Fascinating and Fashionable: Michelle the Thrift Stylist

As you know, I’m now working once per month as a guest stylist at Arc’s Value Village thrift stores, but I wanted to introduce you to the woman behind this groundbreaking program, Michelle Dustin. Let’s hear from Michelle!

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This program was your brainchild! What inspired you to create and launch the Arc’s Value Village Personal Shopper program?
One of my first jobs as a teen was as a cashier at the Arc’s Value Village in New Hope; there I developed a love for the eclectic, unpredictable and adventurous world of thrifting.

Over the years, I built a wardrobe full of thrifted finds. What really jazzed me was the ability to create a look that reflected current trends, but wasn’t a cookie-cutter replication of the mannequins at the mall. And what jazzed me even more was the ability to create this unique look for so much less!

When people took notice of my personal style or complimented me on something I wore, I reveled in the opportunity to say, “Thanks, I got it at the thrift store!”

The familiar response I got to that declaration is what inspired me to create the personal shopping service, which is now offered exclusively at Arc’s Value Village. The response was always the same, “I wish I could find things like that at the thrift store; I just don’t have the eye for it,” or “I get so overwhelmed at the thrift store; I just don’t have the patience to sift through all those racks.”

I created this service for that very reason. I wanted to create a service that bridged the thrifting gap, allowing those who have felt overwhelmed, intimidated or uninspired by the thrift experience, another way to engage. I wanted to give those folks a reason to give secondhand a second chance.

How have social media influenced the program’s progress?
Style is so personal. The service I offer is so personal. When I’m working with a client, we develop an intimate working relationship. Social media preserves and builds on that personal connection with my clients. I believe that connection keeps clients coming back.

People also connect with me via social media to stay on top of the latest appointment openings and cancellations. I’m on Facebook and Twitter.

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What’s a typical session like?
When a client arrives for their personal shopping appointment, I’ll greet them at the front of the store and escort them to their reserved fitting room. Excited “oohs” and “ahhs” are often heard as clients open the door to their private fitting room to find an attractive display of shoes and handbags picked just for them.

They are then presented with a rack full of clothing items I’ve hand-selected for them, based on the information they’ve provided on their Client Image Profile Form.

Not only is there a wide selection of separate pieces to try on, there are also 5-10 complete, outfits for them to try. The completed outfits are a significant value to customers. Most any thrifter will tell you, it’s relatively easy to compile a collection of great thrifted pieces, but the real challenge is creating outfits around those great pieces. By coordinating full looks for clients, I’ve eliminated that challenge.

The client has an hour and fifteen minutes to try on the items. I’m there at the fitting rooms throughout, offering a second opinion and suggesting creative ways to wear and pair each piece. Throughout the appointment, I’ll gladly grab items in a different size or style if need be. I’m also on hand to re-hang any rejected items.

As the appointment wraps up, clients will have the opportunity to weed through their (often heaping) pile of treasured finds. They’ll consider their budget and their existing wardrobe, deciding what to keep and what to cut. There’s no pressure to buy – I always say, “Only leave with what you really love!”

In that short 75-minute timeframe, my clients are able to reinvigorate their look for pennies on the dollar and have a lot of fun doing it!

Any recurring questions or concerns that arise on a regular basis?

It stinks that folks have to wait a month or longer for their appointment. But I think those that have used the service will tell you, it’s worth the wait!

We’ve recently launched a Guest Stylist program which will help alleviate some of that congestion during peak times. Our featured guest stylists will offer appointments to Arc’s Value Village customers on a limited, as-needed basis. Connect with the Arc’s Value Village Personal Shopper Facebook page to learn about Guest Stylists’ openings and other appointment opportunities.

Which classic pieces do most of your clients take home from their sessions?
Clients will of course purchase some classic pieces – a pair of great jeans, a flatteringly fitted blazer, a nice pair of boots, an LBD, etc. But what I find more often than not is clients opting to go for a little risk over the safety of a staple piece. At such low prices, clients are more willing to try a new trend or explore new aspects of their personal style.

What would you say are the advantages of shopping thrift?

It’s an eco-friendly approach to fashion; thrift epitomizes the green mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Choosing your thrift stores selectively is also important. I opt for non-profit stores that support a worthy cause. Knowing your dollars have a positive impact on others is another great benefit to shopping secondhand.

Of course, secondhand shopping is easier on your wallet. We can all appreciate that.

And lastly, shopping secondhand allows you to infuse your look with greater creativity, originality and personal expression.

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If you’re interested in booking a session with Michelle or one of the guest stylists, drop her a note at personalshopper@thearcgtc.org

  • http://lifeloveandfood24.blogspot.com/ Rose-Anne

    How cool is that! What an inspired and inspiring way to approach secondhand shopping. There is a very large, very nice thrift store in the Detroit area where I like to shop when vising family, and I could totally see them offering this service. The store is big enough and varied enough in merchandise to support a personal shopping service, and they have nice, large fitting rooms that make it easy to try on things.

    What a great idea and a great post :-)

  • Molly

    This is a great idea–even as an experienced thrifter, I tend to avoid the bigger stores because there’s just so much to sift through.

    One tip is that the more honed my style has become, the faster I am at weeding through the racks and pulling out the few items that might work in my wardrobe. (Though the bigger the store is, the less likely I am to take chances, because it would take too long if I considered anything outside my predetermined sense of style.) But in larger stores, or for anyone who’s still figuring out what works for her (or him), a stylist makes thrifting so much more accessible!

  • Sarah

    A) This is my dream job!!
    B) Wish I lived near an Arc Value Village :(

    My local Value Village changed over to something called “Second Avenue Thrift” a few months ago and the prices are crazy now. I am pretty heartbroken…I loved that store! I love thrifting so much but I would love it even more if I could get some input from a stylist while I shop…and having items pre-pulled to a reserved dressing room is such an amazing idea, I may pee my pants. Seriously, I would kill for this service! Two sets of thrifting eyes are always better than one. What a wonderful idea!

  • Frenchie

    I now shop almost exclusively at Value Village. I live near three of them! I have been known to visit more than one in one day of shopping. I even got my mom hooked on thrift shopping. I love the fact you can get all kinds of styles and at great prices, so that means I can be a little experimental with a particular look. If it doesn’t work (it usually does), I didn’t spend a lot of money.

    • http://www.arcsvaluevillage.org Ann Jensen

      Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores are in Mpls/St. Paul and are owned by the non-profit The Arc Greater Twin Cities. AGTC supports people with developmental disabilities through advocacy, programs and services. Value Village stores on the west coast and Canada are owned by Savers which is a for-profit company which partners with charities. The charities collect goods for Savers who pays them a small percentage of their value. Technically, only the value that the charity benefits is tax deductible (about 40 cents per pound). That’s a very good reason to donate to non-profits – more of your donation actually helps the charity.

  • Angela

    I have an appointment with Michelle in June, and I am so excited! I’ll be treating myself for my birthday. :) I love Arc’s, but don’t usually have time to dig for the treasures, so this is perfect.

    I was just at Arc’s tonight and found a pair of jazz shoes for $2! I’ve been needing a new pair of dance shoes, so I just saved myself thirty bucks. SWEET.

  • Allison

    SO cool! If this service was available where I’m at, I’d be much more likely to thrift shop! I find it overwhelming and intimidating. But, I’m impressed by people who do it well!

  • http://secondhandwardrobe.com Cheryl

    This is brilliant!

  • Nomi

    What a wonderful idea. Is this something sponsored by the thrift shop chain? Is in in Minnesota? Is this something that Value Villages in other towns might be agreeable to doing? (What’s the difference between Arc VVs and regular VVs? is the former just a sub-franchise?)

    • http://www.arcsvaluevillage.org Ann Jensen

      Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores are in Mpls/St. Paul and are owned by the non-profit The Arc Greater Twin Cities. AGTC supports people with developmental disabilities through advocacy, programs and services. Value Village stores on the west coast and Canada are owned by Savers which is a for-profit company which partners with charities. The charities collect goods for Savers who pays them a small percentage of their value. Technically, only the value that the charity benefits is tax deductible (about 40 cents per pound). That’s a very good reason to donate to non-profits – of your donation helps the charity.

  • Anat

    What a great idea! Like all great ideas, it seems so obvious once it out there. But someone had to realize that that need existed and fulfill it. I really appreciate that.