In a time when every dollar counts, more parents are looking into used clothing for their families.
Back-to-school shopping cost Regan Trapp's family about $250 last year just for her 7-year-old son's new clothes.
Feeling the pinch of higher gas prices, the Medford mother passed up brand-new this year for like-new from White City's Goodwill store. After cleaning out her garage, Trapp took a load of children's clothes to Jack and Jills, a Medford resale store, where she received a $175 credit that should keep her 2-year-old son in clothes for the entire year.
"It's just a huge money-saver for us," the 32-year-old says. "We're just trying to cut corners where we can."
As retailers brace themselves for a disappointing back-to-school season, more parents seem to be choosing used clothing over new, says Tiffany Knouff, owner of Jack and Jills.
"We've definitely picked up since back-to-school shopping started," Knouff says.
The store on Crater Lake Avenue prices most items well below 50 percent of the new retail cost, Knouff says. A fresh inventory — usually between 60 and 200 items — arrives daily, courtesy of parents like Trapp. Rather than putting items on consignment, Knouff buys them outright, offering store credit or, for name brands, cash. Customers at the franchise resale store Kid to Kid, on Poplar Drive, encounter a similar system.
"We saw a lot of people wanting to sell to us just for the cash," says Kid to Kid owner Shonna Bouteller. "They're supplementing their school shopping — new and used."
Yet tight budgets aren't the only reason parents are looking to resale stores. Trapp and others cite environmental ethics as a major factor in choosing used over new.
"I just like the idea of reusing and recycling better-quality stuff," Trapp says.
Hollie Arnold, 28, of Medford, started shopping for her son at Jack and Jills about three years ago. When a couple of birthdays and Christmases left her trash cans crammed with useless plastic, Arnold started considering Jack and Jills for toy purchases, too, because resale items lack the copious packaging of their new counterparts.
Arnold says she always asks family and friends whether they mind receiving used gifts for their children. Most, she says, don't, provided the present didn't start out in their closets before ending up at Jack and Jills.
"They also feel like ... it's better for the environment," Arnold says.
Fourteen years after Cate Jennings opened Earth Friendly Kids on Ashland's Siskiyou Boulevard, she says the green movement is buoying the resale industry. Although gas prices have kept some customers and consigners home, her store's inventory has never been larger, Jennings says. Shoppers, she adds, run the socio-economic gamut from struggling single-parent families to doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
"We've got a very eclectic array of merchandise," Jennings says.
Like Jack and Jills and Kid to Kid, Earth Friendly Kids stocks gently-used clothes, including many name brands. Gymboree and Gap, resale merchants say, hold up particularly well, probably because those manufacturers start with higher-quality fabrics.
"We try to stay with the natural fibers," Jennings says. "They wear better; they recycle better."
Jeans, jackets and other "basics" make popular resale items, as well as hand-me-downs, Jennings and Knouff say. Both merchants say they consider style and season when selecting their inventories. While Jennings keeps customers in mind when she sorts through consigners' goods, Knouff keeps a list of customers to notify if a particular item shows up in her store.
"The key to successful resale shopping is frequency," Jennings says.
Although Jennings and Bouteller admit that wearing used clothes can carry a stigma, typically for teens, resale shoppers likely won't see much difference this year between the styles in used and new stores. Fashion experts are citing a lack of "must-have" fashion trends as one contributor to this year's back-to-school shopping slump. Jeans and T-shirts are projected to be among the biggest sellers as retail analysts lament a lack of "anything new" in fashion.
Resale merchants like Jennings, who always try to avoid anything too trendy, have a considerably brighter outlook.
"Right now, it seems like everything is in," Jennings says. "I think that's a real boost for our industry."
Consumers looking to tighten their belts by purchasing used — or just fewer new — pieces of clothing can benefit from the same advice, experts say. Buy slightly higher quality in more durable materials, like denim, wool or velvet, because those clothes will last longer. Choose gender-neutral items for younger children that can be passed along to siblings. And stay away from fads.
"Go with classic styles," Jennings says. "It's never going to fail."
Whether families hope to exchange outgrown clothing at resale shops or go the hand-me-down route, Jennings, Bouteller and Knouff advise careful laundering to keep colors bright and remove stains.
"Trying to get those spots out as soon as you see 'em is probably your best bet," Knouff says, adding that she recommends keeping Tide pens in purses or diaper bags.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.