Editorial nuggets: Fabien and his RETRO thrift shop, selected pieces & quality advice

Published by Sara de Sortiraparis, Julie de Sortiraparis · Photos by Audrey de Sortiraparis · Published on February 9th, 2024 at 10:35 a.m.
Did you know? At Sortir à Paris, professionals and designers never pay to meet our journalists. Our mission is to help our readers build lasting memories with their loved ones: discover this week the story of Fabien Borel, manager of the RETRO thrift shop on rue de Turbigo, in the Etienne Marcel district. After ten years' experience in the ready-to-wear sector, Fabien set up his own business over 3 years ago, offering a wide range of carefully selected vintage items in 340m2 of space, in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere that reflects the values held dear by the manager and his team.

"We want to know where people know us from. Following your Journalist Audrey's visit, and your October article, we'd had several times feedback from people mentioning Sortir à Paris. We weren't at all expecting an impact and for you to cover the subject of thrift shops!"

"I love advising people, but I don't like selling, which is what we force people to do in the luxury sector. I work on the principle of 'the better you advise, the better you'll sell'."

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Fabien, who has ten years' experience in the ready-to-wear sector, embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure to set up the RETRO thrift store around the values of quality selection, for a varied clientele: from teenagers and fashionistas to parents with young babies.

"I created RETRO on my own, to open on September 16, 2020: one month later, I experienced the closure due to Covid, in 2020. Fortunately, we'd already started doing well and I was able to reopen afterwards."

"As soon as I opened, we had access to the 100 square metre ground floor. Then, for the two years, in 2022, I opened the basement, where I renovated and repainted everything: it's a completely different atmosphere from upstairs. I wanted to have two rooms, two atmospheres: upstairs for the playlist, it's a lot of hip-hop, old-school RnB, while downstairs we'll have underground music: Berlin style. To complete the ambience, the walls upstairs are white, while downstairs they're black. I really like these contrasts between light and shadow. "

"There aren't necessarily any differences in the rooms on the other hand. At RETRO, we sort the pieces by type of clothing, not by genre: we scatter winter and summer pieces throughout the store, to encourage people to go and look everywhere: the aim of a thrift shop, after all, is to make the rounds."

A lively boutique in the image of the Etienne Marcel - Les Halles district

"I created this store for the human side above all: the sofas here, I kept the idea from another thrift shop, where I was the manager. They complained that people sat on them and didn't buy. For me here is a place to live, these sofas are here for everyone to come and sit, there's room, space: 340m2 is for people to feel good."

"I salvaged them second-hand, from a friend's box on rue Tiquetonne (the NEXT), and from a friend's restaurant on rue Étienne Marcel (chez Pierrot), and the last one even saved from the rubbish dump."

"I knew this was the neighborhood for me, not necessarily rue Tiquetonne, but Etienne Marcel was super important. I got this space of almost 350m2 first when I submitted my application, and then it was off. This neighborhood is eclectic in terms of residents and tourism: Châtelet brings in 55,000 people a day: even if we only take 5% of them, out of 2,500 people, even if 10% of them buy, that's still a lot more to recuperate than elsewhere. Here we're looking for the world, the crowd, to provide the store have several pieces, several budget levels."

"We want to know where people know us from too, where we know for them that it's new: In terms of provenance at least 50% is the location for sure. But following your October article, we'd had several feedbacks from people mentioning Sortir à Paris, so we weren't at all expecting an impact and that you'd address the subject of thrift shops!"

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Ten years' experience with customer advice at heart

"I' ve been in the ready-to-wear business for around ten years: first in a luxury boutique, then I was manager at EPISOD for 4 years. I drew a lot of inspiration from that, trying to keep only the positive aspects. A year before I left, I started thinking about doing my own thing. With my experience in the luxury goods industry, I'd been in it for ten years and I wanted to do something other than run a boutique, I wanted to stock it: I love advising people but I don't like selling, which is what we're forced to do in the luxury goods industry. I work on the principle of "the better you advise, the better you'll sell". Even when I managed the boutique of a major affordable luxury brand on rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, I had better figures than the boutique of the same brand on Avenue des Ternes, their biggest store. For me, the relational side is the most important."

"I wasn't that interested in thrift, vintage: my personal style is more sober, dressy. To be able to run a company and welcome customers, you have to be at least presentable, and not necessarily represent my personal style. But I can dress anyone with any piece in the boutique: I love colors and prints, but not on me in the boutique. At home, I have a full dressing room, about fifty coats... I sort them and put them in the boutique to keep things moving. My personal style has an impact on the boutique too, that's for sure."

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A different thrift store concept: selection, choice and staying affordable despite the economic climate

"Entrepreneurship, running your own concept, is completely different from running a boutique. A lot of things come into play, you apply what you hear here and there, and you learn on the job. It's been very rewarding over the last 3 years, I've held the covid, but right now a lot of boutiques in France are struggling, I hope to get through the crisis."

"For the 3 years, I had to take over the premises next door, that was agreed with the landlord when I signed the lease. In a thrift shop, the more goods you can offer (on a larger surface, ed. note), the higher your turnover. On the market, there are thrift stores like Freep'Star or Guerrissol, where you go in, everything is mixed up, nothing is legible and you have to rummage everywhere to find a piece."

"Here, there's this work of tidying and sorting, and displaying the pieces. With just a few references, it's complicated: at RETRO, we have more than 300 references that we offer, so everyone can find something to suit them."

"That's also my concept, in the store I want to offer a wide choice, this wide choice it's selected above all by customer requests. I don't impose things on people that I want to see! Filling the entire boutique is complicated: unfortunately, my best salesman left in January, because he was bored by the very low footfall, which is understandable... Business has really fallen off since September 2023: there's really very little footfall at the moment, we wait all day for something to happen, sometimes until 4pm, not a single person has been in the store..."

"I question myself: is it me, the store, my prices? I know where I stand, I'm not in the lowest or highest bracket, my prices are correct for a thrift shop where there's a selection of pieces. Before, the average basket was around 35 euros, now it's more like 26-27 euros, which is -30%: a bit like what's been happening every month since September, and in October when I was -47%: but my prices remain unchanged, I want to stay there and keep this affordable image too."

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Eco-responsibility and industry paradoxes

"Sales in second-hand clothing have really increased in recent years: from 3 billion in 2021 to 5 billion in 2023. It's an exponential market, very buoyant, but it's going in all the logical directions of society's evolution. If all clothing production stopped now, every person on earth would still have more than 1,000 pieces of clothing per person - it's disproportionate! We need to stay in the second-hand sector, and invest in it."

"There are a lot of things I'd like to see change in the industry: VAT at 10% for example (ed. note, VAT is 20% for the clothing sector), because our pieces have actually already been taxed before and we're being taxed again on them: why not help businesses like us, when we advocate all these ecological values?"

"If I can do my bit that's the most important thing: since 2024, we've been buying back our customers' clothes. The thing to know is that the big collection boxes that are on the street, you think 'that's cool that reduces the footprint for recycling'. But in fact, these clothes are going to be put in containers, sent to other countries to be sorted, and brought back to France: which is absurd in terms of carbon footprint, with all the boat journeys that are made to get them there, it's not environmentally friendly at all."

"We take the clothes back, but it has to fit in my store. And if I plan to resell an item for 15 euros, I can buy it for 5 euros maximum, taking into account all the charges I have behind it."

A simple economic logic that infuses the boutique's offerings: from a young parent for young parents

"I've kept the room next door for the children's room and the under-ten-euro section. The children's section is something I really wanted to do, because I've been a dad for 21 months, with little Anna, and I know how much it costs ! I'm very gaga with my little one, I want her to be cute, and the clothing budget is huge, it can go up to 200 euros a month. I thought why not do the same thing but for the little ones: I put my little one's things in it and it goes round and round, and the parents come and take an interest. There aren't too many thrift stores with very affordable children's selections: from 5 to 10 euros maximum, so that it goes round and round, and the parents are very happy. And that's something I have to display in the window and communicate."

"Beyond parents, my clientele ranges from 12 to 99 years old! We dress everyone, but my typical customer profile is the 15-16 year-old teenager, those who bathe in it and have parents who are in their forties, have experienced the birth of thrift shops and have their children bathe in it. It's all about fashion and eco-responsibility, and young people are adopting these consumer habits. Over the age of 25, many of this generation are newcomers , and it's the first time they've been to the thrift store and started to take an interest.

"While younger people are immersed in it these days, it's normal: especially with their purchasing power. Our best sales were between Christmas and New Year's. We had all the youngsters coming in with their Christmas envelopes, sometimes even with their names on it. They know they're going to get an outfit here for a specific budget, whereas new clothes can quickly fetch exorbitant prices for lesser quality."

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Great team stories

"I saved his year until September, and then we'll see if I can take him on. I also have a second work-study student on the team , Carmen, who is in charge of communications, social networks, etc."

"Also, I welcomed to the team a Ukrainian artist, Olena Siniuhina, whom I recruited, a very beautiful human story: she fled her country following the war, and came to the south of France to learn French in a school and in November she made a request for contact to do an internship in the store: she sent 100 requests, I was the first and only one to respond . She came for two weeks, then resumed learning French in March 2023. She came back to Paris, and offered to make some pieces with paint on clothes: the pieces went super fast, and now she takes care of all the pieces that are stained, have holes, unsaleable... And finally, I offered her a 15-hour-a-week contract. It's a lovely story that really touched me and put the day-to-day running of the boutique into perspective: there are solutions for everything, even when things are complicated."

Discover the original Sortir à Paris article
Rétro, friperie - image00009Rétro, friperie - image00009Rétro, friperie - image00009Rétro, friperie - image00009 Retro, the coolest thrift shop in Paris' Les Halles district: fashion tips and events
Welcome to Retro: the temple of second-hand clothing in Paris's 2nd arrondissement! This 125m2 thrift store offers men, women and children trendy, quality pieces at totally affordable prices. And the best part? Its monthly events combining shopping, flash tattoos and DJ sets. [Read more]

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