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Fashion & Style

This used clothing store is taking over Toronto

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / June 8, 2014

kind exchange torontoHere's a riddle: What has opened 10 stores in Toronto within the last three years, has two locations within just a few blocks of each other on Queen St. West, and isn't Starbucks?

It's the Kind Exchange, a Toronto-grown chain of used clothing stores that's rapidly taking root in neighbourhoods across the city. What began with a single store on Queen West has expanded from Roncesvalles to Yonge and Eglinton to the Beaches, with four new locations opening this spring alone. The next one - the chain's 10th - will open its doors at 1185 Bloor St., near Dufferin, in two weeks.

For those who have never trawled through KX's many, many racks: The chain is stocked entirely with used items chosen by the store's staff from hauls brought in by customers. Items are generally priced to move. (If your items are chosen, you can opt for an on-the-spot cash payout - generally 20% of the selling price - or store credit, for 30%.) This differs from most consignment stores, which wait until your used items sell before giving you your share of the sale.

In terms of hunting intensity levels, it's a far easier shopping experience than the thrift store, but requires considerably more digging than your artfully "curated" high-falutin' new-and-vintage boutique. Some visits, you'll go home empty-handed; other days, you'll find your new favourite wardrobe item. Not everything will work for you, but all of the items the buyers select - which, though sometimes well-loved, are free of stains, rips and holes - are brought in with the knowledge someone, somewhere, will look absolutely smashing in it.

There's also a charitable element to the store - a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. One of the store's latest locations - Kind Exchange Cares, near Danforth and Woodbine - donates the profit from everything sold in the store.

kind exchange torontoFounder Jeff Wexler, an Ontario native, spent over a decade working for U.S. consignment chain Second Time Around (no relation to the store of the same name in Toronto). He struck out on his own in 2011, moving back to Toronto with his wife, Courtney, in tow, and set up shop at 611 Queen St. West. (He still lives above that first store.)

In the store's early days, the buy-sell-trade business model was a tough sell. "You're coming up with kind of a different retail concept," Wexler said. "Like, 'people have to bring their bags of clothes to you, and you're going to go through them and then give me money for it?'

"That first year was really tough. Was really, really tough. But we really fought for it."

The tide soon turned - thanks in large part, Wexler says, to the wonders of social media. The store poured time and resources into their online presence - after all, with new items flowing into the store every day, there's no shortage of eye candy to Instagram. The chain's staff remains engaged, styling mini-photo shoots and fielding questions about an item's size, price and availability. (A common sight in the comments: "omg can you hold this for me????")

kind exchange torontoThe store's following (online and in real life) grew, and buyers - and sellers - began flocking in, with folks dragging their bags of closet castoffs to Queen West from all over town. Eventually, the lightbulb went off.

Now, Wexler says, "We are opening stores because our customers would tell us, 'You gotta have a store on the Danforth. You gotta have a store on Bloor Street. You gotta come to the Annex. Oh, the Beaches - this is perfect for the Beaches.' It's the best way to grow."

Most clothing boutiques, naturally, are content to let people come to them - their stock would be the same anywhere in town, and one location is often enough for a small business to manage. But if you're cleaning out your closet, the convenience factor of having a consignment store just down the street where you can drop off your old threads is a powerful draw.

"Let's not pretend Toronto is an easy city to drive around, OK? So if I have people coming from the Beaches down to Queen West to sell their clothing and be part of it, then I'm going to go to the Beaches."

There's another built-in bonus to rapid expansion that comes with the business model. "What it does allow me to do, is I can buy at my current stores for new stores," Wexler says. "I might be able to buy 100 items at Bloor St. in the Annex for a new store in the Beaches. ... They can sort of feed off each other, which is great."

Kind Exchange TorontoThe Kind Exchange's popularity isn't the only indicator of Toronto's current appetite for cheaper clothing (or, perhaps, a desire to spin closet items into cash during lean times in an already-expensive city). On the same stretch of Queen St. West as the original Kind Exchange, there's Fashionably Yours, Consign Toronto, and the soon-to-open Garb - though the bulk of the city's other consignment stores focus on name-brand and designer items (Common Sort is a notable exception to the rule).

"The high-end market is great - that's its own world," Wexler says. "I came from high-end designer consignment, and I think there's a world for that, too, but I really want to be applicable to everybody."

In the wake of its rapid expansion, the chain's next moves include a revamped website that'll include clearer directions to prospective sellers, so they know what each store is and isn't accepting at the moment (thereby avoiding disappointment when you cart a bag of black pants to a store already brimming with extra pairs).

But even after all this growth, Wexler says, the company is far from done - in fact, he's still looking for location suggestions. "Where would you want to have a Kind Exchange - from Vancouver to PEI?

"Send us an email. Tweet at us. Come say hi."

Store photos by Erin Jones. Outfit photos via The Kind Exchange on Instagram.



Chris / June 8, 2014 at 04:48 pm
I have checked out the one in The Kingsway. It's pretty good. Lots of high end brands.
yuck / June 8, 2014 at 06:38 pm
Used clothing? Nasty
Audrina / June 8, 2014 at 07:22 pm
I've exchanged with them before. Lame experience. Brought in three large bags and they only wanted a few items, didn't matter if they were high ended brands - if the associates didn't think they would "sell", they would skip over the items and you would be left to decide whether you want to donate the rest or take them home and get some money out of them on your own. I went to one Queen St location and when they only wanted one thing, I took everything else with me and WALKED to the second location. The latter only wanted four things and honestly they retail way too high while you get a shitty piece of the selling value. Beware the long wait to have your things appraised or come back another day, which sucks for me as an uptown girl cause the cost of traveling there was more than the amount of money I received - and I didn't have no name clothing. I ended up donating a couple of things and went home with two bags cause I know those items still had great value. When you look through the stores, most of the clothing is dirty and has a definite used feeling so beware. I find the people who work there to be sketchy, sorry for judging but it seems they purchase on behalf of KE based on what they wear, like wtf biased interests - I'm not saying its for the case for all of them because there is some variety of clothing in the stores but they're really not that special.
Kara / June 8, 2014 at 08:47 pm
I agree with Audrina. Many times I've seen ripped and stained clothing on the racks here.

It made me mad as one time I hustled a bunch of high end designer stuff in great shape (definitely no rips or stains) and the girl at the counter proclaimed something I hadn't even worn and had only cut the tags off as "too worn."

I'm definitely not a princess about used clothing but I've seen some icky stuff here.

Big / June 8, 2014 at 09:42 pm
Audrina is right. Tried to give me $16 for 4...FOUR brand new Fred Perry polo shirts. Come on.
anon / June 8, 2014 at 09:50 pm
RIP Toronto
Ira / June 8, 2014 at 10:48 pm
Strange, I had 2 great experiences there - once buying and once selling. They wouldn't keep growing if everyone had bad expiriences.
cathie replying to a comment from yuck / June 8, 2014 at 10:59 pm
I agree. Wearing used clothing just grosses me out, I don't care how many times it was washed. Unless it was from a friend/family, no way. Give me Walmart instead.
Pants Go Brown / June 9, 2014 at 12:01 am
Uhhhhhhh, ever freakin heard of Value Village?
TJ replying to a comment from Big / June 9, 2014 at 09:09 am
That is pretty horrible. Although, I hate to say it, at the same time, you can find new Fred Perry Polo shirts at Winners/Marshalls for $19.99 each. I've see them quite frequently on "clearance" for $14-16 each (depending on store).
Ian / June 9, 2014 at 09:14 am
Took in a bag to Kind Exchange of simple luxury menswear (Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Ben Sherman, Cole Haan, Gucci); They only wanted a portion of what I had at a value of 5 percent of what I paid for them. I feel like they rely too much on the prices they see on ebay, not what they actually believe a customer will pay. I don't see this brand lasting too many years, used is not a trend.
TJ replying to a comment from Big / June 9, 2014 at 09:16 am
I went to 2 consignment stores a few years ago. One of the stores offered a 1/3, 2/3 split (I would get 1/3 while they get 2/3) of the sale price. Another store would outright buy my merchandise but I didn't want to sell my 2 mint condition Prada bags to them for $55 and $65 (retail was $850 and $1200). Not sure what they would have sold them for but the offer to me was simply ridiculous, especially since I've seen similar styles and conditions ask for $400 and $500 online.
Unkind exchange... / June 9, 2014 at 10:21 am
Just wanted to share my friend's experience with Kind Exchange: She took a bag of clothing to the Yonge/Eglinton location. They agreed to sell a few of her items and offered to donate the rest to charity. She agreed, and saw her "rejected" clothes for sale in their window the next week.

I've had excellent luck finding nice things in their stores, but my friend's experience has definitely turned me off.
Skye replying to a comment from Unkind exchange... / June 9, 2014 at 10:45 am
I've heard people say over and over, with any consignment/second hand store: if the store rejects your items, don't leave them behind to be "donated". You'll just end up seeing your rejected stuff for sale in the store.

That's disappointing RE: the KE location at Eg. I've bought some cool items there, and generally found the staff to be pleasant...
tommy replying to a comment from Audrina / June 9, 2014 at 10:48 am
Please tell us more about your #uptowngirl problems.
Jordashna / June 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm
I love the Kind Exchange! I was never into second-hand clothing (didn't have the patience to go digging through the racks at Value Village) but KX changed that. I always walk out with something and their prices are great! The reason they don't offer a lot of $ for your items is because they sell them at very low prices for high turnover, which is a smart business move. You want your inventory to constantly change so people visit often. Based on the prices they re-sell, their buying price is reasonable. Seriously, where else can you get cash or credit for second-hand Gap and H&M clothing?

If the "ick" factor is too much, I'd suggest the Danforth location. Super-clean and a good buyer.

(And no, I do not work for KX. I'm just really into fashion)
Manager at Yonge & Eg replying to a comment from Unkind exchange... / June 9, 2014 at 12:19 pm
I apologize that your friend had that experience and I'd love to clarify how our donation system works! First of all, this location is so busy with buys coming in that we don't sort through our donations. We bag them up every day and send them to our charity store on the Danforth where they're sorted, and sold as charity items with a portion of sales going to Canadian Cancer Society and a portion going to MS research. Other locations DO sort their own donations and sell items as charity. This might explain why somebody might see an item they've donated for sale in-store. The charity aspect of our business is close to our hearts and we try to be as transparent as possible. Feel free to ask our staff any questions... we're always happy to answer!
Sarah replying to a comment from Unkind exchange... / June 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm
When they "donate" your clothes to charity, it means that they sell your clothes in the store still, but 100% of the proceeds go to charity. Someone will still buy your item, but they don't keep any of the money (or so they say). Any clothes that have been "donated" to charity have a purple tag on them and state that 100% of the proceeds are for charity.
Connie / June 9, 2014 at 12:35 pm
I've had really terrible experiences there too, bringing in bags of really great clothing and getting around $35 for 10+ pieces of bags/shoes/clothes. It's great that I made a few bucks, but I probably paid at least few hundred for all the things they took. They should offer 50% store credit and 40% cash, 20% cash is way too low.
Chris / June 9, 2014 at 12:51 pm
I've had a wonderful experience with Kind Exchange every time I have been there and in fact have picked up some of my most cherished wardrobe items there. I've found the staff to be friendly and helpful and I have sold and donated items. They have always paid me what I thought to be fair for what I have brought in and they have great taste and a good eye for fashionable pieces. The work they do with charity is commendable and for those that think they saw their pieces that were donated in the windows, I highly doubt it but even if that were the case; this company has done a lot for the community and charity and I can't imagine your second hand pieces you were willing to donate could have held that much value…now they are helping to support a company that does donate a lot of clothing...
Jess / June 10, 2014 at 08:30 am
Although Rick is obviously trolling, he has a point. When you sell your clothes to Kind Exchange, you can't expect them to pay you big bucks, they need to sell the item too, and they usually do it at a reasonable price.
Skye replying to a comment from Manager at Yonge & Eg / June 10, 2014 at 09:39 am
Thanks for clarifying. It's a bit dishonest, though, to pass on buying an item because it "won't sell", but then put it in your front window as means of enticing people into your store (if that is indeed what happened to Unkind's friend).

Even if you are donating the proceeds, you're still using the clothes to advertise KE...clothes that apparently "wouldn't sell". Just my two cents...
Buck / June 10, 2014 at 03:03 pm
I was actually pretty excited when I saw one open up on Queen West, and when I went to check it out I felt like I was shopping for clothes at a garage sale.

I have nothing against used clothing - but more than a few items were stained/pilled/worn out, which really shouldn't be considered acceptable in a place that is supposed to be selective about the items that are for sale.

I'll be passing on the Roncesvalles location, thanks. Once was enough.
Gillian replying to a comment from Skye / June 10, 2014 at 08:15 pm
Just to clarify, the Yonge and Eglington store does not sort/sell charity items so it must have been a misunderstanding.
SadCustomer / June 17, 2014 at 07:17 pm
I brought them 3 giant bags of stuff, probably almost 40 pieces of clothing with brands ranging from H&M to Chanel. There was a line up so they said they will call in 1-2 days. Didn't get anything until a week. They apparently left a voice message? I went back in 2 weeks and they said they gave everything to charity. like... are you serious???

Abbey Milton / June 21, 2014 at 07:14 am
I agree. Wearing used clothing just grosses me out, I don't care how many times it was washed. Unless it was from a friend/family, no way. Give me Walmart instead.
Jane replying to a comment from Ira / August 12, 2014 at 08:20 pm
Yes, they keep growing because they steal your clothes. When you don't come back within 2 days, your stuff is "donated" automatically. Donated means they have it in their basement or storage area, so they can sell and profit off your clothes. These people are scammers
Jane / August 12, 2014 at 08:25 pm
This place is stealing from Toronto.
NotaHippie replying to a comment from yuck / September 10, 2014 at 07:13 pm
Actually, what's more nasty is the idea of sweatshops, pesticide use on cotton crops, and more landfill. That's what it comes down to when you buy and throw away new clothing.
LOL bye. / September 11, 2014 at 03:15 pm
As an internal from the company I will say this place is 100% scam. Your "donated" clothing doesn't go to charity. They choose which items will be donated to charity (which is practically none). It's easy to determine, try and find tags on them that say "charity". Most is profited by the three owners. It's hilarious actually, no one knows what they are doing here. They are trying to make it sound elaborate as if they are buying "exclusive" pieces, the people who run this place are all friends and no nothing about fashion trends. They DO indeed take your bags when you don't pick them up on time and then place your items on the sales floor. Don't make these people rich because nothing is going to charity ha ha ha.
pearlD. replying to a comment from Connie / November 12, 2014 at 11:59 am
I agree about the cash/store credit system..too low for certain and not realistic...ExToggery on Brentcliffe are more discerning but you do receive more money...This is a burgeoning 'business' so I disagree with the person who said this business will run its course...There are still many resale stores from high end to the middle to the low end....In today's marketplace there are customers for every price point as above....
Sosad replying to a comment from LOL bye. / November 28, 2014 at 08:47 pm
I'm so sad to hear this but not surprised. I've talked to a few of the sales people who do all of the work and make minimum wage. They say that the owner is making crazy bucks off people's "donated" clothes. I used to love to shop there. Now I'm so sad!
crusty / December 10, 2014 at 02:33 am
Wearing clothes made by impoverished Bangladeshi children grosses me out. Like, yuck! Who would purchase new items that support slave labour and unnecessarily use finite resources when perfectly good clothing can be found secondhand? I'll take somebody's three year old faded black skinny jeans any day.
Ginny / May 30, 2015 at 12:38 am
Just because something is brand name doesn't mean it's desirable, especially to someone shopping in a thrift store.

...and according to the sales clerk I spoke to today, it's good to call ahead because different stores has different wants.

I went to the 611 Queen location on Wednesday with a giant bag of clothes, they took six items and I was paid about 10.80 (or 10.50?) for it, I think all of them were jeans that were not blue jeans - there were a lot of jeans at that location. The sales clerk says they want slung over the shoulder bag, and shoes, but not accessories because there were too many - though they do want silver jewellery

I went to the 2376 Yonge Street location today (Friday) with a lot of nice new jeans that don't fit me, but they only took a necklace and a floral dress - I like how they explained to me what they were selling them for individually - my cut was 3.50 - but the important thing is, my closet isn't cluttered with clothes that I couldn't fit into. I hope someone enjoys that floral dress - it's very very pretty but it's too tight in the armholes for me. The necklace was a unique piece - wish I remember to take a picture of it, but it's probably in an album somewhere.

At 2376 they want dresses but not pants - it's hard for people to find a fit there - and no more skirts because they have too many.
Freddy / September 2, 2015 at 03:12 pm
To all of you who won't let go of your old stuff for the less privileged people, 'what a shame!' If you value your old stuff so much, why not let them sit & rot there in your closet rather than criticizing Ke-stores.

I've never been to any of KE stores though
wr replying to a comment from Big / October 14, 2015 at 01:45 pm
lol, clearly she doesnt know shhh about Fred Perry
Lolo / April 21, 2016 at 09:55 pm
This place is starting to go down hill.
They have closed numerous locations, staff is rude, people bring in tones of clothes and they only pick one or 2 items. Clothes they sell have pit stains to menstrual stains on pant and I have even seen discharge.
It was a great place till a few months ago.
They are beginning to look like a cheap thrift store and beginning to smell. Some of the stores play music that is far from even appropiate and soo loud you can barely communicate with any one. Alot of clothes are dirty in general or stained or ripped.
Going down hill!

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