As a style blogger, I’m in a constant state of shopping. I see a look in a magazine, on the street, or in a store window and I am in the pursuit to recreate the look. Shopping for vintage or secondhand clothing is like a treasure hunt. You dig, dig, dig, and if you are lucky you strike gold! I love bringing hidden gems to life because it’s an opportunity to style a look that merges the past and the present. I share my looks to inspire other women and let them know that no matter where you shop you can have great style.
Through my shopping adventures, I get the opportunity to work with companies to cross-promote. A few months ago, I was contacted by one of my favorite local Cincinnati resale shops, and I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with them. I got a DM from their Instagram account asking if I would be interested in helping the store promote an event that they were planning. Since I had already covered this boutique on my blog, I knew it would be easy to get some of my readers, styling clients, and personal friends to come support the event. I didn’t have much time being that the event was a week away.
Usually, a boutique has two important people to be in direct contact with; the owner and the person running the operations of the store. They aren’t always one in the same. I used my Google trigger finger and researched who I would be working with to find, to my surprise, my point of contact was adorable and accomplished. I had an instant total girl crush. From what I could see she was highly educated and if her Instagram feed had a catchphrase it would be “I’ve got my life together!” She just happened to be African American (this is important for later in the story). As I was looking through the boutique’s Instagram feed, I saw the usual well-styled outfits and a few African-American models sprinkled in with the usual blondes sporting cool retro looks.
I was invited into the store to “borrow” items to wear at the event and if I liked it I could choose to “purchase” the items at a discount. Nothing seemed out of the normal. Most boutiques ask that you wear their clothes at in-store events. The landscape of the event was very diverse. I thought it was dope that the boutique was showing that a variety of women like secondhand and vintage shopping because, well we do. I had a variety of my readers and friends support the event. I purchased an amazing kimono that I chose to wear during the event. Overall I felt the event was a success and I was proud that I was involved.
A few months later, I received an email from the boutique owner. She wanted to know if I had a few moments to speak and asked for my telephone number. I agreed to speak with her and without hesitation, gave her my phone number. Given the success of the previous event, I assumed she wanted to talk about another opportunity for me to collaborate with a store that I love, frequent and support. Boy, was I wrong. What I thought was going to be a conversation about collaboration quickly turned out to be to the contrary and very unprofessional. The owner began by asking me about the kimono I wore during the in-store event. She wanted to know the original price and if I had received a discount. She then went on to explain how her business relationship with woman I had such a great experience working with had gone bad. She stated that she priced the kimono at a certain price and that it was not to be sold for lower. She said that if the robe didn’t sell at its original price point that she had planned to purchase the kimono herself. She further explained her family is taking a trip to Japan and she planned on giving the kimono to one of her nieces to wear while on their trip. (In my mind I thought, who takes a kimono to Japan? I digress)
She said the woman who was contracted to run the event did not have the authority to discount the robe. She also said, “this is no fault of yours but I needed to know how much you paid for the robe”. I advised her that I couldn’t remember exactly how much I paid because I had made the purchase about three months ago. In the midst of this strange line of questioning, I began feeling very uncomfortable. I had mixed emotions about everything and asked myself, if this misunderstanding is between her and someone she hired to handle business in her store, why is she involving me?” Clearly, if an employee at Old Navy marked down an item without authorization and I purchased it, Old Navy wouldn’t call to question me, they would reprimand the individual, not the customer.
“Customer”, the word ran through my mind. I was a customer before I was asked to promote this event and even continued to support the store after the event. I had purchased items at this store as recent as a week prior to this awkward call. It was beyond me why this store owner would make a customer privy to what seemed like a messy business situation.
My conversation with the owner was disheartening, to say the least. Though she expressed concern about the price of the kimono, her true intent for the call seemed to be something different. Her tone was sweet but her questioning felt condescending, because every answer I gave led to more investigative questioning concerning me and my credentials. Her questioning made me feel she didn’t want my image associated with her store. I felt rejected and insulted and I couldn’t help but think this white store owner thought the Black blogger and Black freelance consultant were in cahoots about a kimono when the truth is, I didn’t know the freelance consultant prior to working with her. The owner didn’t directly say these things but the disappointment and skepticism in her voice was audible and tangible.
The following day, after thinking the conversation over, questioning and double checking myself, going through my bank statements, reviewing all of my social media and blog content to ensure that I presented myself as a professional, talking it over with friends, and analyzing the entire situation, I let her know that I no longer feel comfortable shopping in her boutique. I let her know that the call put me in an uncomfortable position and that it was overall unprofessional. I also let her know that if I’d known the reason for her wanting to speak with me, I wouldn’t have spoken with her at all.
I could be too deep into thought about the intentions of this Cincinnati store owner, but I highly doubt it. I just can’t ignore the undertone of our conversation or the cultural appropriation that felt borderline racist. Ultimately I have to wonder…
Did I just get a backhand from a second hand?
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