Pittsburgh’s mobile boutiques now bring fashion to you.
By Keontá Bender
For Marissa Zimmerman, her fashion truck “The Vintage Valet” aims to provide shoppers the chance to buy lace dresses or crochet cardigans inspired from as far back as the 1920s.
Jackie Ging’s “Style Truck” offers transitional styles, like a tunic for women on the go.
“Magnolia on Main” co-owner Kim Dimarco sells clothing in the styles “athleisure” and “contemporary” from her mobile boutique.
A different way of shopping is hitting the Steel City in the form of Fashion Trucks. These three boutiques park their mobile stores at events, festivals and party bookings to offer a variety of clothes and accessories that are vintage and handmade from local artists in an unconventional way.
“There were food trucks. Why not fashion trucks?” said Zimmerman.
The sudden rise of fashion trucks is what started the American Mobile Retail Association (AMRA), which was created by the owners of Le Fashion Truck, a mobile boutique that opened in Los Angeles in 2011. The AMRA helps with supporting and assisting mobile boutiques, educating people on the benefits of mobile retail to the public and city officials, removing outdated restrictions on mobile retail vending and to collaborating with businesses for mobile retail events and fundraisers.
The Vintage Valet
Zimmerman is the owner of The Vintage Valet and before she opened her mobile boutique, her interest in fashion started when she worked in retail the clothing store Rave while she was still in high school. The idea of the mobile boutique came to Zimmerman in 2012 while in an ecommerce class at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
“We were doing a project and we had to do a blog. We had to merge our hobbies with our majors and I just kind of started daydreaming,” said Zimmerman. “I’m going to school for fashion and retail management and marketing, and I thought I liked to do my own thing, but I didn’t want a brick and mortar store.”
“I want to be able to bring fashion to people and not so much in a sense of a pop up, but I wanted to actually do it in a truck.”
The trend of the mobile boutiques started in California in 2010 and Zimmerman wanted to bring the trend to Pittsburgh. Her goal was to be the first fashion truck in Pittsburgh. The plan to bring the mobile boutique to life came from a business ownership class, where students had to write a business plan.
“I spent six months doing research, going over how you’re going to market it, how much funding you need,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman also attended a workshop in downtown Pittsburgh that trained people who wanted to start small businesses. “They’re great for networking and there’s bankers on site, accountants, other entrepreneurs,” said Zimmerman.
She felt like a sponge and wanted to soak up all the information she could to prepare for her business, which kicked off before she graduated. The process of finding a truck took some time for Zimmerman as she tried out food delivery trucks, air core shuttle bus and vans, but eventually she settled for a U-Haul.
“It’s a little bit smaller than the other trucks and I just felt that that was the look I wanted to go for, just with the box truck,” Zimmerman said. “You had to look for how old is the truck, how many miles are on the truck, what kind of condition and shape are these trucks in.”
When it came time to customize the truck, Zimmerman came up with the design and style herself. “I decided on the hot pink because I wanted something that was very obnoxious and noticeable, and I think I accomplished that,” said Zimmerman.
The name “The Vintage Valet” came from her desire to sell vintage inspired clothing, combined with the mobile aspect of her business. But Zimmerman wants to set the record straight about the name.
“If I could change one thing, it would be the name because I get so many people thinking that I sell vintage clothing,” said Zimmerman. “It’s new clothing, it’s not actually vintage. It’s just got that look of a past decade,” said Zimmerman.
“There’s lots of lace, or crochet, and so much of fashion is just recycled so you’ll see lots of styles from the 20s, 60s, 70s, which were big this year with off the shoulder styles, lots of prints like plaid.”
When it comes to accessories, Zimmerman creates the jewelry herself. “That’s just always been a hobby of mine,” said Zimmerman. “I just like finding things people don’t use anymore, like clip on earrings and pins, and then just turning them into necklaces and match it up with beads.”
Zimmerman also sells Bel Monili jewelry from local Pittsburgh artist Lucy Kelly. Kelly’s jewelry is made from vintage and repurposed materials like earrings, chains, buttons and more. “It really compliments my business well because it is vintage pieces and it kind of feels like you’re wearing a piece of history,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the most memorable events The Vintage Valet has been a part of were a polo match, car shows and the Pop-Up Fashion Market in Market Square. When she started the mobile boutique in 2013, her first event was the Perryopolis Flea Market.
“I just wanted to get out somewhere and just see people’s reactions,” Zimmerman said.
Even though it was her first event, she said she did pretty well. In addition to the mobile boutique, Zimmerman is also expanding her business to include a plus size line. “I get asked at every event for larger sizes and the sizes I do carry are small, medium and large,” said Zimmerman.
When it comes to the success of The Vintage Valet five to ten years from now, Zimmerman wants to keep it as a mobile boutique because she likes bridging the gap between brick and mortar and an online store.
The clothing sold at The Vintage Valet falls under $100, so tanks are $40 and up, dresses are $55 and up and cardigans are $68 to $98. Jewelry at the truck ranges from $48 for Bel Monili necklaces, while Zimmerman’s sell for under $50.
Another mobile boutique that can be seen throughout Pittsburgh is the Style Truck, which is owned by Jackee Ging.
Ging was always interested in fashion and worked in retail right out of college. She always found time to incorporate her shopping habits with travel. The idea of the mobile boutique came to Ging from an August 2012 “Instyle Magazine” article.
“It looked like the Partridge family bus or a trailer and it was just really unique and it just caught my eye, and I just thought it would be really cool and there was nothing like it around here at all,” said Ging.
During her travel for work and leisure, Ging decided to bring the trend to Pittsburgh. “When I saw it in California, I got it, but then I saw it in places like Minneapolis and smaller cities and I thought if they can do it then Pittsburgh can do it,” Ging said.
Ging has been in the marketing and business development for almost 20 years and always created plans for other people as a marketing consultant, and decided to create a business plan for herself. “For the first time it was something that I was passionate about and easier to do,” said Ging. Since her background is in marketing and business, she has used her PR, marketing and implementation skills to bring her boutique to life. When it came to choosing and designing a truck, that was hard for Ging.
“I have a marketing background, but I’m not creative and I can’t conceptualize,” Ging said. So Ging and a friend designed the logo and she studied the separate meanings of colors. “Bright red means sell, pink means thrift or vintage,” said Ging.
The name of the boutique came from a marketing concept.
“It was such a new idea and there were food trucks and I just thought that it would be easy to Google search,” Ging said. The brands that Ging gets her clothes from are New York City and regional tradeshows. “I found that people responded to a lot of American made brands or fair trade things,” said Ging.
“The nice thing about American made is that it’s not made in a sweatshop and it’s keeping money here and my customers are the ones who really appreciate that, and are getting a good product,” Ging said.
Ging describes her clothes as for women on the go and transitional. Her most popular piece are the Pittsburgh leggings, which are workout compression pants. “So many people have bought them as gifts, or people who do races across the country, so those have been very very successful,” Ging said.
What makes The Style Truck stand out from JcPenneys or TJMaxx is the process and the unique items.
“I’ve been a consultant for people who asked me to help them with their closets, shopping abilities or fittings,” said Ging. “ A lot times at the big box stores there’s a zillion things of the same item, chances are you’re not gonna see yourself coming and going, it’s a unique item and I think people appreciate that.”
Style Truck also sells jewelry that is custom and artisan-made, like metal type and beads. Some of her jewelry comes from local artists that she meets through networking and friends. The most popular piece was button rings for little girls that ran for $15.
The first event that The Style Truck ever parked at was the Northshore Community Day.
“It was perfect for me because it just was to get my feet wet and see what I needed like cones,” Ging said.
Last year The Style Truck was nominated and won “Boutique of the Year” from Style Week Pittsburgh. Style Week Pittsburgh is an event to raise the profile of fashion focused brands in the region and beyond. “It was amazing; that was really one of the best nights,” said Ging.
Ging wanted to be around them just for their support and she likes what they’re doing for Pittsburgh. “It was a really great vibe and to be named from them and I just really thought it was a win for trucks,” Ging said.
The price range of Style Truck’s clothing is between $25 and $150, but she also carries sell racks that are 50 percent off and the jewelry sells for $9.99 to $75.
Magnolia on Main
In addition to Vintage Valet and Style Truck, there’s Magnolia on Main, a brand new mobile boutique that just opened earlier this year. Bernie Rupich and Kim Dimarco are the owners and they have always been interested in fashion.
“I’ve been in fashion since I graduated from college,” said Rupich. Her career started at Joseph Horne, which was an established department store in Pittsburgh from 1879 to 1994 that eventually merged with Macy’s. “I was a buyer for seven years, I grew with the company, I was an assistant buyer and I worked in the stores,” Rupich said.
Similarly, Dimarco’s interest of fashion started in high school. “I always loved different things and nice clothing and just being on the hunt for it,” Dimarco said. She started her career as a men’s and women’s sportswear intern at Kaufmann’s department store.
“I learned how to budget, I learned how as much as you like everything you can’t bring everything into the store,” said Dimarco. “You have to budget by month, you have to follow the open to buy and watch for the trends, watch to see what needs reordered and how quickly you have to get it out to the floor and turn the merchandise.”
When it comes to running the mobile boutique, Dimarco is the buyer who puts the merchandise into place and Rupich handles the business side by greeting customers, scouting events, attending Chamber of Commerce meetings and networking. After her job was eliminated at Macy’s, Rupich was looking for a new position and that’s when the mobile boutique came into play.
“My sister sent me an article and it was about fashion trucks… and she said ‘Why don’t you look into this cause this looks like something you would like to do and could do’ so I started making phone calls,” Rupich said.
She reached out to some people from California and Boston who have been in the business for a while and wanted to see how viable it was to have in Pittsburgh. To figure out how to start a business, Rupich took a small business development class to educate herself.
“Even though I have a lot of fashion background, I didn’t have a lot of running a business background,” said Rupich.
Rupich was excited about the new business venture because she felt like it was time for a change.
“It was time for this new business model to come into Pittsburgh because we’ve really accepted food trucks as being more than hot dogs stands,” Rupich said. “We’ve really accepted them well and embraced them, so it’s time to bring a different form of retail into Pittsburgh.”
Once Rupich had the idea for her own fashion truck, she decided to partner up with Dimarco for help.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Dimarco. “She asked me if I would help her and I said ‘Oh sure I’ll help you,’ never thinking I would get this involved.”
Dimarco got heavily involved once Rupich asked her to help buy merchandise and was really excited about the fashion truck, but the duo needed a vehicle to bring Magnolia on Main to life. Rupich and Dimarco went through Craigslist ads and dealerships, looking for a used vehicle before they settled on a used bus.
“The bus was the best vehicle, mechanically and body shape wise, and for the best price,” said Rupich. “We love it and it’s different.”
The clothing within the boutique comes from a mixture of brands like USA made products from New York, or other countries such as China and India. Dimarco looks for uniqueness when it comes to the boutique. “I look for different things that you aren’t gonna find at a mall,” said Dimarco.
The most popular pieces from the mobile boutique right now are scarves and shawls.
Magnolia on Main stands apart from other stores due to their merchandise, according to Dimarco. “We’re more boutique, our things our just different,” Dimarco said. “I’m always looking for something that maybe as high end, but that I can get a little less expensive.”
Jessica Maurer, a customer from Westford Notions, shopped within Magnolia on Main and loved the boutique because of it’s products.
“It’s unique and it looks so comfortable, but super stylish,” said Maurer. “When you have these adorable clothes that you just throw on and you don’t have to try so hard, it’s perfect because I’m busy.”
The accessories that are sold are bracelets, which come from a female local artist from Fox Chapel named Piper Designs. “She hand-beads all of the bracelets and some are recycled vinyl records and she adds sterling silver to them, and she has bone beads as well and meditation beads that she uses,” said Dimarco. “It’s something that’s a little bit different and we try to get somethings that are handmade.”
Likewise, home accents like pillows and candles are handmade and made from recycled materials. The pillows they sell are from S&J Decorative Finishes, which is a local company from Greensburg that specializes in a variety of things custom made. The candles are from a company made in the USA and their soy.
Magnolia on Main tested out their mobile boutique with a soft opening with friends and family first and then ventured out onto the streets. Their grand opening was at the Chamber of Commerce in Wexford.
“We did really well there, really well, so we were very excited and it kind of motivated us and we we’re like ‘yes we’re on the right track’,” said Dimarco.
Rupich said the duo’s most memorable event was the Sewickley Harvest Festival. “We had a huge set up and met so many great people and we were selling sweaters and jeans,” Rupich said.
The next expansion for Magnolia on Main is extended sizes for ladies and more of a variety of accessories. “We get petite customers and petite customers we can handle with extra smalls, but plus size ladies we can’t,” Rupich said.
Rupich hopes to be in a new position dealing with the mobile boutique business in five to ten years from now. “In five years I would hope to really know a lot of ins and outs that I will be able to help other people do this business,” Rupich said.
The fashion from Magnolia on Main is priced from $28 to $160, the bracelets are between $26 to $65, the home accents like the pillows are $29 to $54, while the candles are $28.
Pittsburgh’s Pop-Up Fashion Market
The Pop-up Fashion Market in Market square is an annual event where a variety of retailers and mobile boutiques sell clothing, accessories and more to shoppers in downtown Pittsburgh.
“I like to work with the other fashion trucks because we all complement each other. We are not competing against each other, which is nice,” said Zimmerman.
Rupich shared a similar sentiment about Pittsburgh’s fashion truck industry and its customers.
“The three of us really work together really well because we recognize that we’re each giving a customer a different option,” said Rupich. “It offers them so much convenience.”
Ging said customers love the event due to its convenience and location.
“People were asking us, ‘Can you come down here all the time?,’” Ging said. “That’s my perfect customer, the women who’s busy downtown and can get lunch and get something to wear for the weekend all in the same place.”
If people are hesitant to try shopping from a mobile boutique, Zimmerman suggests coming in with an open mind. “You can absolutely find amazing and different stuff from shopping in a truck,” said Zimmerman. “The trend is still pretty new and people are very intrigue.”