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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 12.0° F  Fair
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UpShift Gear offers eco-friendly and econ-friendly approaches to fashion
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Credit:Candice Wagener

Should being committed to environmental friendliness mean you can't keep up with the latest fashion trends?

"The fashion industry is far behind in thinking about the environment and being eco-friendly, and that's super important to me," says Lindsay Leno, owner of UpShift, a new clothing exchange boutique on the east side. Concerns range from the industry's use of toxic chemicals to its labor practices.

Leno earned her degree in apparel and design from UW-Stout, then went on to work as a "trend developer" for Maurice's for seven years. While she loved what she was doing, she knew she wanted to make a change in the fashion industry.

"I shop all secondhand," says Leno. "It was always this dirty little secret."

Leno says she would travel to Los Angeles and New York in her trendy, albeit secondhand, outfits and meet with designers who asked her where she bought her duds, getting some sideways looks when she told them.

When her husband's job brought the couple to Madison, she started working on her business plan. She wanted to create a secondhand-store experience where patrons could donate gently used clothing they no longer needed, then turn around and fill their empty bags with clothing that was new to them -- all with the underlying goal of keeping material out of landfills.

Since Leno couldn't find a bank willing to stand behind her, she turned to the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative for advice. Upon their recommendation, Leno started her operation small by opening a clothing exchange out of her home's basement. Two years in, she affirms her business plan is working just fine.

"I keep a really tight rein on our inventory," says Leno. She donates overstock items regularly to Goodwill, Agrace Thrift Store and area school districts.

Not just the clothes are used -- everything from the fixtures to the mannequins and hangers lived a former life somewhere else.

When I visited, Leno was in the process of stocking spring inventory. The quaint space was filled with denim, vibrant springtime dresses and bins of stylish shoes. There's something for every fashionista out there.

Here's how it works: Patrons pay a $20 fee each time they shop. In addition, shoppers bring in a container of gently used clothing and/or accessories (preferably women's, but Upshift will accept anything), and then refill the empty bag with items from the store.

Leno recommends first-timers attend one of UpShift's many events, when the exchange fee is typically only $10. The atmosphere is more festive; wine is served. On the third Sunday of every month, UpShift brings in a guest stylist who offers complimentary fashion advice.

Eventually, Leno aims to expand to have stores specific to plus sizes, maternity, children's and men's clothes.

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