Web-based consignment boutique supports local charities

Valerie A. Russo

Lee McCue of Hingham wanted to spice up her wardrobe with a sleeveless black lace blouse by Nanette Lepore that she purchased at a consignment fashion trunk show in Hingham. But she did more than add pizzazz.

She also helped the environment by buying something the previous owner never wore, paying $79.99, a third of the original price. And her purchase supported a worthy cause, Medicines for Humanity in Rockland.

Hosted by Maxime Salon in Hingham, the trunk show featured women’s designer clothing and accessories from Tra Tutti, a new Web-based consignment business launched in April by Sharon native Ashley Judge.

About 25 shoppers (women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s) chatted with Judge, sampled refreshments and tried on clothing and footwear, including a Diane von Furstenberg tweed boucle minidress, a Juicy Couture jersey dress, Coach boots and True Religion jeans, all of which sold that evening.

“It’s really a great concept for a hair salon to host a fashion and charity event. I would go again,” said Molly Lee of Hingham, a Maxime Salon customer.

Salon owner Ronit Enos, the host for Tra Tutti’s first trunk show on the South Shore, added, “We wanted to offer our customers something different, a fun evening out with an opportunity to buy great clothes at consignment prices.”

Judge calls her consignment business “couture with a conscience” because 20 percent of the sales price goes to charity. The name Tra Tutti, which means, roughly, “something for all,” reflects her mission.

“There’s this great new wave of social enterprises, which have the triple bottom line – making a profit, having a positive impact on society and being good for the environment. I want Tra Tutti to be part of that new wave,” Judge said.

“I’ve always had a love of philanthropy. But I also have a passion for fashion and bargain hunting. I wanted to do both. And with consignment, you have a unique opportunity to give a larger percentage to charity because you don’t have inventory costs.,” she said.

Consigners and Tra Tutti split 80 percent of the sales proceeds, with the remaining 20 percent going to charity. Online customers designate which of  The choices are the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, Dress For Success Boston, The Home For Little Wanderers, MSPCA-Angell and Rosie’s Place.

Businesses and individuals who host trunk shows can choose a different charity, such as Enos did with Medicines for Humanity.

Judge, 27, a UMass/Amherst graduate, former event planner for Goodwill and former manager of external affairs for Swanee Hunt, who is the director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the former U.S. ambassador to Austria, had been planning her Web-based business for the past three years. She prepared by researching the designers featured in high-end boutiques and department stores, obtaining designer apparel and accessories from friends and family, and with help from her father, setting up a home office in Medford with bins and racks to hold all the consignments. She also took the four-month Power Up course in business basics at the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston.

Her timing for starting a Web-based consignment business couldn’t have been better.

“In this economy, people who never consigned before are consigning. They may still do the big spending that they did last season, but at the end of the season there’s a closet clean-out; they’d like to have a little bit more cash in their pocket,” she said. “The shoppers enjoy the hunt for the bargain. They want to stretch their shopping dollars.”

She has about 500 items for sale on her Web site, Tratutti.com, and about 100 items waiting to be photographed or waiting for the proper season to be shown. About 75 percent of consigned merchandise comes from the Greater Boston area, Cape Cod and Rhode Island; 25 percent is from other states. So far, there are no international consigners.

Judge meets with potential consigners at their home or at a local coffee shop. Or, they mail her items they wish to consign. Before meeting or mailing merchandise, consigners contact Judge by phone (781-201-9118) or e-mail (consignment@tratutti.com) to make sure the clothing and accessories are current styles by designers she accepts. She takes Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade, Juicy Couture and Chanel, for example, but not mall store designers such as Abercrombie, Chico’s, Liz Claiborne or J. Crew. She accepts shoes, boots, bags, belts, jewelry, other accessories and women’s apparel (size 0 to 14/16), but no fur products, no bridal or bridesmaids’ dresses and no menswear, at least for now.

Judge herself is a regular customer. One of her best finds was a knee-length gold vintage St. John jacket.

“I wore it to Fashion Week in Boston and was actually spotted by someone who works for St. John,” Judge said. “She asked, ‘Can I take a photo of you to send to the head of St. John because they love to see some of their pieces reinvented and repurposed in a more youthful way?’ I wore the jacket with leggings and a white ribbed tank top and a lot of necklaces.”

About 80 percent of Tra Tutti merchandise has never been worn and comes in original packaging or with original tags attached. The rest is in excellent condition.

Judge sets prices at 40 to 50 percent of original retail and marks down unsold items after 30 days. Jewelry by designers such as David Yurman and Tiffany may run a little higher, because they never go on sale at authorized retailers, she said. Tra Tutti also has special sales, which are announced on her blog (linked to her Web site) and by e-mail and social media. Consigners and trunk show customers receive additional discounts on Web purchases.

Tra Tutti is one of the few Web-based consignment shops that will accept returns, Judge said. Customers receive full refunds on merchandise returned within 14 days and Tra Tutti credit for merchandise returned within 30 days, provided it has not been used and the tags are still attached.

Shoppers who prefer to try on apparel and accessories before purchasing can request a trunk show in their home or business for a minimum of six attendees. Trunk show hosts can request specific designers and sizes.

The Patriot Ledger