WW clothes retailer brings 'green' trend to new shop

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WALLA WALLA -- Not everything at Blue Mountain Trading Company is what it seems.

From the track lighting illuminating the corridors of the cottage shop on Wellington Avenue to the tidy displays of neatly spaced garments, the thoughtful design of Walla Walla's new clothing retailer evokes the feel of a swanky boutique.

Except that each item is less than $30. In fact, most range from $4.95 to $22. Many of them also come with a story: A khaki skirt that was refashioned from a pair of men's cargo pants. A hooded sweatshirt converted into a halter sundress. Brand-name items plucked from racks at discount stores from Seattle to Portland.

The concept of the higher-end used clothing store, which opened June 11, is intended to appeal both to consumers' sense of economy and sustainability, said founder Greg Roybal.

"The time in our culture is right," he said. "There's a huge amount of people right now interested in saving money and being eco-friendly."

Roybal, a store designer for a national retailer, has partnered with longtime friend and Walla Walla entrepreneur Alexa Palmer to develop the business model. For the better part of a year, Roybal has been collecting inventory.

"I moved my car out of the garage, and I actually purchased an industrial sewing machine to go in there," he said. "It just kind of tornadoed."

He's made weekend trips to Walla Walla, where he rents a home, converting a former cheese and tea shop at 321 Wellington Ave. to make a perfect fit for the store.

Palmer and Roybal enlisted Kevin Melvin as general manager.

The business model is similar to Plato's Closet or Buffalo Exchange, stores that buy, sell and trade designer, vintage and brand name clothing in good condition.

It also focuses on repurposed clothing items, where old garments are converted into something totally new.

Where possible, every aspect of Blue Mountain Trading Company embraces and reflects sustainability.

Repurposed doors are used for racks and shelving to hold the recycled and "upcycled" clothing. Even the webhost that powers the business's site uses wind energy.

Though the inventory is collected as a result of massive scavenging in urban communities, the store is the "antithesis of a thrift store," Palmer said.

"We wanted the store to have a really boutique-y, but distressed look," she said.

The name of the store is an homage to Walla Walla's history as a trading post.

Roybal's mother was a sportswear designer. He grew up shopping for clothes in Western Washington's urban shopping centers and boutiques.

"I am appalled at spending $125 for a shirt," he said.

Combining his understanding of trends with quality fabrics, he enjoys scavenging for clean, quality garments.

The timing for repurposing is more appropriate now given consumers' concerns about reducing waste, he said.

He's found that to be true on this side of the Cascades as well, particularly among college students who are a major target market for the store.

"It seems like Walla Walla is really on a green, sustainable track," he said.

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