Dec. 9, 2011 (ShapeShiftas) -- OMG, how I used to love the Sample Sales!! Every year about this time, you could go right into designers' shipping lofts and buy right from the racks all sorts of great apparel, shoes, and bags at wholesale prices. Just when you're supposed to be shopping for gifts, along comes the <<your favorite designer>> Sample Sale. "Mom would love this Norma Kamali jumpsuit!" I'd rationalize. "And, if she doesn't..."
These days you get flyers about the sales thrust into your hands while walking in the Garment District, and they are run by third-party "jobbers" who rent temporary space, sell lots of different companies' stuff of widely-different quality, and they even take credit cards. But back in the glory days of the Garment Center, they were sort of secret, exclusive, insiders-only events. Maybe there would be a Xeroxed announcement in the designer's building's elevators for a day or two before the sale, and they really sold samples as well as old inventory.
So, if you were a size 4 and had $800 cash you could score a one-off gown or coat that had been made for the runway. And, if you were a normal-sized American woman, there were still lots of bargains, excess inventory from cancelled orders that the apparel companies would sell for cash, so they then had the bucks for their buyers' "Christmas presents."
Unknown designer's sample Sale
Any wholesale business needs a way to sell samples and excess inventory. Apparel companies usually have "close-outs" customers that will buy "off-price" merchandise for their stores. It's very difficult to run a "clean" inventory; you get a cancellation, or you have to buy a certain amount of fabric to get the color or print you want for an order and it's more yardage than you need. So, you "cut it up" and try to sell off the extra pieces.
A small business like ShapeShiftas produces everything to order, but big apparel companies that import everything have to fill up those containers, so they bring in a lot of merchandise "on the come", meaning, unsold, and then try to write more orders while the goods are still "on the water." (Love that garmento lingo!) The hugest companies have their own close-out stores, so-called outlets, and they actually have to produce some close-outs to keep those stores filled, cutting styles they have already made in cheaper fabrics.
Other companies sell their stuff to stores like TJ Maxx, which we just love here in Vermont, it's the best (only) place to shop for fashion. And the high-end designers and small companies that don't produce enough pieces to close-out, well, they have a Sample Sale!
So how do you have a Sample Sale from a mountaintop in Vermont? Even though we have produced everything to order, we had to buy some extra fabric and also have some samples to move. Since there are no passersby's hands to thrust sale flyers into, and no shoppers roaming the streets outside my studio, I decide I'm going to list my close-out items on Etsy, the eBay of arts and crafts.
There are supposedly people who make money on Etsy, but I can't imagine how. You have to be listing items constantly, all day long, to get a five-second notice on the front page, and you also have to relentlessly promote your shop so people can find it. There are reportedly "hundreds of thousands" of sellers on Etsy; it is a pretty cool community of artisans, and you can have "conversations" and read blogs about how to sell on Etsy.
I have tried Etsy before, listing items from the line at full retail price, or MSRP, because I can't undercut my wholesale customers. Unfortunately, the average price-point on Etsy sems to be about $14, so my pieces were way more expensive than Etsy shoppers seem willing to regularly pay. I have never bought anything on Etsy, and I didn't sell a piece, either, but I do like the idea of Etsy. There must be a way to make it work for ShapeShiftas!
They have really improved the look of the site since I last tried selling on Etsy, but I still find listing each item to be a tedious and time-consuming process. (As of this writing, I have exactly one item listed.) It's supposed to be linked in to the Facebook page and Twitter feed, but I'm not sure if that is happening yet.
I don't know how shoppers will be able to find ShapeShiftas on Etsy yet, but when they do, I hope they will get a virtual Sample Sale rush. There's nothing like a bargain, right? We can get it for you wholesale!