- An Interview with Michelle Raven - Curator of @thriftstylist Instagram Account & Creator of Personal Shopping Service at Arc’s Value Village
What you do love about being stylish on a budget? Building a wardrobe on a thrift store budget is so freeing! The investment is minimal, allowing me to be more adventurous and experimental with my personal style. Another advantage to creating a thrifted wardrobe is that I’m able to purchase high quality and designer items that would otherwise be out of my price range.
How would you describe your personal style? My personal style is ever-changing and ever-evolving. I have an eclectic aesthetic and I am always on the hunt for new inspiration.
Depending on my mood, I might wear a comfy t-shirt, broken in jeans and my favorite pair of minty green vintage Nikes, or conversely, a frilly tulle skirt and sexy heels—or maybe I’ll pair the tulle skirt with the sneakers—why not!? The part of thrift that really appeals to my creative side is the availability of so many styles right at your fingertips. There’s a lot to experiment with, which makes thrift styling feel so fun and inspired.
Why is it important for you to engage with community through Instagram? The #VillagerforaDay Instagram takeovers provide an incredible opportunity to connect with a community that Arc has been a part of for over 30 years. Ours is a community that’s teeming with creativity, inspiration and a collaborative spirit and I wanted to highlight that. The takeovers have proven to be a really fun way to develop relationships with community influencers and give them a reason to engage with our brand. Some of the talent featured are already longtime Arc shoppers and experienced thrifters, but others are novices who, through the takeover experience, become hooked on the art of the digging and the thrill of the hunting! Most recently, Anne Hardt, owner and designer of Hardt Jewelry has said that thrifting is a “new hobby” since her takeover experience in May.
At the core, the #VillagerforaDay takeover campaign is a marketing tool, but the beauty of it is it doesn’t feel like you’re being marketed to because it’s genuine, it’s authentic and it’s about more than getting you to come in and shop. It’s also a tool for communicating who Arc’s Value Village is—a local do-gooder organization that values this community and strives to foster inspiration, collaboration and community.
What do you offer through your personal stylist sessions? When a client arrives for their personal shopping appointment, I’ll greet them at the front of the store and escort them to their reserved fitting room. Excited “oohs” and “ahhs” are often heard as clients open the door to their private fitting room to find an attractive display of shoes and handbags picked just for them.
They are then presented with a rack full of clothing items I’ve hand-selected for them, based on the information they’ve provided on their Client Image Profile Form.
Not only is there a wide selection of separate pieces to try on, there are also 5-10 complete outfits for them to try. The completed outfits are a significant value to customers. Most any thrifter will tell you, it’s relatively easy to compile a collection of great thrifted pieces, but the real challenge is creating outfits around those great pieces. By coordinating full looks for clients, I’ve eliminated that challenge.
The client has an hour and fifteen minutes to try on the items. I’m there at the fitting rooms throughout, offering a second opinion and suggesting creative ways to wear and pair each piece. Throughout the appointment, I’ll gladly grab items in a different size or style if need be. I’m also on hand to re-hang any rejected items.
As the appointment wraps up, clients will have the opportunity to weed through their (often heaping) pile of treasured finds. They’ll consider their budget and their existing wardrobe, deciding what to keep and what to cut. There’s no pressure to buy—I always say, “Only leave with what you really love!”
In that short 75-minute timeframe, my clients are able to reinvigorate their look for pennies on the dollar and have a lot of fun doing it!
Why is secondhand shopping the way to go? It’s an eco-friendly approach to fashion; thrift epitomizes the green mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
Choosing your thrift stores selectively is also important. I opt for non-profit stores that support a worthy cause. Knowing your dollars have a positive impact on others is another great benefit to shopping secondhand.
Of course, secondhand shopping is easier on your wallet. We can all appreciate that.
And lastly, shopping secondhand allows you to infuse your look with greater creativity, originality and personal expression.
In 2011, Michelle Raven approached the team at Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores with the innovative idea to offer the same personal shopping services found in high-end department stores at a thrift store. The execs at Arc bravely took a chance on her idea, offering her a contract position to trial the service. It was a hit right from the start! Within six months, Michelle quit her full-time job as a quality assurance editor to become a full-time thrift stylist.
The service became Michelle’s baby. She developed it from the ground up, initially as the sole stylist, meeting with clients 2-3 days per week. Today, she manages a team of rotating guest stylists and sees clients five days a week.
Not only has the service been wildly popular with customers, it’s also proven to be a leading differentiator for the local, non-profit thrift store Arc’s Value Village. Arc’s is the first and only thrift store to provide its customers with complimentary, by-appointment shopping services with professional stylists. The novelty of this concept has garnered a lot of media attention. Michelle has been featured in several local newspapers, magazines and also on local television, including Twin Cities Live. In 2014, Michelle was selected as one of Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Honorees.
Michelle’s success has continued online. Her @thriftstylist Instagram feed has become a hub for all things thrift fashions. The page has acquired thousands of followers through Michelle’s smart digital marketing and the number of followers just keeps growing.
Michelle grew up in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Her and her husband Jon now live in Brooklyn Park with their infant son Sawyer and dog Kato (who’s name is a nod to the couple’s meeting place, Mankato, Minnesota).