A Goodwill story in Washington, D.C.
A Goodwill story in Washington, D.C. - 
Listen To The Story


KAI RYSSDAL: Every marketer knows that if you want to sell something that's old, you can't ever call it old. Classic is a good word. Vintage works well for clothing. Back when your old clothes were just old you packed them up and donated them to Goodwill. Now, with yesterday's fashions filling trendy shops what's old isn't just new again -- it's new and expensive. No surprise, then, that even Goodwill is getting some fashion sense. Andrea Gardner has that story.

Andrea Gardner: When Washington, D.C., shopper Em Hall is browsing the racks of her local Goodwill store, she's looking for the good stuff. Vintage clothing. It takes a while, but eventually she strikes gold.

Emma Hall: A mint-condition vintage three-piece men's Yves Saint Laurent suit from the 70s, for $12.48. I know. It was, it just like, I saw it sitting on the rack, it was literally ...

Hall is not just any bargain shopper. She works for the Washington, D.C., Goodwill. Her job is to search for vintage clothing among the racks of donated clothes. Her treasures are sold on Goodwill D.C.'s eBay store, where vintage shoppers worldwide pay much more than $12 for Yves Saint Laurent. Case in point: Remember that suit?

Hall: It sold on eBay for $165. The money, like all clothing proceeds, went back to Goodwill D.C., to help fund its job training programs. Vintage sales are an entirely new revenue stream for the organization, and are slowly catching on. Vice President Brendan Hurley says the initiative is also helping to change the perception of Goodwill, from the old thrift store to a trendy fashion source.

BRENDAN HURLEY: We knew that there was a market for vintage. It's huge here in Washington, D.C. And we wanted to tap into young professional women who enjoy shopping at vintage retailers.

Some branches have opened special boutiques featuring higher-end clothing. Others sell vintage in online auctions where prices can be bid-up beyond the thrift-store range. Goodwill D.C. stuck strictly to the Web so that core customers -- who are older and less affluent -- wouldn't be alienated. They launched the eBay store, a MySpace page, and a fashion blog. In July, Goodwill D.C. hosted an online fashion show that raised more than $100,000. But, Hurley says, the vintage business is not just about raising money.

HURLEY: It also gave us an opportunity to educate a new population on Goodwill's mission. So that we can cultivate them, and generate additional support for Goodwill's programs at the same time.

Nonprofit marketing consultant Nancy Schwartz says young people typically aren't interested in social service nonprofits. They prefer causes like Amnesty International, AIDS or the environment, which are trumpeted by celebrities and have dramatic messages. Goodwill's mission is job training for the disabled and poor. Not as exciting. That's why fashion is an important accessory.

NANCY SCHWARTZ: Their fashionable vintage and designer items . . . that is their intersection with folks in this generation who aren't going to be as engaged with their job training.

But Schwartz believes this vintage focus presents a Catch-22 for Goodwill nationwide. While it attracts new people to the cause, it also reinforces the idea that Goodwill is about clothes, when its true mission is jobs.

In Los Angeles, I'm Andrea Gardner, for Marketplace.