Deborah Daugherty has an eye for high-quality clothing and accessories and a knack for sniffing out a bargain. For her, acquiring designer merchandise is about the thrill of finding a good piece.
“If you're going to buy something, buy something that's good quality, that's going to last for years if you take care of it,” says the teacher assistant who lives near York. “My other motto is, 'Let's get it as cheap as we can.' “
Over the years she's built up an impressive collection of designer pieces, many of which came from such unlikely sources as auctions, garage sales and flea markets. “A lot of people would love to have my purse closet and my shoe closet,” Daugherty says.
She dreamed of starting her own consignment store but couldn't take on that project between raising kids, working and helping run a 100-acre farm.
Her daughter Alexandria Keener headed to Harrisburg University of Science and Technology to study new media design and technology. She needed an internship to graduate. And she, too, liked the idea of opening a consignment shop. She'd certainly internalized her mother's lessons about buying good merchandise.
“If you spend a lot of money on something, it's probably very well made, made with good fabric and quality stitching,” Keener says.
She thought their idea to open a consignment store might fit into her graduation requirement.
So Keener and Daugherty laid the groundwork for what would become My Girlfriend's Wardrobe, an online and mobile consignment retailer that launched in January.
Charles Palmer, who teaches multimedia at the university, is Keener's advisor. He says she was among first of his students to take the school's experiential learning requirement as an opportunity to start a business. “She had a firm idea of what she wanted to do,” Palmer says.
My Girlfriend's Wardrobe specializes in like-new clothing, shoes and accessories for women and children. The business sells items from high-end labels such as Kate Spade, Burberry and American Eagle.
Much of the inventory is courtesy of Keener's family. In the months it's been operating, My Girlfriend's Wardrobe has built up a network of consignors from as far away as Kentucky and Georgia. The consignors ship their wares to the business through the mail. They are paid by check or PayPal.
Keener estimates that she spends at least 40 hours each week on her business, on top of her full load of classes, part-time job at a sunglass store and extra projects like developing an upcoming website for the university's Entrepreneur Club. She handles the website for My Girlfriend's Wardrobe, along with its social media pages. Her duties also include advertising and managing inventory.
She advertises the store's wares through Craigslist ads. She also spends an hour or two a week searching Craigslist for ads posted by people who are looking to buy something the store happens to have in stock.
For her part, Daugherty handles the accounting and hunts for some pieces to sell. They keep their inventory at their house, with some being stored at Daugherty's parents' home.
My Girlfriend's Wardrobe also has a mobile store – a recreational vehicle with clothing racks and fitting rooms – that's open Fridays and Saturdays.
The mother-daughter team originally wanted to open a storefront, but bought into the idea of a movable store because it would be cheaper and easier to maintain.
Keener and Daugherty take the mobile store to special events. Its next appearance will be Oct. 6 at the Bridge Bust, an annual gathering of vendors on a bridge over the Susquehanna River, linking the south-central PA towns of Columbia and Wrightsville.
My Girlfriend's Wardrobe plans to donate some of its proceeds from the Bridge Bust to animal shelters in York County. “I can't walk into the SPCA without wanting to take one of the animals home,” Keener says.
Within a couple of years, she and Daugherty hope to open a storefront for their shop, although they plan to maintain the mobile and online stores. They're focusing their search on the York, Dover and Hanover areas.
So far, My Girlfriend's Wardrobe appears to be successful.
“We have a lot of people who are liking our merchandise and loving our prices, and think we have a good selection,” Daugherty says.
REBECCA VANDERMEULEN is a freelance writer who lives near Downingtown. As she tells friends out of state, that's between the cheesesteaks and the Amish.
All Photographs by BRAD BOWER