Please Mum's new vintage line prompts complaints

Daniel MacEachern
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Parents across Newfoundland are upset that clothing they gave to Please Mum in exchange for store credit - under the impression the Canadian children's wear chain would be donating the clothing to charity - is resurfacing for sale in the store's own locations.

Last summer, Dara Squires' husband took their daughter to Please Mum in Corner Brook to buy her a dress, using "Greenbacks" - a form of store credit she received in exchange for several bags' worth of the family's used clothing as part of a temporary new exchange program the company was trying.

"They were on a daddy-daughter date," said the Corner Brook mother of three, adding their daughter was allowed to pick out whatever dress she wanted. The Greenbacks were supposed to be used within 30 days of receipt and were due to expire soon. "She picked out a rather expensive dress, and he went up to the cash to pay for it, and they told him that they couldn't take the credit because they were closing the store."

But over the summer, Please Mum declared bankruptcy, and announced it would be closing all but 21 of its 91 locations - the store has since announced it will only be keeping 13 locations open - and that gift cards would no longer be valid.

Squires said she wasn't upset at the loss of about $60 in Greenbacks - were it not for the exchange program, she said, she would have simply donated the clothes to the thrift store, and she'd already used some of the credit in an earlier shopping trip. "I don't usually bother selling my used kids' clothes, so we weren't out any money," she said.

Things changed for Squires, though, when she started hearing stories about people buying useless gift cards after the company said it wouldn't be accepting them.

"In the store, the girls explained to me that a certain percentage of it would be going to Canadian shelters, and another amount - she said not much because it costs a lot to transport it - but some of the stuff would be going to some of the countries that they work with World Vision in," she said. "And some of the Please Mum clothes that had fabrics that were still reusable, they would reuse the fabric to make a new vintage line."

The outlet in Corner Brook has since closed, and the outlet in the Avalon Mall in St. John's offers racks of second-hand clothing, including non-Please Mum-brand items.

But Susannah Kellett, Please Mum general manager in the company's Vancouver head office, said the intention of the Greenbacks program was always meant to support the creation of the vintage "Karma Chameleon" line.

"We got thousands of pieces brought back, so we've sorted a large amount of it to go to charity," she said.

"And the other part of it is the vintage Karma Chameleon concept, that we've now tested out in a few of our locations across the country. We are donating a portion of it, and the other portion is going to be part of this vintage clothing line, if we continue with it as a company."

Kellett couldn't say what percentage is being donated, but estimated 25 to 50 per cent of the clothing is going to charity. She said customers weren't told that all of the clothing would be going to charity.

"We told our customers that a portion of it would go to charity, and a portion of it would be tested as part of an initiative around recycling clothing," she said, adding that she felt the company adequately explained the program to its customers.

"They were explained to our staff. Our staff had information to explain to customers. We issued a statement on the website, so I feel like it was explained well to customers."

Kellett also said customers had 30 days to use Greenbacks, and the program ended more than a month before Please Mum declared bankruptcy, so any Greenbacks issued should have been used by then.

But store customers in Newfoundland say any mention of the store reselling clothing was downplayed to them, if mentioned at all.

Charmaine Ralph of Conception Bay South picked up about $30 worth in store credit for the clothes she brought in, and used them right away.

She said the clerk gave her the impression it was all going to an overseas charity. It wasn't until she saw a posting on a Facebook group for people swapping children's items that she learned Please Mum was selling some of the clothing it took in, including non-Please Mum-brand clothing.

"We're moms, and if we'd wanted it to be sold, we could have sold it. We just kind of feel taken advantage of," said the mother of two. The store credit still felt like a donation, she said, because the Greenbacks credit required an equal amount spent by the customer; to use $30 in Greenbacks, Ralph said, her purchase had to total at least $60.

Tracy Langdon of St. John's exchanged five garbage bags' worth of clothing, earning a few hundred dollars' worth of credit. But the mother of four didn't get a chance to use the credit. Not long after receiving it, she gave birth, and a couple of weeks after that, her mother died.

"The only consolation for me was this clothing was going to World Vision, or a needy child," she said, adding that she was told clothing would be going either to World Vision or to a local children's clothing bank. "I had no clue that this clothing would be in some way resold within their business. I definitely wouldn't have donated to that."

Langdon said she doesn't think she'll be shopping at Please Mum anymore.

"I'd definitely think twice about going there now. You know what? I don't think I'm going to go," she said.

"It's unfortunate because there's not a lot of children's clothing stores available, especially at those prices. ... I feel that was false advertising. I was misled, definitely."

Squires in particular is upset by the company's actions. She writes a parenting column and produces a popular blog,

"I feel like I let people down because I pushed a program that wasn't what it said it was."

She said she thinks the company may have had better intentions for the second-hand clothing but that Please Mum's financial troubles prompted it to try to make as much money as it could from the items.

"They've always been a company that's talked about honesty and integrity, and I think they really owe their customers an apology for not giving them more notification that they wouldn't be accepting gift cards and store credit," she said. Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Greenbacks, World Vision

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland, St. John's Vancouver head

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Recent comments

  • Lucas
    July 02, 2012 - 22:04

    I was almost taken in by the Vintage line's great pricing today at Vaughan Mills in Ontario. The sign in the area describes the clothing as "pre-worn" an euphemism for used. Buying used clothing is OK but only if you intend to buy used - I really wish Please Mum would label their clothing CLEARLY so people know what they're buying.

  • not cool
    June 23, 2012 - 23:33

    I was just in Please Mum in Winnipeg for the first time in quite a while. I was happy to see what looked like new stock and was really hoping that they were making a comeback. When I got to the back of the store though I was disgusted to say the least. There were all sorts of used clothing and well used not even gently used. "brand names" included Walmart, George, Circo and Zellers and other no name brands. I could not believe it. I totally felt like they were running a scam. Between not accepting gift cards or returns and exchanges plus laying off so many staff members with no notice and now selling second hand items that were meant for charity?!? I doubt I'll ever step foot in there again. Completely unethical. If I wanted to buy second hand I'd go to one of our reputable second hand kid stores.

  • Posie
    January 16, 2012 - 12:04

    I don't feel lead on at all by the new Vintage line. It is not more expensive than regular price. 5.99 for a big kid shirt while Please Mum's shirts are 19.99ish and on sale around the same price. Baby shirts 4.99 and they have had all their vintage on 50% and buy one get one for 70%off. Sure the pants are a little steep at 14.99 but when a sale is on they are a good price. Having recycling in store is fantastic and a huge portion went to charity. It is more than 50%. How could they sell half of 800,000 units in 12 stores? This article also features something misleading. The Greenbacks intake program ended months before bankruptcy was declared. There was no way people could have had usable greenback up until June, July even may and earlier. Please Mum also did not sell gift cards after declaring bankruptcy. They stopped selling gift cards over a week before stores started to close. Please mum is in the control of creditors that tell them to not use gift cards. Please Mum is not some evil corporation that's it's being made out to be. It's trying to stay open. It's trying to make money which is the purpose of a business and it's trying to give it's remaining employ's a job. The intention for that clothing to be re-made into new cloths may have changed because of the lack of money to do it and to not take a total loss of them and earn some money back they are sold in store as the vintage line. That's just fine. A lot went to charity the rest is helping the store to stay open and giving the remaining employee's jobs. I hope to see please mum do this program again in the future. The intention of it is positive. Donations went to world vision. Over half of it and the rest is helping the environment by helping people to consume less by buying used. People have not been purposely mislead. Crappy stuff happens and Please Mum had to adapt.

  • Anonymous
    January 14, 2012 - 14:57

    I used to work for please mum and was blinded by their intentions as well. Everyone thought the greenbacks program was such a good idea, little did they know their clothing would be resold by the company. Ridiculous. Most of the please mum employees were also taken advantage of. My store in Particular had one days notice before the store closed, our poor customers were devistated that the store was closing without any notice because we were the only children's clothing store in town...and all of the employees that were let off (out of 91 stores they kept 21 open) we're let go with no vacation and no severance pay. A lot went to the labour board but please mum just keeps getting extensions. I feel very taken advantage of and can't believe a company that seemed so honest and caring, could be the complete opposite

  • Kim
    December 20, 2011 - 06:01

    I recently purchased a pair of jeans for my daughter @ the Avalon Mall location. The cashier told me that the jeans were not a Please Mum product but rather that they were recycled. That was all she said and I thought she meant made from recycled materials, so I bought them b/c I'm fine with that. I had no idea 'recycled' means another customer donated them to the store with the intention of them going to needy families and countries. It's sad, b/c of the customer's good intentions, Please Mum just made and extra $14.99 plus tax. It should have been explained better and I never would have bought them!

    • corey o'neill
      January 09, 2012 - 13:56

      My step-daughter and I recently were at the please mum in winnipeg and noticed the second hand clothes, the woman was telling us about the "vintage line of clothes" they had. One thing I noticed was that the price was more expensive than buying brand new! I also noticed that the sizing is way off; my son is eight and usually wears a size 8-9 pant and their pants are size 10-12 and they don't fit, holly weight loss-not! no wonder our kids think they are "big" and believe me he is not. I won't be back there again, I'll wait and go south to kmart where I know the clothes will fit him properly.

  • bee
    December 18, 2011 - 01:39

    I worked for please mum and we never told customers that some off the clothing was going to be recycled I told them that the clothes were going to charity,

  • Sarah
    December 17, 2011 - 14:50

    While I never brought any clothing to Please Mum to be donated (friends and family get all mine) I was aware of the promotion. I'm on their email list and I was in their store while the promotion was ongoing. It was my understanding that it was all going to charity... I was never aware of this so called reusing for a vintage line. So if they did advertise this they didn't do a good enough job in my opinion. And the fact they are selling some of this donated clothes in their stores is outrageous. I was in Please Mum just over a month ago in the Avalon Mall and noticed a rack of odd clothing in random sizes and none of it was the Please Mum brand (for example Oshkosh). I will be reluctant to shop there again!

  • Jennifer
    December 17, 2011 - 09:38

    I donated 3 bags of clothing and the clerk and I were talking about it great it was that the company was donating the clothes to World Vision. I also read the article on the website and never once was I informed that the clothes would be resold. I always bought most of my daughters clothing there and I was in last week looking at the so called "vintage" line (which some of the clothing is more expensive then buying new). I won't spend another cent there. If I want to buy used clothing for my child I will go to a thrift store.