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My Sister's Closet Co-Founder On Shifting Attitudes Toward Secondhand Fashion

LAUREN GILGER: J.C. Penney is looking to rebuild its brand with secondhand fashion. The company announced the closure of dozens of stores earlier this year. But now it's partnering with online resale platform ThredUP in an attempt to bring a new energy, and a new customer, to the chain. And J.C. Penney isn't alone. High end department store Neiman Marcus is getting into the second hand luxury accessory business with online retailer Fashionphile to try to capture a piece of the resale pie. But what these companies are just starting to explore today has been the backbone of at least one local name for nearly three decades. Ann Siner co-founded My Sister's Closet in 1991 and she now has 15 stores across Arizona and California selling women's and men's fashion plus furniture and art. I spoke with her more about what it could mean for these big box stores to be getting into her business and how much the second hand landscape has changed in the last three decades.

ANN SINER: It was a complete novelty, it was 1991 and it was almost, in some cases, like shameful like you know don't let people know that I'm consigning with you or that I bought something used from you.

GILGER: So the landscape has definitely shifted from then and is shifting now. What do you think has changed? Like do you think it's an awareness, sort of, the value in this or like is it a sustainability issue?

SINER: I think it's everything combined. I think first of all human nature is that we love to save money and if we can save money on really quality items, who's not going to be happy with it? And I think probably the Millennials have helped a little bit to admit that, "You know what, I bought my entire outfit from a resale store and only paid $25 instead of $250."

GILGER: And why do you think it is that that just now, sort of, these big chains are starting to figure this out and say, you know, maybe we should get into the secondhand fashion business?

SINER: My personal opinion is that the GFC, the global financial crisis into 2008 to 2012, really hurt him. And at that point you know that savvy one should have said, "Hey, look at what the resale business is doing." But it took him a few years because nobody wants to say used things are better than new things. But I think it's come to that. I think the other thing that happened is, when we entered the market, one of the reasons I think for our success is we thought other retail stores were what we call the three Ds — dark, dirty, dingy. You know you had to siphon through you know all kinds of things, wire hangers, to find something nice. And our goal was to make our store look like a brand new store. You walk in, everything's really clean, current, cute and it's dirt cheap.

GILGER: So it's not just about the cost, though. You see a lot on social media now, and I know I hear a lot about this from friends and influencers for lack of a better phrase, that there's a lot more awareness I think that the fashion industry is, you know, something that takes a lot of resources and then sometimes uses bad labor practices. There's sort of a sustainability element here in terms of buying new things versus using something old, is that a message you've always sent?

SINER: This is a message we've always sent. It's recycle reuse whenever you can. It's not just, you know, about the bad labor practices, but what goes into the landfill is just astounding. And it's not like it ever composts or goes away. It's leaching poisons into the environment constantly with the textiles.

GILGER: And what could this mean for your business as you watch these major companies get on the bandwagon?

SINER: What I think happens for business, and we're 28 years old now, and we're still having almost double digit growth this year, our growth is phenomenal. It's just that it's so much more accepted, and I think Marie Kondo in her quest for cleaning things out was very helpful to our business and to the industry as a whole. And I think just acceptability of it. And I think the retailers are catching on that this is the wave of the future and they better hop on the bandwagon.

GILGER: Will you have to sort of adjust to account for some of these changes and maybe more awareness on one hand of second hand and even a greater acceptability for it, but also is this going to be competitive for you?

SINER: It is going to be competitive and we've always said we're never going to rest on our laurels that, you know, we would want to always have the cleanest most beautiful stores, so it will make us raise the bar and live to a higher standard.

GILGER: How has your store had to change over the years in your approach, like as we've watched brick and mortar stores have more trouble and things move online, is that something that you've taken into account in the secondhand world?

SINER: Yes, it is, our online presence is not a true online shopping where you put it in your cart, but rather, you know, the products are listed with detailed photographs but you still have to call the store, because in our mind, they're used, and I can tell you it's a fabulous Gucci bag but it might have a slight pin mark on the inside. So we want you to understand you're getting something used. What's interesting though is that we've stayed brick and mortar for 28 years and our growth is so strong and I think people still like to come in touch it try it on, you know, look at the item before they buy it.

GILGER: All right. That's Ann Siner, founder of My Sister's Closet. Thank you for coming on. We appreciate the time.

SINER: Thank you. Have a good day!

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Katie Campbell is a senior producer for The Show.She is a native Floridian and graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism before trading the humidity for a dry heat.Katie worked for WUFT News, the NPR and PBS affiliate housed at the college, where she reported on breaking news and elections. That experience led her to Arizona in 2015 to report for the News21 investigation “America’s Weed Rush.” She traveled from the New England region to Hawaii to reveal what worked — and what didn’t — in states’ medical marijuana programs, and hosted News21’s first podcast, “Cultivating Conversation.”She later covered courts and politics in Pinal County, exposing the misuse of asset forfeiture funds by elected officials, then kept watch over the state House of Representatives for the Arizona Capitol Times, covering everything from a statewide teacher walkout to the departure of two state representatives amid scandal.