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Shop for swaps


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POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2009

A win-win situation in retail generally means a beneficial exchange between a store and its shoppers, but in Nini's Boutique Exchange's triple-win situation, clients score double rewards—able to unload unwanted items while picking up past-season to current designer threads at about half their retail prices.

The consignment store, run by sisters Kelli and Nini Nguyen, opened with the idea of helping individuals let their high-priced, high-quality mistakes go to others who are able to use and enjoy them.

“;When I was going to school, there were all these consignment stores all over California,”; Nini said. “;When I came back here, I wished there was a consignment store where everything is new, with certain brands.”;

With none here that she could see, she and her sister set about creating their dream boutique, which seems to have become that for many shoppers.

“;People tell me it's like voodoo. They keep coming back and they can't not buy,”; Nini said.

Shelves are full of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Fendi purses, while dress racks bear labels ranging from BCBG to Rebecca Taylor and Diane Von Furstenberg. On Monday, the No. 1 day for drop-offs, I just missed the arrival of a batch of Juicy Couture and Free People dresses, but I was there when Nini put out about eight pieces of Missoni tops and dresses, all from one woman's closet. The Missonis, some of which retail for more than $1,000, are now priced from $99 to about $500 at Nini's.

Because most of the items are unworn, with the price tags still attached, there's none of the musty smell that pervades many consignment and resale boutiques, such that shoppers new to Nini's often get confused, wondering how a “;normal”; boutique is able to offer merchandise at half to two-thirds off typical mall prices.

The boutique is a perfect fit for the times as many people still want to dress up, though not at what they might consider exorbitant expense. A woman has wiles that serve her well even in hard times, and if Scarlett O'Hara could fashion a suitor-worthy dress with curtains, we could certainly make last season's designer togs work.

The only drawback is you're generally out of luck if you happen to be, like the Anne Hathaway character in “;The Devil Wears Prada,”; the “;fat girl”; at size 6. Sizes here generally run about size 0 to 4—sizes associated with the young, the fashion- and designer-conscious, and the trophy wives—with a handful of 6s and 8s. That might change as more women discover the shop.

NINI STUDIED fashion design and merchandising at Long Beach State and Brooks College in California, but she could have just as easily majored in psychology and social work as she gently pries people from the clutter of their lives and presents them with the cure.

Upon opening about six months ago, Nini said the boutique had many more buyers than sellers, but now she sees more sellers bringing in clothing. Sellers keep 60 percent of the retail price they set together. Prices start at about $29.

“;A lot of people feel guilt,”; she said. “;They're feeling guilty about the price they paid. Maybe their husbands lost jobs, so getting rid of things makes them feel better.

“;Some of the pieces have been sitting in their closets for a while, a year or so, but they're still in great condition. Before, they might not have done anything with them, but now people are thinking, 'I'd rather have the money for something else.'”;

The shop has also become a repository for merchandise from other boutiques that have closed, and the question most frequently heard is coming from men. “;They keep asking when we're going to start carrying men's clothing.”;

For now, Nini said, they'll stick to what they know best. She isn't afraid that the flow of clothing will stop either. As long as people are still shopping, mistakes will be made, so the cycle of desire, joy and guilt will continue. That's human nature.

Nini's Boutique Exchange is at 1154 Koko Head Ave. and open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Call 739-2500.