For many, a first job is a right of passage into the working world; the responsibility of shifts, collaborating with coworkers, and proudly taking home a scheduled paycheck. Whether it be in a restaurant, behind a desk, or pacing the floors in retail, there are invaluable lessons to be taken away from what it means to work and be an employee. This summer, I worked full time in a temporary position at a world renowned department store to get a taste for the retail world. I can’t say I predicted what it would be like, and there were definitely aspects I never would have expected, but after nearly 7 weeks on the floor, what I took away from being an associate were lessons that relate to so much more outside of retail.
One of the best parts of working retail is that you have the chance to play personal stylist on the side. It’s the equivalent of being a kid in a candy store, just with clothes, shoes, and everything else to satisfy materialistic needs. As a selling associate, you undertake the responsibility of knowing your products, knowing your trends, and most importantly knowing your customers. It’s a constant race to stay two steps ahead of the floor stock along with the eager customers who want answers. It’s definitely not a new tactic, but the best way to sell to your customers is to truly know your products. This comes from equal part experience and embarrassing trial-and-errors. Adding on to an already demanding mental catalogue of inventory, and in almost a blind sort of way, you have to cue in on what styles brands will be producing in the future. Whether a debut item or a renovated style, customers always are asking for what’s next. It’s not bad to be futuristic, planning ahead for upcoming seasons, but it begs the question of when did fashion become so disposable? Is it rooted in the economic powerhouses of cheaper clothing such as Forever21 and now everyone expects to pay $12 for a one-time wear t-shirt? Where I worked has definitely amassed its own cult following, don’t get me wrong, but the mesh of customers with different outlooks on the longevity of clothing was surprising.
Another aspect that comes along with a first job (in any field) is the exciting, yet frighteningly mature responsibility of taking home a paycheck. And in retail, your main goal is to really have a paycheck to take home at the end of the week. A guaranteed weekly income gives leeway to splurge more knowing there’s more to come in just a week’s time. This is not only dangerous because you can hold yourself less accountable for saving but you’ll see that purchases add up much quicker when they’re on a weekly cycle. And while an associate discount does seem nice in theory, it takes an impressive stint of patience to wait for the $225 pair of Rag and Bone jeans to drop off and be relocated to the sales rack.
Touching on what I mentioned before, everyone is focused on what’s next. As brands supply stores with new makes and styles, sale racks overcrowd and overflow; hence clearance racks. It’s an acquisitive pattern. And while everyone loves a good sale, I am shamelessly included, fashion sometimes seems to be a temporary placeholder for people’s interest while shopping. Seeing your name and your working hours converted to a monetary value printed on a check, or better direct deposit, is undeniably rewarding but turning that salary right back around into the cash registers is less rewarding in the long run.
During slow spells on the floor, I found myself looking out over the sea of clothing racks, noticing items stacked eight pieces high on tables, and refolding high end jeans customers tear through like they’re looking for a lost diamond. If there was one thing shocking I took away from my job day after day was that I slowly became less and less interested in shopping for brand new clothes. The appeal was no longer there for me. I think I became so staggered around the concept of how much we consume as humans that I felt almost guilty contributing to it. Of course, a majority of things are only offered as brand new items and there is no way around it, but when it comes to clothes there are so many alternatives.
One online retailer I’ve been a big fan of for awhile is The RealReal. Recognized as a consignment powerhouse, The RealReal is special because the vetting process for items to be resold is so specific and critical that you know you’re only getting really great quality items. If you can break down the negative connotations behind buying something used, there is really no reason to not shop the website. All clothes deserve to be recycled into wardrobes that will fully appreciate them and The RealReal is the perfect catalyst in placing incredible designer items that can list for as low as $30. Another well known company, What Goes Around Comes Around, that has stores in places such as New York City, the Hamptons, Los Angeles, and Miami, is a great outlet for second-hand designer with guaranteed quality and value.
It’s completely understandable that consignment designer may not be everyone’s niche but the idea of giving new life to what is already out there is a frame of mind I feel is slow to the fashion industry. If it’s not new, shiny, and never-before-seen then it’s not even given the time of day and that’s a practice that is outdated and unrealistic. In order for items to hold their significance in a way that will be valued for future use, we are the crucial resources to utilize products to their full potential. Small steps have been made, and the intention is good, but a movement like this has to come from the fashion industry as a whole, not just the old souls who see the long-term sentimental worth.