Myss Stephens, a Prince George’s County, Md., resident and trainer for the U.S. Census Bureau, was saving up to buy herself a Porsche two summers ago when another vehicle caught her eye: a white, 1997, 23-foot-long GMC van. “I saw it on Craigslist and was like, OK, I need to have that,” she says.
Today, rather than zipping around town in a splashy sports car, Stephens hawks trendy women’s clothing and accessories out of the van, which she renovated and re-branded as the GlamourHolic Curbside Fashion Truck (glamourholiconlineshop.com).
The boutique on wheels — one of many that have appeared recently on local streets — is covered in pink, houses a spacious dressing room, and makes a strong case for ignoring your mother’s warnings about not getting into the back of a stranger’s vehicle.
Rolling boutiques are gaining speed across the country. Stacey Steffe, co-founder and president of the American Mobile Retailer Association, estimates that in January of 2011 there were three fashion trucks in operation in the U.S.; now there are more than 350. The D.C. area hosts at least seven of them.
Similar to food trucks, these fashion trucks can set up shop near high-trafficked areas like parks and open-air markets. (Track them via Twitter handles, Facebook or their websites.)
Roving retail often appeals to fashion newbies who yearn to open their own boutiques, but can’t afford the startup costs of an actual storefront. That was the case with Sharlia Lee, owner of the Street Boutique fashion truck and founder of the D.C. Fashion Truck Association. “I wrote 30 business plans for a store, and came to the conclusion that owning a boutique was going to end poorly,” Lee says.
And Ashley Grant, owner of the Gypsy de la Lune (gypsydelalune .com) mobile vintage clothing shop, prefers her 1974 Shasta trailer to other retail alternatives. “I didn’t want the overhead of a brick and mortar, and online sales never appealed to me,” Grant says. “I really don’t like being stuck behind a computer.”
Others see fashion trucks as an outlet for creativity lacking at their day jobs. Georgia Littlejohn, for example, is a full-time police officer in the District, but in her spare time she operates G Fashion Truck, a church van-turned rolling, upscale consignment shop. She sells brands like Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo around Southern Maryland and is available for private events (thegtruck.com).
Some entrepreneurs launch mobile shops because they see a gap in the market. Donna Hundley, a consultant for Aon Hewitt and a self-described curvy woman, was hunting for an outfit she could wear for a meet-and-greet with Michael Jordan last year. “Every store I went to only had black boxy clothing for women my size,” Hundley says. “I’m not saying Michael’s going to meet me and fall madly in love, but I still wanted to look good.”
Now Hundley pilots the Curvy Chix Chariot — a 22.1-foot Ford van — out of which she sells fashion-forward accessories, shoes and clothing for women sized 14-24 (curvychixchariot.com).
Most fashion trucks are between 18 and 23 feet long, meaning the variety of merch is small compared to more traditional boutiques. But there’s power in tiny: The limitation translates to high turnover and a constantly fresh selection. Another benefit to shopping retail vehicles: Because the model is unfamiliar to most shoppers, store owners often coax customers onboard with low prices. “Someone who is going to spend $500 on a dress isn’t going to say, ‘Let me go on that truck,’ ” says Hundley, whose prices range from $8 to $160.
For anyone still skeptical about buying clothing out of the back of a truck, consider shifting gears. “The pop-up mentality is here to stay, especially in a struggling economy” says Steffe of the American Mobile Retailer Association. “It’s the new way of doing retail.”
The Driving Force of Fashion
The D.C.-area is home to at least seven mobile fashion boutiques. Get to know them.
The G Truck
@thegtruck | When Georgia Littlejohn isn’t serving justice as a D.C. police officer, the Prince George’s County, Md. resident sells gently used designer fashions in her converted church van across southern Maryland. Think Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Dooney & Bourke and Jimmy Choo for less than $250.
Gypsy de la Lune
@gypsydelalune | A self-described vintage vagabond, Ashley Grant deals in pristine threads and jewels from past decades, which she sells for $20-$200 in her decked-out 1974 trailer. Catch her April 5 on opening day of the District Flea. Bethesda-based Grant also hosts small shopping parties in the trailer.
GlamourHolic Curbside Fashion Truck
@curbsidefashtrk | You can’t miss Myss Stephens’ girly boutique-on-wheels. She’s most often found at markets throughout Maryland, and you can also commission her services for private shopping events. Expect trendy women’s clothing and accessories, all under $100.
Curvy Chix Chariot
@curvychixstyle | Donna Hundley’s Clinton, Md.-based mobile boutique hit the road last September. Ever since, she’s been selling fashion-forward clothing and accessories for women sized 14-24, priced between $8 and $160.
@littlewhitefashiontruck These two trucks, brimming with boho-chic treasures priced between $19 and $79, are owned by Shelley Sarmiento, former co-owner and executive vice-president of White House Black Market. The two vehicles are often parked in foot-traffic friendly areas in Arlington and Severna Park, Md.
@streetboutiques | Just 26 years old, Sharlia Lee is the owner of the Street Boutique, in operation since September 2013. She’s usually parked on Clarendon Boulevard at lunchtime, where you can shop a collection of clothing, accessories and home goods for $100 or less.
The Thread Truck
@thethreadtruck | Brooke Jordan and partner Stacey Kane’s truck launched in June 2013. It can most often be found at local farmers markets and street festivals. Clothing is casual chic, and no single item is priced over $65.