Stacey Chambers, a Nevada native and Baltimore resident, sells vintage clothes out of an old school bus. She found the bus for sale through a friend and took her business, Go-Go’s Retread Threads, on the road back in 2010.
“The bus chose me. As soon as I got in there it just felt right to me.”
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Chambers was one of the first entrepreneurs in the area to enter the emerging industry of mobile fashion. Like food trucks, mobile retailers pack their vehicles with inventory and park in neighborhoods or at special events throughout the city, hawking clothing and accessories to unconventional shoppers.
According to Stacey Jischke-Steffe, co-founder and president of the American Mobile Retail Association (AMRA), the industry has grown to nearly 1,000 trucks nationwide in just a few short years, appealing to business owners looking for lower startup costs, low overhead and a flexible schedule.
Jischke-Steffe said the average mobile retailer spends about $25,000 to get started, a small fee compared to brick and mortar shops, which can rack up as much as $100,000 in startup costs.
An owner of Le Fashion Truck in Los Angeles, Jischke-Steffe said the AMRA started in 2013 after their business was rejected from a food truck association on southern California. Hearing other retailers express interest in owning a business on wheels, she took the organization national.
“Having this kind of network helps all of us stay in business,” she said. “It’s a nationwide movement.”
The movement includes about 40-50 retailers in the mid-Atlantic region, the majority of whom are women. Richard Wilmore, however, bucks the trend. A Wisconsin native who recently moved to Harford County, Wilmore launched the Street Boutique fashion truck in March and sells affordable fashion under $40.
He found his truck on Craigslist and said it’s been a great way to,“get to know Maryland and get to know the people of Maryland, as opposed to sitting in a store waiting for someone to walk in.”
A first-time business owner, Wilmore had to learn the ropes of Maryland mobile retail laws, the reality of regular truck repairs and the difficulty of selling clothes during winter months, but he relishes the new challenge.
“It’s a huge risk to dive into that world of being on your own and being your own boss,” he said.
Shelley Sarmiento echoes that drive for independence. A former co-owner of White House Black Market, Sarmiento started the Little White Fashion Truck in 2012 with a repurposed bread truck. She now operates two trucks out of Severna Park, using social media is her primary form of marketing.
Sarmiento sells trendy styles for women over 30 at a price point that makes sense, noting that it can be hard to sell high-end items from the back of a truck.
Driving and managing a 15-foot truck isn’t always easy, she said, but the business is profitable.
“It’s very seldom that someone walks off that truck without buying something.”