Interview Series: Christine Sanderson of Le Thrift Consignment
Welcome to MODA Interview Series, where we feature influencers and leaders in the fashion industry in the Chicago area and beyond to discuss their design inspirations, their creative backgrounds and what it means to be a self-starter in the fashion world today.
Seven years ago Christine Sanderson founded Le Thrift Consignment, a luxury consignment store that sought to cater to women of all income levels in the midst of national economic upheaval. Flash forward to the present and Le Thrift has become an important focal point for vintage and designer fashions in the Chicagoland area. We sat down with Christine to discuss everything from her sources of inspiration to the challenges of running her own business.
What informs your design philosophy? Is there anything that inspires you in particular when conceptualizing the image of your store and products?
I come from a creative background where my professors in college encouraged me to study as much as possible all types of design. Even though I had studied visual communications, they had us learn about textile design, industrial design, fashion design, interior design and the world of advertising. They also had made us curious learners and had us explore different worlds of art dating back to the Roman Empire to modern art. I have taken this curiosity of learning and have applied it to my business. As an entrepreneur you can never learn to much and I often borrow from other business fields ideas and concepts that I can adapt into the world of women's consignment.
I also saw there was a need to have a store that felt high end, but had fashion obtainable for all incomes. Fashion with history from vintage lines to contemporary that a women can shop for in the same store. I really love the story of Harry Gordon who created Selfridges department store in London, UK. His innovative designs, out of the box ideas and thoughts to retail were the blue prints of the modern department store.
What did you do before Le Thrift and what inspired you to start your own company?
Before Le Thrift Consignment, I had my own graphic design company for seven years and then was a fashion representative for Tom Ford in the Midwest. My first out of college job was designing Disney licensed baby clothes for Marshall Fields, Macy's and Target. My career has changed many times due to trends in the economy and I have always had to adapt. I tell people just graduating school that their career may change up to seven times as an adult and to try to learn as much and be adaptive in order to be successful in today's economy.
Le Thrift Consignment has always been a dream business to start up. It was about timing that I actually got the chance to do it. Although it was not under the best of circumstances, I had been laid off from my position with Tom Ford during the last recession. At the time I was a single mother who had been going on countless interviews with no results. I wanted to do something about it and decided to pursue my dream of becoming a luxury consignment business owner. At home while my daughter was at school, I did a ton of research and drew up a business plan. I wanted to offer a type of business that was not offered in Chicago, a niche where I felt there was a demand.
At the same time, during the recession, my friends and colleagues were losing their jobs and homes and came to me to sell their clothing after the announcement of the business. I started out of my house in a tiny bedroom that became my office. A lot of people told me I could not do it, I had no money and warned me it would fail. Never let anyone tell you that you cannot go for a dream. Just make sure that you have a solid business plan and do the research before starting.
What's next for Le Thrift? Is there anything you’re looking forward to in particular?
We are moving into the next phase of the business which is to focus more online. This is very exciting for us as this is where we see more potential growth. We are also expanding the business into offering new services that can assist clients and make their lives easier. With this phase of business there will be expansion into another state. Although, any of these details I cannot go into further as there is a lot of competition in my field right now. I am thoroughly excited though to execute this next phase.
What has been one of the biggest milestones in your career so far?
The biggest milestone in my career has been that other business owners in the same field and across the US take me seriously now and the business has a presence in the fashion world. It has been seven years in the making with little to no capital and a lot of sweat equity.
What is the hardest part about running your own business?
The hardest part of running my business is following all the changes and trends that happen in retail. The economy is still soft and customers still really think before purchasing an item. Our society has been trained to only shop sales and discounts. As a small business retailer this can be very challenging because even the slightest narrow in our margins can have huge effects on our outcome. We also have to constantly adapt to the market around us. We have more competition than when we first started and the local market has become saturated with consignment , so we are constantly trying to find ways to make ourselves unique and create a niche that the other businesses do not offer to their customers.
What is the most rewarding part about running your own business?
The most rewarding part of running my business is to constantly be learning and challenged everyday. I meet so many people from different generations, backgrounds and professions that I learn from. Also, the history that you can learn from behind fashion is amazing. When I go to an older client's house and go through their closet, I talk to them about when they wore certain items. They often relate a dress or bag to a certain time or event in history. I love hearing these stories and learning from more a personal perspective of how these events in history affected their decisions in buying and deciding what they wore. There is a anthropology perspective I never thought existed when I first started the business.
Featured image via