Trimming the closet fat

It’s a blustery cold night and I’m peering into the windows of a townhouse near Tin Can Hill. Within minutes a stranger has welcomed me into her home and I’m slipping into a pair of jeans she bought but never wore, sizing myself up in her bathroom mirror. The tag is still on them – $60. I pay $25 and walk away with a smile.

Welcome to the new reality of online shopping in Yellowknife, courtesy of Facebook.

With limited retail options, and at times hefty shipping fees for returns, many budget-conscious fashionistas are turning to online market places to freshen up their wardrobes.

Take for instance YK Chicas, a Facebook forum with a following of more than 2,000 members – equivalent to 10 per cent of Yellowknife’s population — and a steady stream of closet discards on display. It’s the site that matched me up with my new favourite jeans. The Facebook group boasts dozens of posts a day. It’s trendier than YK Trader and like other popular Yellowknife forums, such as YK Moms, has a specific audience.

Founder Tanya Kidston-Kasteel says when the group started in the summer of 2012 there were 100 people joining a day. The premise was to offer up barely used, higher-end women’s clothing. Now there’s a mix of never-used pieces at half price, well-loved gems and everything from shoes to snow pants to lingerie. Perusing can involve sifting discounted T-shirts that would likely get tossed from most bargain bins — just one of the reasons the group is so popular.

“It’s super easy to get rid of stuff that you don’t wear, and you can find something you need really quickly,” says frequent seller and shopper Shawna Bassett.

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She says the group is her ‘go-to’ place, if she’s in a fashion bind.

“If you need some shoes or something for a party on the weekend, you’ll never have a hope in hell to order something. It’s awesome you can ask a bunch of girls in Yellowknife for help.”

Because it’s Facebook – and many names are familiar — the group has the illusion of browsing through a friend’s closet. The transition to face-to-face transactions isn’t such a stretch.

“It’s a little community,” says my friend Hilary Bird, who admits she has a penchant for digital window-shopping. “You can go online and find people who are your exact same body type.” Her logic is getting rid of a pair of unused (and maybe unworn) boots for $20 is better than empty promises to wear them. It’s also a quick way to round up some cash. Within two days of posting 15 items, she had $350 and didn’t notice the dent in her closet.

Bird says she knows a handful of the people who’ve bought her things, but many shoppers are from communities and just passing through Yellowknife.

“I’ve actually been downtown and seen someone wearing my clothes. It feels good that they go to a better home than mine,” she laughs.

My first purchase was from a friend. Drawn in by the Facebook post, I dropped in to chat and take a look at her cast offs. Despite the dropping temperatures, I came home with a barely-worn BCBG summer dress, snapped up for a fraction of its retail price.

A tip? Post during work hours, when people are glued to their computers. If it’s stamped with Lululemon, expect a bidding war.

“As soon as you post, it’s like an explosion of people, notification, notification, notification,“ says Bird. “It doesn’t take long, sometimes seconds.”

But Kidston-Kasteel says the steady stream of texts, calls and back-up buyers was exhausting.

“I had a notebook, I had to,” she says. “It’s a lot of work to keep track of who commented on your item and who is coming when, who is second and third in line. It was crazy, like a full-time job.”

But now Kidston-Kasteel is literally making organizing Yellowknife’s second-hand clothing her own full-time job, and she’s going head-to-head with the site that’s now taken on a life of its own. She said the success of YK Chicas inspired her to open her new consignment store on Franklin Avenue, Vintage Vogue. In her opinion, the site got too bogged down with clothing that strayed from its mandate, and she wanted to cast off on her own.

“It was a confirmation that people make good money here, dress well and have no other choices than to donate brand-new items.”

The concept isn’t new to Yellowknife, either. In the early 80s, Kidston-Kasteel’s mother, Ginette Kidston, and Fran Hurcomb ran a similar store, “Second Hand Rose.”

Kidston-Kasteel is not deterred by the online competition. She maintains connecting with, and tracking down, strangers isn’t ideal for all shoppers, and some may prefer conventional changing rooms to someone’s bathroom.

Within a week of putting out a call for clothing, she had filled 1,200 hangers and packed a storeroom.

While YK Chicas shows no sign of losing members, the new store may be proof there’s still plenty of growing room in a city that loves to shop.

Chatting with Kidston-Kasteel inspires me to start rifling through my own closet. Instead of imagining how I might wear an outfit, I quickly envision its online retail potential. The heap on my floor grows quickly. I’ve been holding on to some hardly-worn pieces for far too long, it’s time to open up room for some new ones. New to me, that is.

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