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OUTSIDE THE BOX

Business innovators

St. Petersburg clothing designer leaves no fabric behind

ST. PETERSBURG

Sara Stonecipher's business model is a series of contradictions.

Her Misred Outfitters clothing store at 615 Central Ave. sells vintage clothing to fashion forward consumers who read Vogue.

She recently launched her own line of contemporary apparel made from vintage clothing.

Her store and new line, Black Label, exist in St. Petersburg, not San Francisco, Chicago or New York where the Bohemian look is more widely appreciated.

And, perhaps the most surprising for a 3-year-old retail store, the company is debt free and she's financed it all without a loan from family, friends or a bank.

"The store is self-supporting," said the red-headed, 30-year-old Stonecipher, who employs eight people and six unpaid interns. She started the store with her own savings from waiting tables.

It appears her contradictions are paying off.

"The people who shop here are not trying to look like they are in a time capsule. They are looking at all the fashion blogs and Vogue," Stonecipher said recently inside her small but bright shop. "They want beautiful clothing that's well-made."

She launched Black Label with 300 pieces in the store and online. The billowing wide leg pants, kimonos, shoulderless tunics and six other styles are proving more popular than the true vintage clothing, which usually costs less. Each new piece is made from two or more fabrics cut from rayon pants, skirts or dresses made in the 1960s or '70s. Her slogan for the eco-friendly concept is "no fabric left behind."

"It took 1,500 pieces of clothing to produce these 300," she explained. She buys the vintage clothing that's cut into fabric in bulk.

Where does one buy vintage clothing in that kind of bulk?

"I can't give away all my secrets," she said, admitting some come from large estates but offering no other clues.

The vintage clothing that's sold in its original form comes from many sources, including customers who sell or trade items.

Stonecipher grew up in the clothing business. Her mother, Patti Rondolino, started Designers' Consigner on Beach Drive in 1991 and ran the high-end shop for more than a decade before selling it. The store is now at 1022 Central Ave.

"I spent a lot of time at that store when there was nowhere to even get anything to eat or drink on Beach Drive except at this old soda machine in that motel they tore down," Stonecipher laughed. That's one reason she is so pleased to be a part of the resurgence of downtown and Central Avenue. She was one of the original tenants when the 600 Block debuted as an arts destination.

"She's almost like the block captain. She motivates people to stay involved," said Shrimatee Ojah Maharaj, manager of the city's Business Assistance Center. "Sara is always looking for ways to improve things, whether it's murals, special events, organizing meetings. She's very passionate about everything she does."

The production office where vintage clothes are cut into fabric that's carefully coordinated and sewn into the Black Label designs is at 531 Central Ave. She could make clothes much cheaper in China and even sampled fabrics from there.

"I decided I didn't want to send my money and my jobs to somewhere that's not in my neighborhood," she said. She strongly believes there is more quality and individuality in making custom pieces here.

"You can go to Forever 21 and spend $30 for a dress that was made in China and there are 100,000 units of it just in Florida. You will see seven other people wearing the same thing and it will fall apart in just a few washes," she said.

While the true vintage pieces are less, the Black Label line averages $100 an item. Stonecipher says that's reasonable for clothing and fabric made in this country.

Though it was against the backdrop of New York's Fashion Week and not the Pier on Tampa Bay, the Wall Street Journal recently ran an article saying fashion conscious women graduate from mall chains to middle tier designers with dress ranging from $200 to $500 each.

"Many contemporary labels share a sweet spot — the $400 dress. It's beautifully made, stylish and sexy, a piece a woman feels great wearing to the office or to a special occasion," the article read.

Stonecipher believes her original designs and contradictory approach are just as sweet.

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at kssmith@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8785.

St. Petersburg clothing designer leaves no fabric behind 03/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:41pm]

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