The year 2009 wasn't full of new business success stories.
"A lot of us were putting money under mattresses," says Lyn Page, co-owner of Clementine and its family of stores. "Of course, a lot of people thought we were insane in 2009." That year, Page, her husband Mike, and partner Jane Crooks bought Clementine, a women's consignment store that opened in 2003. The investment wasn't much of a risk, Page says, because secondhand businesses thrive in weak and strong economies.
"In a poor economy, you're working with people who are trying to make money, or trying to buy clothing affordably," she says. "In a good economy, people have disposable income to buy clothes and have high quality items to sell."
Page and her partners now own five businesses. A year after buying Clementine, she opened Clover to serve loyal Clementine customers who were starting to have children. The following year, Ashby opened, which Page refers to as Clementine's "crazy middle sister." She jokingly adds that it wasn't "intentional to create a business model where we have you from birth until the day you die."
During last year's holiday season, Made: a Carytown Pop-Up, had a successful debut carrying gift items from local artisans and makers. It was so popular that the one-time pop-up now holds an indefinite residency at 3007 W. Cary St.
This January, StitchBack launched. The consignment-by-mail service invites the entire Richmond area to take part in the local secondhand business without having to come to Carytown. "We appreciated feedback we got from people who would want to consign but couldn't find time to make it out to our store," Page says.
With each new service, Page and her partners have found a way to give back to the community. A bathtub full of clothing at Ashby regularly benefits a local nonprofit. Sold for $2 a pound, the items have benefitted organizations including the Visual Arts Center and Girls Rock. At Clover, clothes often make their way into the homes of children attending at-risk schools in the community. Page and her team also donate cloth diapers to organizations such as the Capital Diaper Bank.
"We've always had a pay-it-forward mentality," Page said. "There is always a culture of giving in our businesses."
This mission extends beyond donations. The stores have become hubs for community activities and resources. Clover regularly hosts events for organizations around Richmond who work with families: postpartum depression workshops, cloth diapering classes, and mothering circles are among the community events taking shape.
The latest business, StitchBack, continues this pay-it-forward approach to second-hand fashion. Their white vans will drop off and pick up reusable plastic bags filled with your gently used clothing. Items the stores cannot sell are donated to a variety of nonprofits and schools. Things that aren't fit for use are sent to recycling companies that pay a fee. Clementine donates these proceeds to nonprofits.
"We want to provide useful services to the community that also have the ability to give back in unique ways," Page says.