Fashion

In Conversation with Alexa // A La Mode Consignment

June 28, 2020
A shopowner leans on the doors at the front of her store.,

Full name: Alexa Lindroos
Shop: A La Mode Consignment
Address:1507 Wilmot Place, Oak Bay Village, Victoria, Canada
Instagram: @alamodeconsignment

Bags and clothing at a consignment shop.
Beautiful wares inside the shop.

What is A La Mode?

A La Mode is an upscale resale boutique for women.

Can you tell us about your background? What made you decide to go into retail? Why consignment? 

I have a psychology degree from the University of Victoria and had pretty much been a stay-at-home mom before buying the shop in 2008. My mom owned a gift store on Oak Bay Avenue in the 80s and I was looking to have something I could do while my children were in school. Consignment has always appealed to me because when my children were little, I would consign their outgrown clothes and it just became part of our lives.

Tell us a little about your store name. Why did you choose the name A La Mode? 

When I bought the store it was already called A La Mode, which does not mean “with ice cream”!  It means “of the fashion.”

If you had to describe your shop to someone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe it?

 A La Mode has a boutique feel, in that it’s not overcrowded and we curate our clothing and accessories carefully. I was inspired for the interior space by resale boutiques I have visited in New York.

Shop owner standing in front of her desk
Alexa in her Eileen Fisher “Morse Code” dress.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal style and aesthetic? We love the outfit you are wearing today. Is it from your store?

I’m pretty casual but appreciate the finer details that higher-end designers are known for. My favourite designer is Eileen Fisher: she’s ethical, sustainable, and creates motion with her fabrics to suit a woman’s body, lumps and bumps included. The dress and cardigan I’m wearing are both Eileen Fisher from the store from last year. The dress is her Morse Code dress which spells out to “The future is female.” I love it. I am picky about my shoes because I stand and walk all day at the shop. These are my favourite runners by AGL.

Inspiration is all around us. What or who inspires you? 

My mother’s love of her garden and grandchildren, my best friend’s work ethic and her ability to always take the high road. My husband’s negotiating skills and his diplomacy.  Other local badass businesswomen … you know who you are!

Each season represents new trends and new products. With consignment, you are getting goods from past seasons. How do you decide what clothes you take?

We generally stick to taking items from the past 3 or 4 years; however, about 20% of our inventory is brand-new with tags still on from the current season — buyer remorse purchases. Experience and knowing my demographic and clients is paramount to accepting the right kind of items to sell. I bring in new on-trend accessories from Canadian small businesses to represent what’s current.

Assortment of fashionable bags.

Can you walk us through how your business works? 

We have built up a loyal consignor base in Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto.  Our consignment works by appointment so that I can go through your items with you and pull the “yes pleases” and give back the “no thank yous.”  Each consignor fills out an agreement laying out what they can expect from us and what we can expect from them. The items are then processed by the end of the day and the consignor receives an email with the items listed, the amount they are being sold for, and the date they can come in for money and to pick up any unsold items.  For our regular consignors, we are setting up drop off or pick up times.

As a consignment shop, you are making a difference by making luxury and high-end brands available to people that may have not been able to afford them otherwise. You’re recycling fashion and creating a sustainable footprint. What made you decide to open a consignment shop and not another type of shop?

Twenty years ago I went to New York for the first time and fell in love with the resale boutiques. I bought my first Louis Vuitton tote bag there for $300 US and have used it almost every day ever since. I love that it has a story — and of course, I couldn’t afford a new LV bag— but to be honest I love the patina of a bag that has been preloved. Consignment just seemed to be a good fit for me. For sure, our high-end designer goods are our best sellers but you have to be careful. We do not have the population size of other cities and Victoria women are discerning when spending, no matter how much money they have. It has to be a balance between the designer items and what I call my bread-and-butter, which are mid-levels brands that women are comfortable buying 4-5 pieces at a time because of the price point. Twenty-five percent of the shop is designer and the other 75% is bread-and-butter. For sustainability, we refuse to resell fast fashion to encourage people not to buy it in the first place.

Clothing on a rack.
Charming decor lines the shelves.

How are you using social media these days? Have you changed how you’re using it to communicate?

 I struggle with social media. It’s vital to be present on it; however, I find it overwhelming and it can make me anxious. Am I doing the right thing? Overposting? Not posting enough? And “Oh my god, my 9 squares don’t look professionally photographed!”  It’s a lot. I’ve actually just made the decision to do less posting, to allow people to breathe.

What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve had starting your business? How have you overcome them?

I’ve made all the mistakes: hiring, firing, not following my gut, getting caught up in community politics. I’ve not overcome everything yet — I’m a work in progress, but I try every day and when I’ve made a mistake, I take ownership of it right away. I’ve learned that by taking responsibility you maintain your integrity; however, there will be those for whom an apology is not enough and I’ve learned that says more about them than me.

Variety of outfits and styles.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to open up a shop?

Go with your gut. Do your due diligence and be prepared to make mistakes. Also, choose a charity your business can get behind. As a small business, you want the community to support you and in return, you need to support your community. I’m not necessarily talking only dollars, because in the beginning, you won’t have any, but donating your time is priceless.

We are all trying our best to live through a pandemic. Have you made any hard decisions to get you through this difficult time? Where are you finding strength these days to make decisions?

The pandemic shut my business down to the public on March 18. It was the most emotional decision I’ve ever had to make — obviously the only decision, but a hard one nonetheless. Closing was difficult, laying off my girls was difficult, not knowing if I could pay rent is still difficult. The first month after we closed, I was at the shop alone every day, cleaning, organizing, taking photos, posting on social media. Running, running, running, and asking: what do people want to buy? Do people want to buy? It was a race to nowhere. We have always had family meetings in our house, with my husband, me, and our two children. Last week we had a meeting and I told them I was burnt out, hustling, running, chasing. They all looked at me and said, so stop.

What’s been working for you during this difficult time?

 Right now I am putting the brakes on social media. To all those working out every day, learning 18 new languages, gaining a Master’s degree and perfecting the art of everything and posting your success on social media, kudos to you. I’m spending time at home, cleaning, purging, organizing and getting caught up on admin. My husband is working from home, our eldest has just finished 4th year uni and was laid off from her 3 jobs, our youngest just finished 1st year science at UVIC and is working at Mount St. Mary Hospital. We eat lunch together every day and most nights we have dinner together and a movie.

As we navigate our new reality, what advice would you give to your fellow shop owners on what keeps you moving forward? Have you had to pivot your business in any way?

Follow the advice of the experts and don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Business will return, maybe not the way it was before, but in some way that we will all have to adapt to which will then become our new normal. Looking forward to seeing my clients keeps me going and knowing that I have the support of my family is huge. I have pivoted in that we offer pick up of consignment, drop off and free shipping of purchases. Be sensitive to your client base and they will be there for you when you reopen.

Such a joy to shop here — Alexa always has a smile!

If you were looking back to this moment in time, what do you hope to gain in personal and/or business growth? What 3 words best describe how you’re feeling today?

For personal growth, really enjoy being in the moment, and in business, trust that the relationships built will still be there, even stronger after COVID. I’m feeling humble, grateful, at peace.

Anything else you would like to share?

The hardest hurdle for me was deciding on whether or not to have an online store.  Every day, more and more stores are going online to survive, and I appreciate and admire the hard work this takes. Again it was a family meeting, and in the end, I recognized I have a brick and mortar store that has allowed me to care for people and make connections that I don’t think can transcend over the internet. I’m old-school and lucky to be in a position where I don’t have the supplier overhead of a retail store.

How can customers support you right now?

We want to keep our community and loved ones as safe as we can, and in order to do that we need to participate in flattening the curve. Until further notice, pickups, payouts and drop-offs are cancelled. Please follow us on Instagram @alamodeconsignment to keep up-to-date and to be able to shop from home.

Looking out the windows.

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