Shopping The Midwest for Designer Consignment and Vintage Fashion (part 1/2)

Recently, I read an article about how fashion resale is poised to be bigger than fast fashion within the next 10 years and I’m kind of obsessed with the idea. I admit that Zara, Uniqlo and & Other Stories are permanently bookmarked in my every browser, and I’ve never met a Target capsule collection I didn’t love (hi, Hunter!). But this off-the-rack hang-up doesn’t come without guilt when I think of the environmental and social consequences of fast fashion. 

 Trish Lonergan's aunt, Adele, a model whose designer clothing was the original inspiration for Esther's.

Trish Lonergan's aunt, Adele, a model whose designer clothing was the original inspiration for Esther's.

“The style is fun, but the quality isn’t there,” says Trish Lonergan, owner of Esther’s, an Omaha consignment store. “The clothes don’t have a second life.”

That means they often ultimately contribute to the 15.1 million tons of textile waste — 85 percent of which ends up in landfills —that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans produce each year. (The breakdown of this is a nightmare.) 

“There’s too much clothing in the world,” Trish says simply. Her store is part of the solution, but that’s not how it started. The legendary Esther, Trish’s mother, founded the business in the early 1970s when her sister Adele was modeling in New York. Adele would send her gently-worn designer clothes to Trish and her sister, but they were too high-fashion for a couple of teenagers to wear around Omaha, so Esther began rehoming the clothes with friends.

Today, the shop has a loyal following that sometimes spans generations and is chockablock with high quality fashion, including designer pieces that would otherwise be hard to come by in the Heartland. “About 20 percent of our clothing comes from out of town,” Trish says. “It’s always exciting when someone mails us something because if you’re going to take the time to send a box, it’s probably going to be good.”

My friend Alice Blake, a former accessories director at InStyle who now lives in Omaha, ships her clothes to Fashion Avenue, which is owned by Kim Koshiol, another magazine vet known for her great eye. “I started sending Kim things when I was still living in New York because that’s where a lot of the editors were sending their consignment,” Alice told me. “She gets high, high, high end stuff — some of it still has the tags on it. But she also has mid-tier inventory.”

Like Esther’s, Fashion Avenue has been an insider go-to for decades (since 1992), but the resale landscape is full of newer arrivals as well.

“The Midwest is really starting to define itself as an epicenter of great resale and vintage with all these up-and-comers,” Amy Chittenden told me. Chittenden has a background in corporate retail management at labels such as Banana Republic, Liberty and Esprit that served as a master class in fashion quality and craftsmanship. She now sells vintage pieces on her website  and Etsy shop Hoxton and Quince. “It’s one of our regional advantages that we can find and buy great pieces so cheaply and then re-sell at a price that’s still pretty cheap.”

 Comparison shopping on Hoxton and Quince's Instagram page.

Comparison shopping on Hoxton and Quince's Instagram page.

The relatively low cost of doing business in the Midwest also makes it easier for retailers to take the plunge from selling online to opening a bricks and mortar store. Nicole Lorenson, is a Des Moines-based photographer who has always loved shooting her subjects in great vintage pieces. After a few years of collecting and selling on Etsy, she opened Preservation in Des Moines’ trendy East Village neighborhood. “Des Moines is a growing city, but I couldn’t find the store that I wanted. So I wrote a business plan, got a loan, and opened it myself,” she says.

The store that she wanted — and the ones she admires — are for those who appreciate the uniqueness and quality of vintage, but don’t want to dress like they’re walk-ons to the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “People still have the misconception that dressing in vintage is like wearing a costume, but now they’re starting to figure out that you can wear it in a really modern way.”

Jamie Bell, whom Alice Blake described to me as a master thrifter, agrees. “It’s more about the hunt and the quality of the clothes,” she told me. “You can wear the craziest vintage skirt with a classic white shirt, and it will forever and always look great. You can tell the retailers who get that. You’re not seeing ‘60s shift dresses with go-go boots on their Instagram.”

While all of the women I spoke with love the treasure hunt of shopping locally, none of them are too purist to shop online (no surprise given the fact that many have online stores themselves, in addition to the profusion of online consignment places like The Real Real and Poshmark.). “There’s something nice about just shop-surfing while staying at home, and sending a present to myself later that I found on one of my favorite online shops,” says Andrea Trew, whose Etsy shop MODafind specializes in vintage housewares and jewelry made from antique clocks, coins and other found objects. “Still, it’s always better when I have a great piece and I can tell a story of where and how I found it.”

After all, isn’t being able to tell the story what having a second life is all about?

(I asked some of my chicest friends — and their chicest friends — to share their favorite vintage and resale spots in the region. Click here to find out what they said.)

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