Upcycling: 5 favorite spots for your fix in metro Detroit

Metro Detroit residents are changing the way they interact with second-hand stores. Thanks to an often financially-insecure and sustainability-aware millennial generation, the negative vibes associated with thrift shop purchases and rummaging through furniture resale warehouses are diminishing rapidly. Grandma’s couch is back in.

But it’s not just the well-known charity outfits (such as the deserving Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul and Goodwill stores) that are thriving, nor is it just cash-strapped students who are shopping. With the resale industry in the US expected to double its sales to $41 billion by 2022, a new wave of fashionable consignment stores, trendy vintage emporiums and even recycled housing material suppliers have sprung up. We check out five spots worth a look at around metro Detroit.

Twice Blessed
27 S Broadway Street, Lake Orion
Best for: Scoring a label for less

Consignment store owner Kristy Kowatch combines fashion with the ethical resale at her boutique. Her upscale store opened in 2006 and accepts brand-name women and kids clothing, reselling the apparel with a commission rate for the sellers. It’s a win-win.Kristy Kowatch runs a boutique consignment store in Lake Orion.

“Shoppers love visiting consignment boutiques,” Kowatch says. “It gives them a way to purchase high-end name brands like Tori Birch, Lulu Lemon and Louie Vuitton, at prices usually less than half the price of new.”

Kowatch points out that parents of young children and teenagers also have a way of keeping up with current trends without breaking the bank. But for her customers, it’s not just about being frugal.

“Ten years ago there was a renewed interest in consignment due to our nation’s economic troubles,” she says. “However, I believe this has largely been replaced by a deeper awareness of our planet, and a desire to help conserve our limited resources. Customers love being able to upcycle their quality clothing and accessories, rather than always buying new.”

Kowatch adds that at the end of the consignment process, there’s one more step in the cycle.

“If there are items that don’t sell through our shop, many customers choose to then donate their unsold clothing and accessories to charities that direct their goods to needy families.”

Lost and Found Vintage
510 S Washington Ave, Royal Oak
Best for: Shopping with that retro-obsessed friend

Three floors of old-school treasures dot this shop, focusing on clothing and memorabilia from the 1900s through the 1980s. Since opening its doors in 2003, the shop—which purchases vintage items directly from the public on a weekly basis—has developed something of a following, both locally and further afield.

General Manager Amanda Khoury says that one of the ways they’ve developed over the years has been in becoming adept at identifying customer trends and needs.

“The demands of shoppers—particularly those who love vintage—is always ever-changing, so keeping up with that can at times be a challenge,” Khoury says. “However, that’s what makes our job so fun and interesting.”

“Fun” is clearly evident in the collections on show here, resulting in some visually delightful displays. Looking for an entire rack of flannel shirts to choose from? Check. Want a selection of decorative hats made with feathers? Onto it. Need a 70s party frock? There’s a section with your name on it.

The Salvation Army Family Store
605 S Opdyke Rd, Auburn Hills
Best for: Humming "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

A little bit of everything makes this a good place for an upcycle outing. Some of the furniture costs a little more than you may expect to pay at a charity store, but the shop regularly runs 50 percent off days on particular tag colors where you can grab a bargain. Shops like this always get mixed reviews online, but part of that is about expectations—if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dive in, the satisfaction of finding something is worth it.

Give yourself plenty of time to go through their huge selection of clothing, thankfully arranged by genre rather than color. Color arrangements, a popular trend in thrift shops, can be aesthetically pleasing but can be frustrating for buyers—who shops by color? Literature lovers can also find a favorite or two here, if you can pick your way through the self-help and religious texts.

The staff are friendly and cheerful (and let’s be honest, that makes or breaks a retail adventure) and this is also a great spot to pay it forward and donate your gently-used apparel. Bring your own bag though, because these folks care about the environment as well.

Fred’s Unique Furniture and Antiques
14091 E. Eight Mile Road, Warren, MI 48089
20201 Livernois, Detroit, MI 48221
Best for: Furniture...and getting lost for hours

This store dares you to find a diamond in the rough (literally, the website warns you of it’s piles of furniture) but it really does have some gems. The packed warehouses contain everything from vintage dressers to retro slot machines to office chairs, and you could spend days pouring over the bric-a-brac.Bobcat Bonnie's has made the most of reclaimed kitchen items. Photo by David Lewinski.

The furniture store is not a traditional showroom (consider yourself warned) but its cluttered collections include hotel liquidation furniture, and gently-used office furniture so a lot of businesses turn to Fred’s to outfit a new place. The owners of Bobcat Bonnie's cafe in Wyandotte even created a striking wall mural of kitchen items (pots, pans and trays) from what they found at Fred’s Warren location.

Fred, in the flesh, is a Lebanese immigrant who originally launched the store three decades ago in a 200 square-foot shop, and is one of those iconic Detroit characters. He has been featured on the History Channel’s "Detroit Steel", and his stores regularly make the “best of” lists for resale shopping in Detroit.

Fred's Unique Furniture and Antiques began in 1982.

Best for: Joining the movement without leaving your home

If you thought the upcycling movement may be cowed by online giants like Amazon, think again. In fact, the owners of ThredUp have watched their pilot program for peer-to-peer online sharing of men’s shirts grow into one of the world’s largest online marketplaces to buy and sell women’s and kids’ secondhand clothes.

Co-founder and CEO James Reinhart says it’s all about a shift in retail mentality.

“We are transforming the way people think about secondhand and we have the capacity and the energy and the vision to make that a part of people’s lives for 20, 30, 50 years,” he says.
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Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at kroff@issuemediagroup.com