphoned from each store’s inventory.

Consistent with its elevated positioning, Curated by Goodwill’s prices are slightly higher than the average Goodwill item. A shirt might cost more than $10, rather than less than $5.

Despite the rocky state of retail generally, investor and consumer dollars have been flowing toward digital-first resale sites like the RealReal, Poshmark, and Depop. At the same time, longstanding brick-and-mortar stores have seen a wider variety of people buying secondhand clothing, many of them young people motivated by environmentalism and a desire to stand out from the crowd.

Goodwill, which runs career programs for people with disabilities and potential barriers to employment, hasn’t managed to capitalize on that growth in the same way.

Its shoppers tend to be women age 45 and up, says Lennox Thomas, who joined Goodwill NYNJ in late 2017 as executive vice president of retail. He isn’t shy about the organization’s competitive shortcomings. With the new store format, he’s very clearly hoping to make socially and environmentally conscious young people see the 103-year-old nonprofit as a “relevant” place to shop.

Curated by Goodwill was four young people’s idea in the first place. It was the winning entry in a Goodwill-sponsored contest for Fashion Institute of Technology students, who were tasked with coming up with an “innovative project” for the thrift chain. The students got $10,000 as prize money, and Goodwill took home their concept.

“They imagined a store that was catering to a different clientele, to their generation,” says Thomas.

To further distinguish Curated by Goodwill from the nonprofit’s main retail operations, sales associates at the boutique will be asked to dress in vintage, rather than Goodwill’s standard blue shirts.

The launch of Curated by Goodwill speaks to Thomas’s broader plans to revamp Goodwill’s retail image. Starting in mid-July, the nonprofit is refurbishing its stores in downtown Brooklyn and Paramus, New Jersey, updating their lighting, fixtures, and flooring to create a more “welcoming” feel — not just for shoppers, but for store employees. Thomas sees those renovations as experiments, which, possibly, could lay the groundwork for similar projects in the future.