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Will Payne

Will Payne



201 Monroe NW
STE 400
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503

Will Payne

Sometimes business opportunities come at the most unlikely moments. For Will Payne, the idea came while studying business at Hope College.  Payne wanted to help his father get rid of some excess wardrobe, so he offered his fraternity a variety of high-end business clothing at a discount price. It sold out almost immediately.

“Maybe I can do this on a bigger scale,” Payne said after being inspired by the experiment, “I wanted to come up with a cool consignment idea.”

The concept for Style 53 is an expanded version of Payne’s initial experiment, with an added focus on doing social good. A high-end consignment shop, Style 53 resells only the best men's apparel and accessories. Donors give their clothes and have the option to select a charity that has partnered with them. Upon the sale of an item, 53 percent of the proceeds are donated to that charity on the donor’s behalf.

“Designer clothes are meant to be worn, and we feel compelled to give back,” Payne said.

Style 53 offers a variety of brands for men, with some of the most popular ones being Zegna, Armani, and Hickey Freeman. As a consignment shop, the inventory is determined by what items have been donated, though they do purchase a minimum proportion of their own clothing. Around 20 to 30 products are released bi-weekly, giving customers a reason to frequently check back in.

“The cheap cost of online clothing makes it attractive,” Payne said, “(but) people want to feel and touch the clothing.”

Convenience is a key part of the Style 53 business model. After an order is made, the clothing is shipped to the customer with a return sticker. Customers have a week trial period with their new purchase. If unsatisfied, the clothing can be returned using the original shipping material at no cost to the customer.

Donating clothing to Style 53 is just as easy. After submitting your basic information on the website, an empty box is shipped to the donor with a return label. The donors elect a pick-up day for their donation, place it in the box, and Style 53 takes care of the rest, fast and efficiently.

“If you say I want to load it up tomorrow, it will be picked up immediately,” Payne said.

Customers and nonprofits alike are also poised to benefit from this business model. While customers get access to high-end clothing at a discount price, nonprofits receive both a donation and the increased publicity from partnering with Style 53. As one of its most recent partners, Read Asia is excited about the possibilities.

“(here we have) a business start-up helping a nonprofit-start-up,” said Jessie Emelander, Development Director at Read Asia, “Marketing is expensive, and now we are marketing ourselves through Style 53.”

Along with Read Asia, Style 53 has partnerships with Kid’s Food Basket, ARC Surf Camp, Billy Bear Hug Foundation, and Stockbridge Boiler Room. These nonprofits were selected based on Payne’s past relationships, though he is open to expanding his list to up to 10 organizations. The variety of organizations gives customers the flexibility of choosing a cause they truly believe in.

“Corporate-nonprofit partnerships developing in Grand Rapids are unique to Grand Rapids,” said Emelander.  “(Payne’s) not doing it just to create a business, he is very conscious of his costs and overhead.”

Style 53 launched eight months ago as a temporary pop-up shop on Monroe during ArtPrize, hoping to capitalize on the surge of foot traffic. As a marketing technique, it proved effective. However, the jury is still out on whether a store front will return as a permanent fixture. With the business beginning to thrive online, Payne does not feel pressure to maintain a physical storefront.

As for the future, Payne is pondering the launch of a lower-end clothing line which would feature high-quality, but lesser brands than he currently features. His goal is to eventually be a national leader for high-end clothing online for men.

Learn more about Will Payne and Style 53 at style53.com.
Kevin Lignell is a community activist, globetrotter, and freelance writer for UIX Grand Rapids

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