Resale for Life
Inside the world of Womens Closet Exchange and the women who call it home.
When you've made your living scouting high-end designer pieces for resale for the past 25 years—like the three fashionistas behind the locally-owned Women’s Closet Exchange—you’re bound to have an incredible story or two. In the case of founder and owner Sue McCarthy and her daughters Diana Ford and Laura Maurice, the shopping tales they’ve gathered throughout WCE’s 25-year history add up to more than a few—and it’s these very tales, they say, that make all of the hard work more than worth it.
“A lady called me from Paris and wanted me to come and [shop] her closet,” McCarthy recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t really make the trip for one, but if you can find a friend’…she got me two other closets—one in Paris and one in Leon. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.”
Ford continues down the endless list. “Stylists will come to us and say, ‘I have a client who’s going to the Grammys, and this is her height, her shoe size and she’s looking for something long and flowy.’ So we put her in a gorgeous Badgley Mischka.”
Maurice brings it full circle with her description of a recent closet the women shopped while at New York Spring Fashion Week. “We just did a closet that had a staircase with a red carpet in it!”
They have extraordinary memories, no doubt, but the women are quick to point out that the everyday happenings at WCE are just as important-and oftentimes just as memorable. I always tell everyone, ‘It’s like Christmas every day—you never know what or who is coming in,'” Maurice explains.
McCarthy launched WCE in St. Louis 25 years ago with the goal of making designer fashions available and affordable to everyone. From humble beginnings in the original 400-square-foot shop to the now 4,000-square-foot space in Sunset Hills, WCE has become a nationally recognized designer resale destination, offering everything from Louis Vuitton and Manolo Blahnik to Chanel and Marc Jacobs for resale at a third to sometimes even half of the original cost. McCarthy is the brains of the operation—the big ideas generator—who is still very much ingrained in the buying and selling process, and whose experience has earned her the title of vice president of the National Association of Resale Professionals. Her oldest daughter, Ford, handles all marketing strategy and events related to WCE and its sister shops, Clique (a teen resale shop) and the Purple Cow (a children’s and maternity resale outlet). The youngest, Maurice, executes on all social media—also claiming the title of “label genius” for her knowledge of obscure, high-end designers.
WCE’s buyers typically see more than 1,000 items per day, and they usually take on 400-600 of those items for resale purposes (once they’ve gone through a rigorous authentication process), so the inventory is constantly evolving. The business model is based strictly on buyouts of designer merchandise in excellent condition that was purchased in the last three years, so patrons don’t have to worry about consignment timeframes or whether their items will sell before getting paid. Ninety percent of the business is based on shoppers who bring items in for resale. The other 10 percent is the result of shopping the high-end closets of socialites in St. Louis and beyond. Yet, fabulous finds are seen every day from the walk-in clientele.
“A lady came in and sold us two Chanel handbags and walked out with one for herself [at a fraction of the original cost],” Ford recalls. “She said, ‘I’ll never go back to Chanel and buy a handbag again.' She has been a faithful, loyal customer ever since. Our clients don’t necessarily need to shop here, but there’s something about the hunt and getting a deal that I think women really love.”
It’s this passion for the hunt that has kept McCarthy and her daughters so close over the years—but that’s not to say there isn’t occasional drama, given the family dynamics of the business. “
We have disagreements—there are three completely different personalities running a business—plus, we’re family…But we always have the closet. When somebody has a problem, I take them in the closet and we hash it out and then it’s over…There are families that have disagreements and they never speak again. That’s not us. We do everything together.”
Hair by Todd Wenick; Makeup by Kim Stuart.
Women’s Closet Exchange
Photo credit: Attilio D’Agostino