As the legendary singer James Brown might put it: this is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothin’ without Susan Youngs, a self-taught Richmond business owner who is making a name for herself in an industry often defined by exclusivity.
Susan Youngs, originally from southern Indiana, first opened her store — an upscale fashion consignment shop called It’s a Man’s World, tucked into a quaint brick-and-tile building at 100 W. Broad St. on the corner of Broad and Adams streets — in August 2017.
Today, she has over 800 regular consignors: individuals and businesses who bring high-end clothing and accessories for her to appraise and sell on their behalf.
The consignment model
In the fashion world, consignment is a relatively new business model, emerging in the 1950s and slowly entering the mainstream in the course of the intervening decades.
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Consignors serve as middlemen between sellers and buyers. Sellers, who do not have the resources or client base of an established business, hand their items over to consignors to research, price and sell. Buyers can then browse collected and curated wares all in one place, and thus are saved the trouble of tracking down specialty items on their own.
“People bring us their clothing that they either have too much of, (or) don’t need anymore, and we sell it for them,” Youngs explained, and then they are paid a portion of the proceeds.
Youngs’ sellers and buyers come from all over the country, she said. Her storefront has featured custom-tailored suits from such esteemed brands as Brooks Brothers, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.
But the successful venture began, she said, as a modest effort to clean out her closet.
‘It took off immediately’
Youngs and her husband, James, had accumulated dozens of garments in the course of their years of traveling the world, she said. One day, her husband decided he had had enough of the clutter.
“He threw a bunch of stuff in the middle of the bedroom floor and said, ‘Get rid of this,’” Youngs recalled. She was happy to oblige, but felt that many of the items — suede shoes, leather belts, designer T-shirts and linen clothing, which the couple had picked up all over the world — were too nice to simply throw out or give away.
Rather than host a garage sale or turn to Craigslist, Youngs took a more radical approach: She found a suitable storefront in the Arts District of downtown Richmond and, three months after her husband made his request, she opened a just-for-men consignment shop featuring high-end brands.
“I’m old-fashioned,” Youngs said: a characteristic that caused her to eschew Facebook Marketplace in favor of the traditional brick-and-mortar.
“And it took off immediately,” she said.
Although her husband, who died in 2019, was the impetus for the shop’s launch, Youngs said she was responsible for getting the business off the ground.
“I didn’t discuss it with him before,” she recalled. “I did it … on my own and then said, ‘Here’s what I’ve done.’
“I think he was proud of me,” she added with a smile.
Learning on the job
Youngs knew virtually nothing about fashion when she started; she did not know how to measure an inseam, waist or jacket size. She also had to learn how to tell the good apart from the bad: to find the hidden gems among piles of wrinkled fabric and sun-damaged leather.
Every item that comes in is thoroughly inspected and meticulously researched. Only items of high quality and in excellent, ready-for-the-rack condition are accepted.
“Our goal is to go to three or four different websites to see what the domestic market is selling (items) for and then try to price according to our market,” Youngs said.
And the work, which she said can be “overwhelming,” has paid off.
The shop’s proximity to Richmond hotels and event venues generates a constant flow of fascinating patrons, Youngs said. Robert Plant and his bodyguard stopped by once. Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes and other cast and crew members on the show “Homeland” also visited the shop.
Musicians performing at The National, actors in shows at the Altria Theater and businessmen staying at the Quirk Hotel are regular shoppers.
They come in for all sorts of reasons. Some are looking for last-minute birthday or holiday gifts. Others perhaps broke a belt or stained a shirt right before a big presentation. Or maybe a groom forgot his shoes and frantically called for help 30 minutes before his wedding ceremony — a situation, Youngs said, she recently experienced.
“A groom in his tuxedo with his little boutonniere on … called me from the hotel and said, ‘Do you happen to have a size 10½ tuxedo shoes?’” she said. “I said, ‘Send him over, we’ve got ‘em.’”
‘I have a purpose’
Youngs has had ownership stake in 12 companies in industries ranging from insurance and catering to plastics manufacturing. She has worked in telecommunications and sales, lobbied on Capitol Hill, owned a travel agency and served as a hot air balloon pilot.
“I like what I’m doing,” she said. “I like our customer base … it’s just a little bit of everything and, to me, it’s quite interesting.
“It’s just … a lot of fun,” she said.
The joy she finds in the work helped her to weather the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests in the summer of 2020. And it prompted her to decline at least one offer on the store. She has no plans to close up shop anytime soon.
“I have a purpose; I have a place (here),” she said.