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“I want to get away from the concept of recycling clothes. I want the word recycling to be redundant. Olive Green is the future of clothes buying.”
If I’ve learned anything from my living room, it’s that women love Kate Bayly. My wife and I are very open and honest in our communication. I know this because that’s what she tells her friends on the phone. Some couples use sock puppets to give a voice to their more intimate private thoughts. My wife uses a phone. And I listen.
It was about a year ago when I first heard, ”Omigawd, you can’t believe what Kate got me!” Or, “THAT’S CORRECT. YOU HEARD ME RIGHT. 8 BUCKS.”
The upper case stands. There was shouting.
I finally had to ask, “Who’s Kate?”
“She’s an incredible woman who is starting a really unique business,” the wife says looking vaguely in my direction over the iPhone embedded in her clavicle. You should do a story on her. She’s becoming a personal stylist for thrift store shopping. She’s going to be big. It might get you out of the living room…”
Cut to a non-smoky coffeehouse in the Haight/Ashbury district of San Francisco:
My wife tells me you’re starting a business as a personal shopper for women like her, that gal on the go, who loves thrift store or vintage stuff, but doesn’t have the time to shop. Is that about right?
(Figures.) So…Kate Bayly, who are you and what is this business you’re launching?
“The name of my company is Olive Green. I’ll read my mission statement, then maybe it will be clearer,” Kate says calmly. I hear, ‘What are you, a guy or what?’
“Olive Green provides a luxury service with the benefits of thrift shopping and a product indistinguishable from anything purchased new. All inclusive, flat-rate, personal shopping and styling service includes all purchases.”
Kate Bayly is an energetic, free-spirited thirty-one year-old who, for the past two years, has been working on the nuts and bolts of putting together a business, a business plan, a website (which she had to learn), thoroughly immersing herself in R&D, analyzing data, building a catalogue of clothes and experience, injecting personal capitol, organizing the launch date and coming-out party, synergistic ties with advertisers, creating brochures and pamphlets and one-sheets; all by herself.
I didn’t have the heart to say I didn’t understand the mission statement. It sounded to me like Kate was a thrift store… personal shopper.
Kate laughs a deep guffaw that trails off into her words. “You have that same look my mother had when at five, I told her I wanted to go in vashion and work at K-Mart. Confused but interested.”
“The word I was trying to make was fashion, and K-Mart was where we shopped. I’ve always known that this is what I wanted to do.”
A personal shopper for thrift stores?” A personal shopper for thrift stores?
“This is actually very good for me. I need the practice. It might be easier if I tell you what I’m not.” Kate jumps up, grabs our coffees and returns with two full cups of Joe, both with a little milk.
“People automatically assume or are a little baffled at what I’m doing… because it’s never been done before. I don’t resell clothes. I’m not one of those people hunting for bargains or “finds” only to be resold on eBay or offered to vintage stores like a bounty. I don’t do that. I don’t even like the name vintage. Somehow, the idea of vintage today just means the stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t do this for resale. I do it because I love clothes. I look for craftsmanship of the garment or article. The sad fact is, clothes made after 1980–they’re practically disposable. Not even practically, they are.”
“When I moved to San Francisco in 2009, I was broke. Ten years ago, when I about 21, I ran a real estate brokerage office. I was rich. I can safely say, I had more money when I was young, than now. So when I moved here, I was still shopping… except without any money, to speak of.”
“My friend Anisah and I would hit Goodwill and other stores for fun and relaxation. For 7 bucks, we’d walk out with a hundred dollars of good shit.”
“But after six months of living in the City, I wasn’t sure if this was right for me. I had a sucky job that I didn’t care about. I was starting to drift in my mind and spirit. After one of our shopping sprees I told Anisah that I’m thinking of moving back to my mom’s and trying something different.”
“Anisah says to me, ‘Honey, you don’t get it. You have a gift. Whatever the equivalent is… you have a green thumb for shopping at second-
hand stores. You know your shit. You have the best eye for quality and encyclopedic knowledge of clothes and fashion.’ That’s where it started. And I have read the encyclopedia of fashion and terms.”
“In was in that period that I realized that the same exact clothes they sell at Nordstrom’s or any other top-end apparel store, could be had at Goodwill and the other real thrift stores that they have in the Mission of San Francisco. I started collecting Marc Jacob’s, Prada, Burberry cashmere scarves, Louis Vuitton, and other exquisite brands, most in perfect condition or close to new.”
“This led to Etsy.com where I started selling clothes, garments and accessories. This is also where I really learned garment construction. The main reason I do what I do is because… in my mind, why would you buy new when there is all this good stuff still out there? And the reason those particular clothes have lasted is because of construction and workmanship.”
“So let’s say I found a great dress from the forties. For Etsy, to make the garment more modern, I might have to remove the puffy sleeves and raise the hem a couple of feet, but it is worth it because the dress is designed so thoughtfully from the stitching to the buttons. The older stuff was just made better because it was made to last.”
“In the old days, fashion had four seasons of clothing. Today, we have eight seasons. That means more and more clothes are made for a shorter time period of viewing. Stores like H&M, Forever 21, they make clothes that are made to be thrown away. And here’s the thing, when you buy a pair of shoes for 10 or 20 bucks, you don’t feel bad throwing them away. The thought process is… they only cost me 12 bucks. Toss ‘em.”
“That’s what we’re doing. The United States’ fourth or fifth largest export industry is clothes. In 2011 we pawned off 7 billion pounds of clothing to about one hundred different countries. Goodwill uses about 35% of what they get donated. The other 65% gets tossed. I’m starting Olive Green not to be…green or to get into the recycling thing, but to try… to teach… to show that there is another way to shop for clothes.”
I’m starting Olive Green not to be…green or to get into the recycling thing, but to try… to teach… to show that there is another way to shop for clothes.
“I hear women say, ‘I got these great pairs of shoes. SEVENTEEN DOLLARS.’ They talk more about what they’ve spent instead of the item they’re holding. Instead for a little more money, they’ll have an item that will almost live forever, something they can be proud of. It’s all about pride. I love what I do and take pride in the clothes or accessories I’ve purchased. I want others to have that same feeling.”
What about the woman who wants to have 100 pairs of shoes in what used to be my walk-in closet? I wonder, not naming names.
“She doesn’t want a hundred pairs of crappy shoes.”
“So I still have my Etsy site where people can see all the stuff I have, but that is what I call my ‘Private Reserve.’ There’s a lot of cool stuff, but that isn’t Olive Green. Olive Green is, in several ways, incredibly crazy to do or even conceive. Maybe that’s the main reason no one’s ever attempted to do this the way I have.”
“When I launch the company (March 2013), I’ll be in Phase One. This is how it works. As we sit today, I only have a few clients. And that’s good. People don’t join Olive Green. It is a service. I don’t sell you what I have in stock. Everything I do is specific for that client. Whether that means enhancing a look or going for a whole new style.”
I fear that I have her mom’s look back on my face.
“This is how it works, simply put. The client makes an appointment for consultation. This is huge. This is where it all happens. After the initial consultation, I go to their home. We head straight to their closet. There they can pull out stuff and they can say either, ‘I love this or hate this.’ Some clients can’t articulate what they want besides, ’I hate everything in my closet now’ or ‘I love this shirt, but never wear it.’ That’s where I learn. Plus if they are a musician or like African art, there is so much more to study about a person’s style or how they really are, by going to their homes.”
“Then for a flat-rate fee, I’ll put together a wardrobe for them. This is where it gets tough. And this is what separates Olive Green from anything else. If you don’t like what I’ve presented to you, you don’t have to accept it. I’m not happy until you’re 100% satisfied. But on my end, if the client rejects the garment or accessory for any reason, I’m stuck with it. I don’t resell. That’s why I take my time. I do a complete profile of the client and what they are looking for. I love it. That is what excites me about what I’m doing.”
“I believe that through Olive Green, I can show the world that there’s another way of shopping beyond recycling or so-called vintage stores. I want to send the message that we have vast resources of great, dependable, sturdy clothing with style and craftsmanship that isn’t the crap that is being sold in the stores today.”
“When I present the client with the stuff I’ve picked out for them. I can be harsh because I’ll say if something looks good on you or not. But on the other hand, I’ve changed lives with a new look. I’m a stylist on retainer for that person. I want the individual to feel confident and have fun.”
“I also have an itemized sheet of what the garments or articles retailed for when new. And don’t forget, I’d say most of what I get is like new. They can see how much they’re saving or what the same item is going for on the Marc Jacobs website. I want to get away from the concept of recycling clothes. I want the word recycling to be redundant. Olive Green is the future of clothes buying. That’s why I don’t have a demographic or segment of the population that I’m going for.
“I want Olive Green to be the new normal.”