March 21, 2023



Trend entrepreneur needs Madison to cease purchasing and begin swapping | Enterprise

7 min read

On the 500-square-foot second-hand clothes store at 836 E. Johnson St., there’s one query that proprietor Lindsay Leno and her workers hear loads: “The place are the value tags?” 

When Leno opened Upshift Swap Store in 2013, the fundamental premise was that nothing could be on the market. As a substitute, buyers would deliver a bag of gently used garments to commerce in, pay a $20 “swap charge” after which choose new gadgets to fill the bag. 

Secondhand sneakers are displayed close to the doorway of Upshift.

For Leno, who teaches vogue merchandising at Madison School, swapping is a lifestyle. This mannequin, she believes, gives recent type with out all of the waste that comes with the “quick vogue” business. She is aware of that business properly, having spent seven years working for a Minnesota large field retailer earlier than shifting to Madison.

“I used to be going into work and … contributing to one thing that didn’t align with my private values,” stated Leno, a sustainability fanatic who claims she hasn’t used a dryer in 20 years. Swapping, she stated, not solely retains garments out of the landfill, nevertheless it reduces the shopper’s carbon footprint as a result of garments proceed to flow into regionally. 

Together with her upswept hair, colourful gown and cat eye glasses, Leno calls herself a “strolling commercial” for her swap store, modern proof that swapping doesn’t imply sacrificing type. 

“Each single factor I put on is from right here, and I pleasure myself in dressing good,” Leno stated. “I actually do imagine that if in case you have stuff sitting in your closet, it’s going to go to residence inside your group.”

Basement boutique to storefront success

When Leno got here to Madison in 2009, she began internet hosting weekly clothes exchanges in her front room on the close to east facet, inviting buddies to deliver what they had been able to half with and take residence new-to-them treasures. Earlier than lengthy, she’d turned her basement right into a curated “boutique” of swap-ready attire. 

She requested buddies in the event that they’d think about paying for the service, they usually agreed that $20 appeared honest. She began taking donations.

Nonetheless, Leno figured internet hosting swaps was only a pastime till strangers began displaying as much as swap too.

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Outfit pairing ideas are posted behind clothes racks at Upshift, a thrift store situated at 836 E. Johnson St. in Madison.

“I (figured) this positively might be a enterprise, as a result of persons are simply coming in off the streets and displaying up with buddies of buddies,” Leno stated.

As she and her husband had been biking residence from downtown one night, Leno noticed an East Johnson Road storefront that had lengthy stood empty. Earlier than, she’d felt nervous about opening a retail location, however the place simply felt proper. She met with the owner and negotiated a lease she might handle. If her enterprise might make it by means of the upcoming main highway development, he informed her, she’d be nice. She did.

In 2016, Upshift survived one other blow when an SUV drove into the store, shutting down enterprise for practically two months. Native artist Steph Hagens painted a mural throughout the shop’s non permanent wood wall, emblazoned with the phrases “Change is sweet.” Right this moment, it supplies a backdrop for the store’s becoming rooms.

Then got here the pandemic, forcing the store to adapt as soon as once more. Leno briefly revived the shop’s supply mannequin, which allowed clients to mail in a field of things to swap, pay a $49.99 charge to cowl transport and styling prices, and obtain a field of clothes hand-picked by a store stylist. That summer time, as a substitute of setting out bins of free garments throughout its twice-yearly stock purge, employees stuffed Ziploc luggage with a number of gadgets, sorted by measurement, to attenuate the COVID threat.

As soon as once more, the store made it by means of the tough patch, as Leno anticipated. “There by no means was a second … the place I assumed, ‘That is it. We’re gonna shut,’” Leno stated. “I simply refused to imagine that.”

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The plywood mural that was as soon as used to safe the home windows of Upshift after an SUV drove into the constructing now decorates the partitions of the becoming rooms. The mural was painted by native artist Steph Hagens.

A revolutionary mannequin?

Right this moment, the store is again to completely in-person operation. Open seven days every week, it’s busier than ever, Leno stated. The place earlier than the principle clientele was mothers on the lookout for garments to accommodate their altering our bodies throughout and after being pregnant, the store now sees numerous younger adults on the lookout for one-of-a-kind gadgets.

Leno has additionally added the choice to purchase as a substitute of swap. Those that don’t deliver garments to commerce should purchase most gadgets for $5 every, or fill a bag for $30. Some significantly fashionable gadgets are $10 every, whereas a $2 sidewalk rack showcases reductions. 

She thinks it’s an excellent time for a swapping enterprise, as many individuals emerged from their sweats-wearing pandemic isolation and located their closets missing. 

“With that two yr hole … vogue modified loads,” Leno stated. “All of our closets turned very stale … so we even have an enormous inflow of stock proper now.” 

Leno, who takes pleasure in retaining a well-curated store, stated she and her employees have been overhauling their choices, making shopping for journeys to different native thrift retailers and donating denims that don’t match the looser type that purchasers now need. The store principally shares sizes 4 to 12. 

What doesn’t promote on the retailer goes to Agrace Thrift Retailer or the native Goodwill. The store additionally hosts free purchasing classes the place residents of native midway homes can take residence the brand new outfits they want for his or her subsequent steps after getting out of jail or rehab. 

Staffing the store this summer time are a handful of interns: vogue college students from Madison School and excessive schoolers from La Follette. Interns earn credit score as a substitute of cash, however Leno stated most select to remain on as paid workers as soon as their internships finish. 

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Upshift intern Emily Bender hangs clothes on a rack on the Johnson Road clothes store. Bender is a vogue merchandising pupil at Madison School.

Although the store didn’t flip a revenue at first, Leno stated it now makes sufficient to pay its few workers, although Leno nonetheless doesn’t pay herself. As a substitute, she works two jobs, at Madison School and Lake View Elementary, and places earnings again into the enterprise to cowl renovation prices and the like. 

To her, it’s price it, as a result of the enterprise mannequin is so vital. “I actually imagine that this swap system, if it turned a mainstream approach of retail, would fully change the place consumerism goes,” Leno stated. “You might nonetheless have a closet filled with clothes, however with out hurting the atmosphere.” 

She’s received a storage unit full of sufficient stock to open two extra shops. She’d prefer to open a second location for maternity and youngsters’s clothes, and ultimately broaden into residence items, athletic gear and even unused cosmetics.

“The market is approach past once I first opened,” Leno stated. “I feel, in the long run, it’s gonna proceed to develop.”

For now, although, Leno’s simply proud that the gospel of swapping has received so many converts.

“There was a yr or two the place I simply had many, many nights of sitting right here going, ‘Folks don’t get it.’ (Now) individuals lastly get it. We’re fortunate.”

The 4 questions 

What are an important values driving your work?

I insist my employees strategy all confrontation and interplay by means of kindness, which I do know sounds tacky, however that’s how I dwell my life. Additionally, communication is large. I need individuals overly speaking with one another. After which, in fact, there’s the sustainable piece. Cut back, reuse and recycle. That’s how my husband and I dwell our lives, and if I’m not doing that in my work life, then what’s the purpose?

How are you creating the form of group that you simply wish to dwell in?

Folks stroll in they usually’re like, “Oh, what a fairly retailer.” That’s nice, however behind the scenes, I imagine in working with the group to make it a greater place. That’s why I’ve interns, as a result of I actually imagine in guiding them in the direction of their future. Additionally, I simply attempt to educate individuals on how one can dwell a life that’s extra sustainable.

What recommendation do you might have for different would-be entrepreneurs?

Leap in and do it. You may put together and put together, however until you simply resolve to get that key and open a constructing, or get that URL … The opposite factor that I at all times inform my college students is to learn the e book “The E Delusion.” (With out it,) I completely wouldn’t have been in a position to open a enterprise.

Are you hiring?

No. However that modifications. I at all times inform individuals to return again on the finish of the summer time or when the semesters change over, as a result of I’m based mostly on my college students. 

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