UpShift Gear offers eco-friendly and econ-friendly approaches to fashion
Trade it in
Candice Wagener on Thursday 03/13/2014
Should being committed to environmental friendliness mean you can't keep up with the latest fashion trends?
"The fashion industry is far behind in thinking about the environment and being eco-friendly, and that's super important to me," says Lindsay Leno, owner of UpShift, a new clothing exchange boutique on the east side. Concerns range from the industry's use of toxic chemicals to its labor practices.
Leno earned her degree in apparel and design from UW-Stout, then went on to work as a "trend developer" for Maurice's for seven years. While she loved what she was doing, she knew she wanted to make a change in the fashion industry.
"I shop all secondhand," says Leno. "It was always this dirty little secret."
Leno says she would travel to Los Angeles and New York in her trendy, albeit secondhand, outfits and meet with designers who asked her where she bought her duds, getting some sideways looks when she told them.
When her husband's job brought the couple to Madison, she started working on her business plan. She wanted to create a secondhand-store experience where patrons could donate gently used clothing they no longer needed, then turn around and fill their empty bags with clothing that was new to them -- all with the underlying goal of keeping material out of landfills.
Since Leno couldn't find a bank willing to stand behind her, she turned to the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative for advice. Upon their recommendation, Leno started her operation small by opening a clothing exchange out of her home's basement. Two years in, she affirms her business plan is working just fine.
"I keep a really tight rein on our inventory," says Leno. She donates overstock items regularly to Goodwill, Agrace Thrift Store and area school districts.
Not just the clothes are used -- everything from the fixtures to the mannequins and hangers lived a former life somewhere else.
When I visited, Leno was in the process of stocking spring inventory. The quaint space was filled with denim, vibrant springtime dresses and bins of stylish shoes. There's something for every fashionista out there.
Here's how it works: Patrons pay a $20 fee each time they shop. In addition, shoppers bring in a container of gently used clothing and/or accessories (preferably women's, but Upshift will accept anything), and then refill the empty bag with items from the store.
Leno recommends first-timers attend one of UpShift's many events, when the exchange fee is typically only $10. The atmosphere is more festive; wine is served. On the third Sunday of every month, UpShift brings in a guest stylist who offers complimentary fashion advice.
Eventually, Leno aims to expand to have stores specific to plus sizes, maternity, children's and men's clothes.
Big wardrobe, zero environmental impact.
It’s this simple ratio Lindsay Leno
has brought to Madison shoppers with
her unique boutique, Upshift Gear.
How does it work? Imagine a clothing
swap you host with friends—except this
is with the entire city. Customers looking
to clean out their closet or freshen their
wardrobe bring in used clothes, then pay
$20 to shop for an equal exchange, taking
away as much as they bring in. Any
clothes not put into the boutique get
donated to various local charities.
A former stylist, Leno says the shop was
a way to merge her love of fashion with an
tures, hangers and mannequins are from
second-hand sources. While it started
small, the shop is now bustling, with
inventory that changes daily and events
that often include wine—showing that
Madison is indeed ready to upshift its
wardrobe. –Leslie Jernegan
UpShift offers a new way to thrift shop.
The instructions are clearly spelled out on a beautifully-designed sign that meets your eye when you walk into the petite Johnson Street shop, right across from Sophia’s Bakery & Cafe.
“Welcome to our loose interpretation of thrift,” the sign says before listing its three simple steps, which involve bringing any size bag of used clothes to give away and leaving with said bag filled with new-to-you clothing.
1. Bring used duds.
2. Pay $20 swap fee.
3. Take home new clothes.
Proprietor Lindsay Leno had a lot of doors slammed in her face when she first went bank to bank with her idea for a clothing exchange business. No one offered any financing help.
“They didn’t believe in the business model,” said the 35-year-old former fashion industry worker, adding that the 500-square-foot store at 836 E. Johnson St., “has really proven itself.”
Leno was raised just outside Duluth, Minn., where she was a clothing designer for seven years. She relocated to Madison six years ago for her husband’s job.
When she first moved here she worked in retail at Forever 21, but was passionate about starting her own business.
She and her husband, Dustin Lundt, 34, own an apartment complex on the Near East Side, where they started UpShift in the basement of the building. Leno ran it there for two years on a very limited basis, by appointment only. “Just to test the market.”
Soon she expanded to being open one night a week: Thursdays for four hours. Friends would show up, then friends of friends.
“Pretty soon people I didn’t recognize started showing up,” Leno said. “That was really where it proved that the business model worked. Because word was spreading.”
As UpShift developed a following, Leno and Lundt, who owns a 49 percent share of the business, and does food ordering and menu planning for the Madison school district, realized they needed to expand to a new space.
The Johnson Street store, which debuted Oct. 17, is now open seven nights a week. It’s not exactly profitable yet, but Leno said she’s paying the bills.
“If we continue trending the way that we’re trending, we should become profitable,” said Leno, who is holding on to her flexible job as a substitute teacher in the Madison School district — for now.
Business on Johnson Street started out strong, which confirmed that the move to a larger space was wise. But it leveled off around the holidays, which Leno anticipated.
“This retail model is very different from anything that is out there, so we didn’t know what to expect from the holidays,” Leno said.
Essentially, because women are shopping for themselves at her boutique, she knew business would be slow around the holidays, when women are typically shopping for others. But now it’s picking back up.
“It’s hilarious. It’s totally based on the weather,” Leno said. “It’s busy on days when it’s nice out. But whenever we get those cold snaps, it’s completely dead. It’s frustrating, but it’s encouraging, too, because I know once the weather warms up in the spring, that business is going to be booming.”
When she first wrote the business model, she was anticipating her clientele would be mostly college women. “It’s going to be girls who are broke, but want to go out and look good,” she said. “Maybe they are transitioning into having their first career.”
But that has not been the case at all. Word spread among 20-somethings and 30-somethings, women who are just having their first baby or who are new moms, because their bodies are changing a lot, Leno said.
While most of her customers are in the 25 to 35 age range, Leno does see older women, too, up to age 55, “(They) come in and just love it, because they are that typical Madison person, who believes in sustainability.”
Ashley Biser, 27, has been patronizing UpShift since its basement days. There are “a million things” she likes about shopping there, she said.
“I’m kind of a hippie, so I love the sustainability factor,” she said.
And the price is unbeatable, added Biser, who works in a hair salon. “You can get a whole new closet for $20. That’s pretty hard to beat. If you go to a secondhand store or any kind of thrift store, you are still paying per item. Whereas with this, it’s just a flat exchange rate. You can’t beat that.”
Likewise, Ashley Thompson has been a customer for about two and half years, dating back to the basement. She shops at UpShift once, sometimes twice, a month.
“I’m amazed at the inventory she gets in, especially now that she’s in her Downtown location,” Thompson said. “She’s really hitting a market that she wasn’t before, being closer to campus and being on one of the busiest streets for college kids, and people in Madison in general.”
The inventory is always turning over, she said. “You never know what you’re going to find when you walk through the doors.”
Thompson, 27, co- manager of Eddie Bauer at West Towne Mall, said she’s scored a vintage Marc Jacobs jacket and an Aldo purse at UpShift, along with “fun little things that you can’t find anywhere else. There’s always something there.”
The idea for UpShift came to Leno during her designer days. She and her co-workers at Maurice’s Inc., used to hold clothing exchange parties at her house because they always had so many clothes.
Leno holds private parties at UpShift, too. She used to do two parties a month, but now that word has spread, it’s more like two a week.
“The store always has new inventory, every single day because of the system,” she said.
“So even if someone who shopped last night wanted to come in today, they are going to see all new product.”
Leno is hoping to bring in enough revenue so she can open a second location. “There has been a huge response for plus size. So that is going to be our next venture.”
A half page article was featured in the March 2012 issue and was available throughout Madison at local coffee shops and retail stores.
For: UpShift, LLC 836 E. Johnson St., Madison, WI 53704 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lindsay Leno, (608) 628-9525
Clothing Exchange Boutique Opens Stand-Alone Store After Years Of Operating Underground
MADISON, December 21, 2013 – UpShift, a self-sustained clothing exchange boutique for women, opened its doors at a new location after more than 2 years operating in an unadvertised, underground location. UpShift, which is neither categorized as consignment nor thrift, has avoided either title by utilizing a totally unique garment exchange process and gained a cult following in the process. After being established, UpShift was turned down for financing by multiple banks due to hesitations of sustainability as a business model. In response the boutique opened its doors in the lower level of an Eastside apartment complex in the summer of 2011 where customers experienced the excitement of upgrading their wardrobe by bringing in bags of clothes, paying the $20 cover charge, and filling their empty bags to bring home. The concept originated from the owners passion for recycling and living a green lifestyle paired with the fast paced immediacy of fashion. The boutique had to literally go underground to fulfill its mission of supporting the eco-conscious movement in Madison by offering local women an alternative shopping experience. The sustainable business model has since proven itself thanks to the dedicated customer base that ensures inventory is always at peak level and on the cutting edge of fashion by exchanging trendy garments in the new location.
“Sustainability is rarely a concept that retail businesses can achieve and maintain; fortunately we were able to create a business with this by utilizing refurbished fixtures, building materials, hangers, and even mannequins. To take it a step further we are able to maintain a sustainable business model because the clothing exchange concept ensures that inventory is always at par level and based upon an immediate exchange process,” says Lindsay Leno, Owner of UpShift. After being turned down by several finance institutions Lindsay turned to a representative from Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative institutions, a statewide economic development corporation, where she was advised to start with a small clothing exchange business model. Lindsay assessed her options and realized the answer was closer than she originally realized. The large basement of her Eastside complex had ample space, so Lindsay quickly set to work revamping the basement using recycled materials in time to open for the 2011 summer season. “Women started showing up and spreading the word, which adds to the diversity of the inventory. We continue to get new customers each week in addition to our loyal customers that believe in our sustainable philosophy.” The boutique garnered a cult following from local women, quickly grew, and lead to the need for a larger space now located at 836 East Johnson Street.
Women are encouraged to bring one to three bags of gently worn items, which get dropped off at a garment counter once inside the boutique. There is a $20 cover charge to pay for all costs of the clothing exchange. It’s an even exchange system, meaning customers take home as much as they donate. The shopping space is a fully merchandised boutique with hundreds of fashionable items to choose from.
UpShift Clothing Exchange Boutique is open seven days a week and offers monthly promos and special events. Clothing is not individually priced and is only accessible for an even exchange. Upshift is located at 836 East Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53703. Detailed information can be found at www.up-shift.webs.com or on Facebook under UpShift Gear of Madison. For more information call (608) 628-9525.