Boutique owner goes back to first love after financial career diversion
Nancy Garland poses in her clothing shop, Clothes Minded. — Photos by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Nancy Garland, owner of Clothes Minded (655 Topsail Rd.), is part of a handful of vintage/resale clothing shops that opened in the past couple of years in St. John’s.
Garland has about 15 years of retail clothing experience, and felt unsatisfied by a career change into the financial industry, because she didn’t have so much interaction with customers — or clothes.
“I love putting pieces together, putting vintage pieces with modern-day pieces. And I’m not one to be closed up in an office setting,” she says. “It just gives you such a good feeling when a customer comes in and they purchase something and they’re so excited. It makes me happy.”
Who opened Clothes Minded, and when?
We opened Nov. 1 of last year. Basically myself and my husband — he was a great help to me. He’s sort of the driving force behind this whole concept. I’ve worked retail for about, I’d say, 15 years. I worked in several clothing retail stores, couple of big box stores. Then I sort of got out of that line of work and went into the financial industry for a few years.
While I was there, I kind of missed being out, interacting in a retail environment. So my husband said, “Well, why don’t you open up your own clothing store?” So I started thinking about what type of store I’d like to open. I wanted to grab a lot of ideas that I took from my friends and family. A lot of people now, it’s been happening for years, have been unfortunately going to the States, cross-border shopping, because they want the bargains. They want brand-name clothes at really good prices, because everybody loves to save money.
Is that why you decided to go vintage?
Vintage, that’s different. When I first opened the store, I thought about the vintage. We had access to a lot of good vintage clothing, but I didn’t start to introduce the vintage until after we were opened. So basically the concept of Clothes Minded is we carry a variety of women’s brand-name designer clothing that is in excellent condition, very good quality.
Ninety-five per cent of our product is brand-name, and it’s at accessible prices. That was the whole concept of the store, first when we opened it. Once I opened, I was getting a lot of feedback from our customers, asking about vintage.
Like true vintage, dating back possibly as far as the ’50s. So I was thinking maybe I should check into bringing in just a small collection and try it.
So I contacted our supplier in New York, and sure enough they actually owned a vintage shop in New York, in Manhattan, for years. I think they opened in the early ’60s. So they were big in the vintage eras, and they agreed to sell us some of their product. And we had the opportunity in April to take another trip to New York, and we visited their vintage showroom and handpicked some pieces. And it’s been taking off really well.
There seems to be a market in the city, because there are a few place that have opened up recently: There’s Found, there’s Model Citizens …
Yes. It’s been doing really, really well. I was actually really surprised at the type of demographics that are shopping the vintage line.
Really? What are the demographics?
We get a lot of university students, young people — they just love coming in and going through the vintage stuff, and they’ve got a knack for mixing the vintage line with modern pieces.
Who came up with the name Clothes Minded?
I came up with the name. I bounced it off a few people before we actually — when I say “we” I refer to my husband, because he’s like my sidekick in all this. Where we were carrying resale items mainly — a high percentage of our product is used — I sort of wanted a catchy name, but also, when I thought about the name — 10 years ago, people were more shy or …
Yeah — I don’t know if I want to say that word myself. But to go into a resale shopping store, they were more like, “Oh, I don’t know if I would want my neighbour to see me in there” or “Oh, I don’t want to go in there because so-and-so might be in there.” But now, 10 years later, I feel that society has changed dramatically in the way they look at resale shopping.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t think Clothes Minded has a typical economic level (of customer). I think all of our customers basically just love to find great-quality product at affordable prices. Just from our customer feedback, I get a variety of people because they like to find different things.
How many people work here?
Up until two weeks ago, it was just me. I just recently hired two girls part-time. So that’s pretty much our staff. We’ve been growing. I just introduced a new-items boutique section, which is what you see when a customer comes in. I’m focusing a little bit on that now to introduce it. It’s just a line that I’m testing — it’s the second shipment I’ve had. It’s doing really well. That being said, our main focus is still on designer brand-name resale items.
Let’s talk about your location. How do you like it?
The actual location — first when I chose this location, I got a lot of really good vibes from it. I chose this section closest to the road purposely because we get a lot of visual effect with all the windows. Traffic flow is phenomenal. There is, from time to time, a few issues with the parking out here in the front because there’s so many other businesses here. But a lot of our customers don’t utilize the side of this building. There’s a whole parking area over here.
Did you consider downtown?
I did. I did look at some areas down there, because it sort of fit the downtown area, the concept that I had in mine, especially with what I considered vintage and the high-end brand names. Like you would get a pair of Christian Dior shoes here or big, high-end brand names such as that. Downtown brings in a whole different market of consumers. But I didn’t really find the perfect spot, and just the costs and the rent was kind of really outrageous compared to, say, centre city or west.
In terms of the city, is St. John’s a business-friendly city? Was it easy to get started up? Was there a lot of red tape you had to get through?
To be honest, no. Everything ran smoothly for me. I was surprised, actually. People were very helpful. I did make a lot of calls. When you’re starting your own business and you don’t have the experience in that area, you do need the help of a lot of government offices and the city. But they were quite helpful and accommodating. We had our permits in good timing. We didn’t have many delays. Everything ran pretty smoothly.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as a business owner?
For me, right now, being new, we’re only in operation eight months, it’s sort of trying to figure out the best market for our products. We’re constantly fine-tuning everything. That’s why I like to be here every day, talking to our customers, getting feedback, what they like to see. But the biggest challenge, I think, is awareness of our store. Every day I get people coming in here saying, “Oh, I didn’t know you existed. How long have you been in operation?” We’re here almost eight months, and someone who just lives up the street don’t realize that we’re here. I think that’s the biggest challenge.
Have you had any trouble with crime?
No — I’ve got a lot of experience in the loss-prevention side of it. My main deterrence is when customers come in I serve them. That sort of deters. Nothing outside, no vandalism. Everything’s been perfect.
What’s your goal for the business? Where do you see Clothes Minded in, say, five years? At some point do you want to open another location?
Oh, most definitely. There’s a couple ideas that I have — right now we’re in such a small store, so as you can see I’m mixing new product, which is geared towards a certain demographic, and then we have resale product on the other side of things. But right now where we’re so small, I’ve got everything sort of put together. My goal in the future is I’d like to get in on the east end market. We do get a lot of east end shoppers, but just for convenience, it’d be nice to have a second location in the East End somewhere. My goal, probably, would be to separate the two. Do a new boutique store and keep this store, whole, 100 per cent resale.