Have you been to Chapel Hill’s upscale resale fashion chain yet? If not, it’s time to check out Clothes Mentor at 241 South Elliott Road in Chapel Hill.
The Grand Opening kicked off earlier this year, in January. And word has it that a line formed in 10 degree weather for the launch. Ladies must have had their eyes on prized possessions after months of being “virtually” open. Clothes Mentor actually started buying items back in the fall to fill the store prior to the Grand Opening.
Here’s how it works. You bring in current styles of your “gently-used” and clean clothes, shoes, purses, accessories and jewelry. They pay you immediately for items they accept, based on brand name, condition, style and current demand. You never need an appointment, and they buy every day up to one hour before closing. If an item is more than a few years old, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make the cut. Even if your wardrobe wares aren’t accepted, expect a coupon toward a future purchase. Nice touch!
Clothes Mentor offers style and quality, as noted by their strict acceptance policy. Most items originate from better specialty or department stores, with many recognizable brands and designer names. Clothing, shoes and accessories are beautifully displayed in a sophisticated retail environment with bright lights and private fitting rooms. The store projects a sophisticated image and warm hospitality, which I can certainly attest to in my experience there as a shopper and seller.
Meet owners and married couple Chris Tovell and Kim Vassiliadis. Both have strong librarian backgrounds and have lived in Carrboro for many years. Kim still has a day job as a librarian at UNC. Chris was a librarian at Stanback Middle School in Hillsborough for 13 years, but now runs the Clothes Mentor store full time. Kim helps out on evenings and weekends.
One question I had was where Clothes Mentor first launched and who gave birth to the company’s concept. Richard Brill, who provides public relations for Clothes Mentor, filled me in on the answer and details. “The Clothes Mentor idea came from a Columbus, Ohio couple named Lynn and Dennis Blum,” says Brill. “They opened one local store and then another that bought and sold high-quality, name-brand resale fashions. They were so successful, they attracted the attention of a national franchise company in Minneapolis. This company bought national franchise rights to Clothes Mentor, refined the concept, formalized all store and merchandise details, created strong support systems for franchise owners and reached out nationwide. In a few short years, they attracted many franchise owners and now have 100 stores open with plans for several hundred more.”
Chris and Kim visited the Clothes Mentor store in Charlotte, loved it and decided to bring one to the Triangle. While it is a franchise, they loved the concept of keeping it local, buying local and re-selling local.
New business owner Chris took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions and to share his and Kim’s Clothes Mentor story:
Is there a story behind the creation of the name Clothes Mentor? I can tell you our interpretation of it: We want our staff to emphasize the “mentor” in Clothes Mentor, i.e. help women look their best. Maybe they are changing jobs, or have their first “grown up” job, or perhaps they changed size and don’t know what looks good on them anymore. We want to help women feel stylish and confident while not breaking the bank.
How did two librarians decide to enter the fashion resale business? Do either of you have a hidden passion for fashion? Kim comes from a family of small business owners, so she was considered something of a black sheep for going into academia. Then two summers ago, we split a beach rental with Kim’s brother and his family. They own a children’s resale store and suggested we look into Clothes Mentor. Our daughter was two that summer and Kim was still fuming about how much she had to spend on transitional wardrobes during maternity and afterwards as she got back to her pre-baby weight. The idea of owning a store that caters to women and understands that women need to change their wardrobe as they change sizes, careers, etc., without breaking the bank just seemed like a great concept and something the women of Chapel Hill would support.
Are men’s clothes sold, or is that on the horizon? No. I wear my clothes until Kim tells me I need to get new ones. I think I’m pretty typical in that regard–men wear their clothes into the ground.
Since you require customers to re-sell items no older than a few years, do you have a special tag scanner device that can indicate when an item was created or purchased? The store’s point-of-sale system has a database of labels for a large number of women’s brands. As the labels change, the database gets updated.
What sets Clothes Mentor apart from other consignment or resale shops, other than your upfront pay out policy? We know that women are busy, and we try to take the hassle out of selling items. We buy all seasons all year, and you never need an appointment to bring items in. We also have a strong commitment to customer service. Whether it’s helping someone put together an outfit for an event or making sure that a mother’s toddler knows about the toys we have in the bench by our fitting rooms, we strive to make a visit to Clothes Mentor a pleasure.
Here’s a fun side note for readers (and because I love Austin): compare your experience living in Austin during graduate school to that of Chapel Hill. Both cities must hold a special place for both of you for a variety of reasons. We met in Austin, so it is definitely a special place for us. Chapel Hill/Carrboro has a lot of the Austin vibe on a smaller scale. We love the music, food, culture, and outdoor fun that both towns provide. Chapel Hill is perfect for us because it’s halfway between Kim’s family in Florida and my family in New York.
What have been your favorite parts of launching and running Clothes Mentor so far? Getting to meet so many great people in the community. The women who visit our store come from all walks of life and have interesting backgrounds. It’s also been nice to see so many mothers and daughters shopping in our store together. One woman mentioned to us that there are very few stores where she and her 20-something daughter can come in and shop together and both find things they like. We just think that’s been great.
“We’re a totally different form of shopping,” say Chris and Kim. “We fit the style, brand and value consciousness of Triangle women, who love fashion and adore 70% savings. Customers selling us good-condition merchandise receive immediate cash, not a consignment form. And we’re proud to blend recycling, sustainability and a sizable clothing resource in the area.”
Sounds like a win-win for everyone! Early response has been outstanding, with customers praising this great source of clothing at a substantial savings.
Chirs says, “We’re filling a niche in Chapel Hill. And we’re happy!”
And share your Clothes Mentor shopping and selling stories with other Chapelboro Insiders by commenting below!