Already worn, already loved

It’s 6pm on a balmy March Wednesday in Dublin. The heat wave is still bleeding a frantic workforce out of offices and into the sun.  But there are no half-days at Siopaella, a “recycling and restyling” clothes and accessories shop in Temple bar.

Owner Ella de Guzman, who gave her name to the shop, is chatting to customers, tapping on her MacBook, running up and down to the basement  and clearly still in the middle of a very busy retail day.

“We opened this new outlet last week,” says Ella when at last the frantic pace has slowed and the last customer has left the shop, taking with her an unsold coat. “I was always on the lookout for a second location for all the high end brands.”

She says that when she first opened Siopaella two years ago, the concept of consignment was new to Ireland. “Consignment is where you bring clothes to the shop and I hold them for up to 60 days. When they sell, you get 50% of the final sales price.”  Other options involve swapping, or the shop buying the item on the spot.

“I believe we are the only shop in Ireland to do consignment and that’s the option most people choose,” she explains in rapid-fire sentences followed by pauses.  “To be honest something that’s going to sell will sell in the first two weeks. I rarely have too many returns.”

She says there are a lot of amazing vintage shops in Dublin that are doing well. Her unique selling point is the consignment of high end brands.

“People say I’m vintage but I’m technically not. I do get vintage pieces, Armani, Valentino, Escada but from the 90s,” she muses. “It’s hard to get items from Brown Thomas on sale; for example, Chanel pieces you’ve always loved but can’t afford, you can get similar stuff here.”

She notes there was a definite increase of people who bought in excess during Celtic Tiger years and are bringing clothes to the shop. Ella’s buying instincts were honed over 15 years in her native Vancouver, where consignment is very popular.

When she came to Ireland she saw a gap in the market, took a “start your own business course” and left the world of commercial real estate. A risky move during a recession, but it seems to have paid off.

Not only has Siopaella expanded in Dublin, it is also securing locations in Cork and Galway. Ella’s boyfriend recently left a secure job in finance to dedicate himself to the business. “It’s been sustainable so far. And our dogs can come to work with us! My dream has always been to take my dogs to work.”

Why is Siopaella, with approximately 450 customers, bucking the well documented trend of diminishing consumer spending which started in 2008? The Irish Marketing Institute’s Market Monitor showed a continuous decline of retail sales, including footwear and textiles, in 2011. It predicts a gloomy 2012 for retail.

While the Dublin Chamber of Commerce couldn’t provide statistics on the rise of second-hand, Ella credits customer service for her success. She also says that customers are surprised at how cheap it is to shop with her.

A pre-launch survey revealed that Irish people were keener to sell clothes than buy second-hand, whereas French, English or German respondents have been buying second-hand and vintage for decades.

“First I survived on the tourist trade but now my support is local,” remarked Ella. Is that due to a change in perception, the revival of a long-lost tradition for buying clothes second-hand, the birth of a new recession-led creativity or just a lack of funds to sustain shopping sprees previously seen during the Celtic Tiger?

Deirdre Macken, or Lucy as she is sometimes referred to by the customers who visit Lucy’s Lounge, runs an established vintage, thrift, fancy dress and restyle shop in the basement of a pink building on Fownes Street.

“Lucy’s Lounge has been in business for 25 years and I’ve been selling vintage for 30 years,” she explains. Despite a current trend in vintage, she says vintage shops have always existed in Dublin. She credits a current increased interest in burlesque and past eras more than the recession for the continued success second-hand clothes shops.

“There are loads of second-hand shops around here but they’re all very different.”  Indeed, a cursory search on Yelp brings up 23 vintage and second-hand shops to choose from in Dublin. Lucy suspects that people who are really interested in clothes or are creative would have no problem with second-hand.

“People can always go to Penneys. Penney’s is cheaper than vintage shops,” she says, though she feels her shop is one of the cheapest around. “We specialise in remaking clothes, turning them into something else through a creative process.” She thinks the clothes trading concept is a great idea but prefers to focus on the recycling side of things.

SWOPSHOP on Crow Street in Temple bar was opened in 2009 by Adèle Geoghegan, in response to the recession. She wanted to give women with closets full of Celtic Tiger follies a chance to use their clothes as currency.

“SWOPSHOP allows the discerning customer to trade something they won’t wear for something they will,” she explains, saying her shop is aimed at women who love the actual experience of shopping, who overhaul their wardrobes frequently, want quality clothing that is different to the mainstream and want good value for money.

She thinks an initial Irish reluctance to buy second-hand is changing as ‘vintage’ becomes a buzzword. “There is also a definite leaning towards individuality and customisation of outfits, as opposed to blindly following catwalk and highstreet offerings.”

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About monicaheck
Monica Heck is a bilingual freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.

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