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What’s an item's journey after the thrift store?

A rack of clothes at the Bellingham Goodwill thrift store on Monday Feb. 3. // Photo by Alix Condit

By Leora Watson

What happens to an item if it doesn't sell in a thrift store? If an item or piece of clothing is given to a thrift or consignment store, that doesn't always mean that it is the end of its journey, it might just be a pit stop until it moves to its next location. 

Kaitlyn Kelm graduated from Western in 2018 and has been working at Labels Women’s Consignment on James Street for almost a year. Kelm does intake at Labels and goes through clothing and houseware that’s brought in. Kelm said they have about 60 people on average who come in with items to consign each day. 

“We go through everything and we take a look to assess the condition, the style, the production date on it and see what will sell for us,” Kelm said. 

Kelm said they also consider seasonality, for modern and contemporary styles and higher-end brands for vintage items. 

People who come to Labels with items to consign have the option of taking the item back or having Labels donate it for them if the thrift store does not accept the item to sell.    

Kelm says that they give items 60 to 90 days in the store before a discount process starts. 

“For the last 30 days, it will be half off and if it doesn’t sell then, we’ll donate it,” Kelm said. 

Items can be donated anywhere from the Ragfinery, to the Opportunity Council, to WeSNiP and the Whatcom Feline Alliance, Kelm said. Labels is also donating a bag of coats to Options High School for students in need. 

The other Labels location, on Northwest Avenue, donates most of their clothes to We Care of Whatcom County, a nonprofit organization based in Bellingham. 

Amy Jones has owned The Clothes Rack Women’s Consignment for six years. Jones worked in consignment for two years and loved it, so when the opportunity arose for her to buy The Clothes Rack, she took it. 

Jones says that they have about five to 20 people come in a day with clothes to consign, but it also depends on the weather and season.

The Clothes Rack caters more to the sophisticated woman. “We’re looking for clothes that women would wear,” Jones said. 

“It's under the consigner number for 90 days, if they don’t come back and pick it up between the 85th and 90th day, then it becomes property of the store and at that time we can donate it,” Jones said. “Anything that's been in the store that does not sell we donate to the Assistance League.” 

Assistance League is a community-based thrift store that puts any money they make back into the community. 

The Assistance League isn’t the only place The Clothes Rack donates to. Clothes that are not accepted to be sold in the store, but donated by the consigner, are given to We Care of Whatcom County. Any clothes that the Assistance League and We Care of Whatcom County cannot take, they will pass along to Ragfinery. 

“We get pickup twice a week from We Care, and right now we have four 33-gallon trash bags full,” Jones said. 

We Care of Whatcom County accepts donations from many different thrift and consignment stores in Bellingham, including The Clothes Rack. 

“When you buy consignment, the community benefits from it because when you buy 10 items, you could be buying 10 different pieces from 10 different consigners, so when they come in, there will be money on their account,” Jones said. “The money stays here, it stays in our community.” 

Wise Buys thrift store is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds go to Lydia Place, whose mission is to provide housing for families experiencing homelessness. 

Alex Essenberg, an employee at Wise Buys, says that they receive a minimum of four to five garbage bags of stuff each day. Wise Buys accepts any donations besides furniture, large items and kids stuff. 

Items in Wise Buys have a shelf life of three months. During the third month, the items go on sale. 

Alina Simone browses the shoe rack at Goodwill Monday Feb. 3. // Photo by Alix Condit

“So lets say there’s a shirt that didn't sell for the [last] month, and then we take that and donate it to Goodwill and they can turn around and sell it,” Essenberg said. 

Essenberg said that he notices that most clothing items will be gone within three to four days. 

“Usually by the end of the month most of the sale stuff is gone, too,” Claire Smith, an employee at Wise Buys, said. 

Items that don’t sell after their discount month are given to Value Village or Goodwill. Pieces of fabric are usually donated to Ragfinery. 

“We never throw anything out,” Smith said. 

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