A change of clothes

If you’re looking to update your look, revamp your closet and save some cash, you might want to hit up one of the locally-owned clothing exchanges. Here’s a quick guide to how they work.

Shelly Marcum owns Rad Betty’s, one of Reno’s first—and quirkeist—clothing exchanges.

Shelly Marcum owns Rad Betty’s, one of Reno’s first—and quirkeist—clothing exchanges.

Photo By Lauren Randolph

Fall is here, and you may be thinking you could use some new clothing for the season. Maybe you need a warm sweater or some stylish jeans. With the economic slump, perhaps you’re tight for cash and don’t have money to spend on new clothes. Maybe you’re looking for something a little funky and different than what you’ll find on the racks at every department store. You might have a closet full of clothes you don’t wear anymore or that don’t fit you but are too nice to just give away. Or, maybe you are looking for a greener way to shop. Whatever the case, a clothing exchange might be the answer.

We’re not talking about the kind of clothing exchange where you get together with your friends after cleaning out your closets and swap your old duds. We’re talking about the kind of clothing exchange where you can trade your clothes for something new to you or even some cold, hard cash.

Out of the closet
While clothing exchanges all run a little differently, they operate on the same premise: Your used apparel becomes their merchandise. Some readers might think that sounds a lot like a thrift store. In a way, it is—except these business owners can be picky about what they accept. Plus, they do the sorting and digging through piles of mostly worthless clothes so you don’t have to. You won’t find holes or stains, just the good stuff.

Clothing exchanges aren’t new to Reno. Rad Betty’s was one of the first on the scene when it opened in 2002. It started with two best friends and their overloaded closets. Shelly Marcum has owned it since 2004. Rad Betty’s specializes in unique clothing—they don’t especially care about brand names or the year an article was made, but it has to have some sort of interesting style. Looking around the store, you’ll find plenty of that. There is lots of vintage clothing, from the ‘60s through the ‘80s, in bright patterns and colors.

“We have the awesome and the awesomely bad,” says Marcum. The store even has an in-house seamstress who can do repairs and alterations.

At Rad Betty’s, you can exchange your clothes for in-store credit. It’s like going back to the barter system.

“Trade is our mainstay,” says Marcum. The amount of credit you get is determined by how much she hopes she can sell the item for in her store. You get 25 percent of what the selling price will be which you can then use toward anything in the shop. She will pay small amounts of cash for high-quality vintage items.

Things work slightly differently at Junkee Clothing Exchange, which just opened at the end of May. Jessica Schneider, the owner, didn’t want to deal with negotiating and arguing with people on prices, so she devised a system to eliminate that. Here is how exchanging works at her store: They will pay $1, $2, or $3 for each item that they want and can sell. They separate the clothing into piles representing each dollar amount. If they put something into one of the piles and you think it’s worth more, then you can take it back.

“We don’t negotiate, and clothes don’t appreciate,” says Schneider. At the end of the sorting process, you have the option of taking cash or doubling the amount in store credit. Considering that most things in the store are under $20, you can make out pretty well if you opt for the credit.

Plato’s Closet owner Hillary Schieve gears her clothing exchange store to teens and twentysomethings.

Photo By Lauren Randolph

Junkee is full of an eclectic mix of apparel ranging from vintage to mainstream to classic. Anyone can find something here, but the main demographic is the college-age crowd. “I think you have to have a creative flair to dress yourself here,” observes Schneider. The clothes are grouped in general sections like long-sleeve, short-sleeve, jeans, dresses and skirts. They aren’t organized by styles, so you have to be willing to look. There is even a men’s section in a small area of the store.

Plato’s Closet is another clothing exchange in town. Owner Hillary Schieve opened her store in January of this year. This clothing exchange tends to be popular among teens and young people—mainly between the ages of 12 and 25. However, if you are looking for brand name jeans, this is the place to go. They are interested in newer trends and styles and don’t have a lot of vintage clothing. Plato’s Closet caters to the mall shopper or “the all-American teenager.”

“I wanted to appeal more to the masses because Reno is limited in clothing options for teenagers,” explains Schieve.

The process for exchanging clothes at Plato’s Closet is completely computerized. They enter your items into an inventory and sales-based system. The computer then spits out a quote. You can choose to get cash for your used clothing—they pay pretty decently, and there isn’t a high markup—or you can do an in-store credit and receive a further discount. If you prefer to leave the clothes that they don’t buy from you, they will donate them to a teen homeless shelter.

Off your back
The main thing to keep in mind when exchanging is to bring in clean clothes—don’t try to trade anything with holes or stains, and no used underwear. It may seem obvious, but these women have seen it all—including the crusty underwear from the bottom of the hamper. If you show up with garbage bags of clothing to sort through or a pile of stinky clothes, you might be asked to “edit” your items, as Marcum politely requests.

Clothing exchanges are a tangible example of recycling and the payback for participating in it. If you are looking for a way to be a more conscious consumer, they offer a way to buy locally and be more “green.”

“The fashion magazines and the stores now have so much vintage-inspired stuff,” says Marcum, “but it’s also made the modern way. It’s made in a sweatshop quickly and cheaply, and it just doesn’t last.”

Buying used is also lighter on the wallet, which is timely given the direction of the economy.

“The most rewarding thing for me is when the parents who are buying clothes for their kids say, ‘You have saved me so much money.’ That is so cool,” says Schieve.

If you are looking for some different options and fun ideas, clothing exchanges can offer a creative, fresh way of approaching shopping. The best part is that you can earn money—or get yourself some ‘new’ duds—just by cleaning out your closet. So, take a look at your clothes, and make some change.