ModCloth Ecopreneur Turns Vintage Shopping into Successful Career
The state of the economy isn’t the only reason people today are wearing used clothing. Many people find the retro fashion appealing — and environmentally responsible. Blue Planet Green Living interviewed ecopreneur Susan Gregg Koger to learn about her uber-popular, online clothing store, which started with her passion for vintage clothes. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Seven years ago, Susan Gregg Koger began ModCloth.com by selling vintage clothing online from her Carnegie Mellon University dorm room. Later that day, she had her very first sale.
Now, ModCloth.com is an internationally recognized brand and the number one Google search result for indie clothing, retro clothing, and vintage outfits. It has expanded to include a mix of vintage-inspired wear.
The site has its roots in Koger’s teenage fascination with vintage shopping. She now mixes business with pleasure and still considers thrifting a hobby.
“I’m so lucky I get to shop for a living,” Koger says. “To de-stress on the weekends, I go to buy vintage clothing. It’s time consuming, but it’s fun and rewarding work.”
The site sells a wide variety of retro items, from dresses to shoes to bathing suits. But the highlight, for many shoppers, is that Koger features a single vintage item on the site each day. These items sell quickly — typically between 10 to 15 minutes after they are posted. The ModCloth staff, based out of Pennsylvania, use their knowledge of fashion history to identify the era of the vintage clothing.
“There are some tells like the designer, type of zipper, button, etc., that make it apparent which era the item is from,” explains Koger.
Always an advocate of wearing pre-owned clothing to be eco-friendly, Koger says, “Whenever you can re-use something, you should.”
They don’t make clothing like they used to, anyway,” Koger points out. “If clothing that is 40 years old still holds up, why not wear it?”
According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, the average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, which makes shopping for pre-worn clothes all the more beneficial for sustainable living.
Spending time as a teenage “thrifter” has made Koger vintage-shopping savvy. She agrees, however, that it can be difficult to find cute, stylish, pre-worn clothes. She offers several tips for beginning thrifters.
- Search through Craigslist for estate and garage sales
- Pull any items that look interesting
- Don’t be afraid to alter: taking a re-used item to a tailor will still cost less than buying it new
- Learn how to sew to alter items at home
- Rework vintage: turn a maxi skirt into a dress or use beautiful fabric for curtains
Koger tries hard to be environmentally conscious with the new items she sells on the site, as well. She buys non-vintage clothing in organic materials whenever it fits her style’s aesthetic — currently around 10 percent of the new clothing. Koger also attempts to find items manufactured in the United States whenever possible, both to cut down on transportation costs and to keep a small carbon footprint.
ModCloth.com also sells other eco-friendly products, such as re-usable shopping bags and coffee mugs. The ModLife section of the site features a “Green Scene” blog.
Koger proves herself to be a savvy environmentalist and ecopreneur, as well as a top-rated vintage shopper. Besides selling re-worn, organic, and re-usable items, the staff also donates money and time to local charities. This past Earth Day, Koger donated 10 percent of the site’s daily profit — totaling over $4,000 — to the Pennsylvania Resources Council. Users of the site participated in selecting the charity: They suggested their favorites, then ModCloth chose the top four. The contest was then turned back to the users, who voted to select one charity. More traffic and higher sales than average contributed to this donation. ModCloth also contributed their time to help plant trees in the Pittsburgh area.
After all her years of browsing through racks of old clothes, what does Koger find to be the one drawback to the hobby? “Finding a beautiful pair of vintage shoes that are not in my size,” laments Koger. “It’s tragic to part with them, because they are the one thing that cannot be altered.”
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