A new boutique in Bristol allows customers to buy, sell and trade second-hand clothes from some of the biggest names in fashion.
ClothingXchange has opened in Broadmead and the two floors are packed with good quality clothing, shoes and accessories from brands and designers such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Canada Goose, Ralph Lauren and Alexander McQueen.
The store is the brainchild of Texas-born businessman Jeff Holland, who launched ClothingXchange as a new concept in sustainable fashion.
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It’s kind of a departure for the 46-year-old, who has had a distinguished career in finance at the City of London for more than 20 years.
But now Jeff has swapped hedge funds and pension management for fashion retail and if the Bristol store is successful it could even become a national chain.
Besides the number of famous high-end brands, the first thing you notice about the clothes for sale on ClothingXchange is the quality of the items and the store itself.
With its antique furniture and well-organized rails of coats, jackets, shirts, dresses and pants in coordinating colors, it looks like any other high-quality clothing store.
But everything is secondhand and the prices are a fraction of what they would cost if you were shopping in a fancy department store.
The Broadmead store was once an Ann Summers branch and Jeff says they had to do a fair amount of work on the site to make it the tasteful store it is now.
“There was a lot of ‘hot pink’ here when we took the site, so we had to take it all out,” laughs the owner, who divides his time between his homes in West London and the Cotswolds.
The store’s front door has ornate Christmas decor and the windows also have a festive vibe with models wearing Canada Goose coats and others sporting Ralph Lauren scarves and Louis Vuitton bags.
Jeff, a former London Business School student, made a fortune selling the investment company he owned with a friend before his 40th birthday.
Since then he has invested his time and energy in charitable organizations, most notably as the interim chairman of the mental health charity Humen and the International Refugee Trust.
“Yes, opening a clothing store is a bit of a change,” says Jeff.
“I had a career in finance that I enjoyed, but when we sold the company I went into semi-retirement at age 39.
“I traveled for two or three years and had some wonderful trips around the world. I had always worked and had never had a sabbatical so I was making up for it!
“But then I started working more with charities – after working in the city it’s nice to work with charities and help people. “
There is also a strong angle of sustainability at ClothingXchange, which only buys and sells current and trendy clothing and accessories in excellent condition.
The stores website lists all the reasons why buying second-hand clothes can help reduce environmental pollution and is quite a shocking read.
Statistics such as the treatment and dyeing of textiles contributing 20% of industrial water pollution, or that 70 million barrels of oil and trees are used each year to produce our clothes, will lead many consumers to question their buying habits.
Jeff says, “I wanted to start a new business that I enjoy, but also one that aligns with my personal values and does something positive, otherwise what’s the point?
“I had observed the model of buying used clothing in the United States, where there are two or three chains with 50 or more stores.
“There was no mainstream equivalent on Main Street in the UK, just shops selling vintage clothing.”
“Most represent a third of the original price”
The shop sells clothing for men, women and children, with designer labels downstairs and good quality unbranded urban items on the first floor.
During the first few days of trading, business was strong and sales increased every day, with many students particularly interested.
Jeff says, “We didn’t want to focus too much on designers, we just wanted interesting items for all tastes and budgets. Most items are between 25 and 35 percent of the original price.
“We have a lot of university students, especially Chinese students who like certain labels. I think Bristol has a very personal sense of style and people love unique pieces.
“People can sell their clothes for cash and that extends the life of the clothes when we resell them. People can also bring clothes and exchange them for a voucher for the store.
“We welcome many people who are interested in a particular label, but also aware of the costs. Our Canada Goose and North Face coats are like new and are a fraction of the price you would pay in a high end store.
“Buying second-hand clothes extends the life of the item and keeps it in circulation and that’s the whole point. It’s all about quality and good quality items tend to last longer.
And even Jeff himself spotted a few items that he liked since the store opened.
“I haven’t bought new clothes in five years which was partly a conscious decision but I’m not an eco-warrior, I just prefer good quality things that last.
“Earlier in my career in London, I bought my clothes in Bond Street and Savile Row and had suits made by a tailor.
“But even then, when they started to not suit me, I would be frustrated that there was no other way to sell them than online.
“I thought it was kind of a validation of who I was that I could walk into a store on Bond Street and buy a piece of clothing for that kind of money.”
“You are a mug if you pay full price”
He added, “Now my way of thinking has completely changed and I just think it’s silly. You’re a mug if you go to these stores and pay top dollar for something even if you can afford it. There are now alternatives to buy these things for a fraction of the price.
“Some of the best designer houses incinerate their clothes because they don’t have a sale because they think the discounts demean the brand. It’s extraordinary.”
So, does Jeff see his first store in Bristol as a role model for others in the future? He says it’s the start but he doesn’t deny it.
“Let’s see how it goes. If people adopt it, I think it would work in other cities.
“I also want to work with sustainability-focused designers and people who offer high-end clothing, as well as host events in the Broadmead store.”
Jeff thinks the stigma around buying used clothes is starting to go away and he wants ClothingXchange to make designer clothes more accessible to people.
“We’ve had people longing for a nice Mulberry handbag, but it has never been around. We have now put this article within their reach by selling it for less than elsewhere.
“We have tried to create a pleasant atmosphere and have a high level of customer service to combat this stigma of buying second-hand clothes.
“We want people to have as good an experience as they would in any good quality clothing store, and we try to eliminate all the reasons that people would object to buying clothing from. ‘opportunity.”
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