How to make money from your closet: The insider’s guide to consignment, swapping and more

How to make money from your closet
How to make money from your closet

When Stephanie Mark moved to a new apartment last fall, she was forced to finally tackle a major project on her to-do list: “Clean out closet.” As co-founder of The Coveteur, Toronto-based Mark makes a living peeking inside the closets of others, but in rummaging through her own, she came face-to-face with more than a few ghosts of shopping sprees past. In fact, her closet cleanse unearthed an entire wardrobe’s worth of designer items no longer in rotation: a pair of Jimmy Choo flats, an Isabel Marant dress, a Ferragamo snakeskin iPad case. “I even discovered a pair of Proenza Schouler suede boots that I never wore—not once,” she admits with equal parts amusement and shame. Faced with a monstrous pile of barely worn designer labels, Mark decided to try her luck at consignment. She made $1,000 in three months.

Most of us have been in Mark’s position before. Who hasn’t spent what feels like a month’s salary on a pair of killer heels only to realize they’re literally killing your feet? Onto the top shelf they go, never to be seen—or worn—again. And then there’s the printed dress you couldn’t resist at the store but pass over every morning when it’s time to get dressed—it just hangs in your closet, tag still on. In her 2012 book, You Are What You Wear, psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner writes that only 20 per cent of the clothing in an average person’s closet is worn on a regular basis. That’s a lot of unworn clothes taking up much-needed space and, as Mark puts it, “making zero dollars.” Which explains why she and other in-the-know fashion professionals are increasingly finding ways to cash in on their closets.

“It’s a great way to purchase new pieces and keep up with the trends each season without having to live in a box on the street,” jokes Mark, who put her recent earnings toward a Christopher Kane dress she’s been wearing non-stop. Her pieces (69 in total) went to LAB Consignment, a high-end showroom in Toronto where owner Lauren Baker sells everything from Louis Vuitton handbags to Marc Jacobs cashmere hats (profits are split 50/50 with consignors).

But it’s not just luxury designer wear that will earn you extra pocket money. Many consignment stores and online shops accept a range of labels, as long as the item isn’t more than a few years old and is still in excellent condition. At Tradesy, an online clothing resale marketplace, top-selling brands like Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch sit alongside high-end labels like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Los Angeles-based CEO and founder Tracy DiNunzio says online consignment is an ideal way to update your wardrobe without spending money. In fact, before she launched Tradesy, DiNunzio herself made at least $5,000 selling her clothes on eBay and Craigslist. With Tradesy, she makes selling even easier by taking care of shipping and returns. Users simply list their items on the site, and when they make a sale, Tradesy mails them a pre-paid, pre-addressed shipping kit. Sellers are paid directly by PayPal (the company takes a 9 per cent cut, and the seller keeps the rest). Since launching in October 2012, Tradesy has grown to 600,000 members, and DiNunzio says the average seller makes about $400 each month.

“We have a different relationship with our wardrobe than we used to have,” explains DiNunzio of her site’s allure. “When you buy something, you’re no longer locked into the idea that you have to own it forever. If you’re not going to wear it for more than a season, [selling it] is a way to make some of your money back. You can constantly rotate your closet.” It’s a philosophy that appeals to many a style-conscious woman—particularly those who, like Mark, work in fashion and feel pressure to be on trend and wear the right labels on a limited budget.

While consignment stores and their online counterparts have become the new shopping arena of the style set, some women are taking matters into their own hands. Toronto-based designers-turned-bloggers Samantha and Caillianne Beckerman cashed in on their social media status by holding a flash sale via their blog, Beckerman Bite Plate, and their Instagram feed, where they have more than 105,000 followers. They posted photos of nearly 50 items—everything from faux-fur Prada bags to Burberry shoes—and, not surprisingly, everything was snatched up within weeks. “We shipped to the Netherlands, Sweden, Abu Dhabi,” says Caillianne. “It was a really good feeling knowing that if I’m not wearing a piece, someone else will be enjoying it.” She won’t reveal how much they made, but says they used the money to visit their younger sister, Chloe, in L.A.

While Caillianne and Samantha literally opened their closet to the world, New York-based Sari Bibliowicz and Sari Azout took a different approach, creating a kind of global closet with their website, Bib + Tuck. The idea originated when the two friends were living in the same building on the Lower East Side and found themselves borrowing regularly from each other’s closets. “We loved fashion and dressing up but didn’t want to spend all our savings on clothing,” explains Bibliowicz. That’s when they came up with the concept for Bib + Tuck, an online fashion-swapping community. Launched in November 2012, the site counts designers Mara Hoffman and Yigal Azrouël, as well as a slew of bloggers and stylists, among its 25,000 members. Everything listed on the site is carefully curated by the team, but what stands out with Bib + Tuck is that there is no actual money exchanged. Instead, users sell and buy designer items using virtual currency (Bibliowicz says it’s a bit like Monopoly—in fact, they’ve been called the first gaming platform in the fashion space).

Bib + Tuck’s tagline is “shop without spending,” which, let’s face it, is every woman’s dream. And while virtual currency may raise an eyebrow at first, it makes a lot of sense, considering that everyone interviewed for this piece said that the money they made selling their stuff went right back into buying new pieces. “It’s become the norm to constantly refresh your wardrobe, to wear something a couple of times and then never again,” says Bibliowicz. “That’s just not sustainable.” And that gives fashion lovers even more incentive, beyond cash and clothes, to join the growing consignment elite.

If all this talk of Proenza Schouler boots, Prada bags and trips to L.A. has you looking at your closet anew, know that when it comes to ditching your gently worn wares, designer bags, shoes and accessories are the perennial hot-ticket items, both online and in the real (consignment) world. Other than that, there’s really no rhyme or reason. But one thing’s certain: If you want to make money selling your stuff, take care of it. “I once had to refuse a gorgeous Marc Jacobs bag because the interior lining had bronzer all over it,” says Baker of LAB Consignment. “If you’re carrying around loose makeup like that, put it in a pouch—even a Ziploc bag will do. And cap your pens!” Because you never know: This year’s Marc Jacobs could be next year’s Chanel.

More Style