Kha Stewart has left corporate America for fashionable blue jeans and a T-shirt.
She has been shopping for the past six weeks, spending about $60,000 to fill her closet – a shopping spree that would make a Hollywood star envious.
She has racks of designer jeans in all sizes, some with price tags reaching $375. There are shoes of all descriptions and colors, lots of jewelry and several colorful Vera Wang handbags.
People have been clamoring to get a peek into Kha’s closet.
On Thursday, she opened the doors and went from buying to selling mode, offering the clothing at up to 70 percent off its original retail price. The $375 designer jeans had a price tag of $75.
Stewart and her husband, Eric Stewart, are co-owners of Plato’s Closet off Dave Lyle Boulevard in Rock Hill. Plato’s Closet is a franchise operation that buys and sells gently used clothing and accessories.
With a target audience of teens and young adults, the stores buy brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Express, Forever 21, J.Crew, Victoria’s Secret and Under Armour.
The stores have strict purchasing guidelines. Prices paid are based on condition, brand, style and current inventory. The average price paid for clothing is about $30, Kha said.
The move to retail is a big change for the Stewarts.
Kha Stewart is a graduate of Northwestern High School and Winthrop University. The 30-year-old had been in corporate sales, wearing a suit to work each day.
Eric Stewart, from Chester and a Winthrop grad, is more comfortable in jeans, Polo shirts and construction boots.
With corporate America laying off more and more workers, the Stewarts looked for their own economic security.
They come from entrepreneurial families. Kha Stewart’s parents ran a restaurant in Rock Hill. Eric Stewart’s parents ran the Sears catalogue sale store.
This is their first retail venture.
It took some convincing for Eric Stewart to take the plunge. The tipping point was when he looked at the balance sheets of other Plato’s Closet stores and saw they were as successful in bad economic times as in good.
They went scouting for a location with a simple philosophy: Find the parking lot with the most cars, and see how often people come and go.
They opted for a 3,000-square-foot space with Kohl’s and Hobby Lobby as neighbors.
In outfitting the store, the Stewarts had a choice – use company-approved vendors or shop locally. They chose the latter.
In some instances, such as finding someone to do their signs, Kha Stewart chose people she knew. She had gone to kindergarten with Drew Jackson of Fast Signs.
The Stewarts also went back to their business professors at Winthrop for help. Graduate students helped them develop a marketing plan. Undergraduate students designed promotional flyers and distributed them on campus and at Baxter Village in Fort Mill.
The promotions and the word-out-mouth buzz worked.
On Thursday, a long line of people waited for the 10 a.m. opening. Inside, there were so many people that the Stewarts put out a sign-up sheet for customers to use the changing rooms.
The Stewarts and the Plato’s Closet staff – drawn from local high schools – waited for the final piece to fall into place: the Plato’s Closet “meltdown.”
That happens to customers at the cash register when they realize how much they can buy for a reasonable price, Kha Stewart said.