The Green Leap
Written by Amanda Light // Illustrated by Derek Prince Wilson
Felice Pierce opened Revolve Fashion, an upscale resale boutique, in 2012. While other businesses were folding during the great recession, her Plato’s Closet franchise was thriving and she wanted to break off and adapt that model to serve young, professional women. The archeologist turned schoolteacher, turned Plato’s Closet franchise owner took the leap and opened a green business dedicated to sustainable women’s fashion.
Pierce originally went to school for archeology, but found it hard to work in the field after starting a family, so she transitioned to teaching grade school. After a decade, Pierce found that she felt burnt out and asked to go part-time the following year. A self-described workaholic, Pierce realized, “I don’t work part-time... I’d be getting paid part-time but working full-time still.” So, Pierce quit her job teaching. There wasn’t a backup plan, but there was an annual conference for the Sante Fe nonprofit Bioneers that summer. Bioneers’ mission is rooted in pairing social and scientific innovators to implement ecological solutions to heal the planet.
Pierce went to a live stream of the week-long event at Case Western Reserve University. The lecture Felice attended was given by David Cooperrider, a professor at the Case Western Reserve MBA program. Cooperrider asked the attendees what they thought the biggest agent of change was. “We were all going like, ‘Peace Corps or nonprofits’ and things like that,” he said, “‘No, it’s Walmart, we were horrified.” Cooperrider told the audience business is the most powerful agent of change we have, even more powerful than the government in terms of the rapid change it can affect.
This was the eureka moment for Pierce. “It broke my preconceived notions about business,” she said. “ I’ve always been focused on environmentalism, so I decided right then and there I was gonna do a green business.” The idea to go into women’s fashion was inspired in part by her daughter. Pierce mentions that when her sister visited from Mexico, they were preparing to go on this massive thrift shopping spree. That morning her daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, said she had nothing to wear. Pierce wasn’t buying it, as she just bought her clothes last week. She made her daughter put on one of the new outfits. “Sure enough, she didn’t fit into them and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “She’d grown right out of them before she ever wore them.”
When Pierce mentioned this interaction to people at the thrift store, she began to ask why they didn’t have second hand clothes stores for kids. Someone suggested she check out Plato’s Closet, but Pierce had never heard of it before. The closest one was in North Olmsted, so she made the trek to the west side the next day. “I walked in and, in about five minutes, I [thought], ‘This is such a great idea, this is gonna be my green business,” Pierce said.
She bought her first Plato’s Closet franchise in 2008 and the storefront served as a pivotal step towards opening Revolve Fashion. “I had never worked in retail,” Pierce said. “ I thought it was normal to hang small things low for small people and big things high up.”
The Woodmere shop was in an affluent neighborhood and the women started bringing Pierce high ticket items she wasn’t supposed to buy, according to the franchise. She was only supposed to buy and sell clothes for teenagers, but she couldn’t resist. After two years of accepting these higher end clothing brands she realized she had to open a women’s resale shop. When she brought up the idea to her landlord, he refused. Pierce soon got her chance when her lease was broken and she moved her Plato’s Closet store to the Greens of Lyndhurst. Next door was a vacant storefront where she intended to put a Clothes Mentor franchise.
“It broke my preconceived notions about business,” she said. “ I’ve always been focused on environmentalism, so I decided right then and there I was gonna do a green business.”
Clothes Mentor was the spin-off project by two executives originally from Winmark Corporation, the franchiser of Plato’s Closet and Once Upon A Child. Winmark rejected the idea to get into women’s upscale resale so they did it themselves., “A lot of Plato’s Closet owners were buying that franchise because they saw the same opportunity I saw,” she said.
Pierce filed the paperwork to be the franchisee for Clothes Mentor and leased the storefront next door. “A week before I was gonna fly to Minneapolis, Minnesota where the franchiser is, I got a call from them saying that I can’t have it anymore,” she said. “I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me, I already booked my hotel, I booked my flight, I’ve leased a space and you’re telling me that you’re just pulling this rug from under me?’ Their reply: “Yeah, sorry somebody else that owns Clothes Mentor is in your area, we’re giving it to him.”
Pierce stopped her car and started yelling to herself, racking her brain to find the silver lining. In a moment of clarity Pierce realized “I’m doing this myself!” After a brief phone call with her husband to talk about the fall out with the Clothes Mentor franchise they decided to open their own independent boutique. “We did not want them moving next door to our Plato’s Closet and taking that part of the market that I had in Woodmere.” Pierce said.
Pierce said that Revolve Fashion took off like crazy and everyone was asking her to open a resale store for grade school kids. Pierce was adamant about the idea. “Just forget it, there’s too much little stuff and the screaming children, there’s no way I’ll ever do a kids’ store,” Pierce said. Her customers finally broke her down and she opened Revolve Kids in 2015. Her three storefronts stood lined in a row and her loyal customers could graduate from one store to the next.
Pierce is a determined person who doesn’t shy away from her ambition. “I have always gone in a direction hard, and then something gets me going in another direction and I go really hard,” she said. I liken it to some sort of sailing, how you sway back and forth. Sometimes the sails luff a bit and you don’t know what you’re doing but boy some wind will just come up and, boom, I go. I’m in a transition now, I’m trying to sell all the stores.”
“Our daughter lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and she’s pregnant so I think grandparent is my next move,” Pierce added. Pierce’s next great adventure involves sustainable farming. She intends on filming the process of converting a large suburban lot into a farm and creating content about regenerative solutions to climate change and clean energy. Pierce also notes that she would like to do a series on building a DIY energy efficient house with her family to help others interested in learning the build.
She described building techniques, like those used in earthships and passive solar earth shelters, she finds inspiration in. “There was this way of building your house against the backside of a hill so that the house was bermed, and then having solar on the southern side capturing the sun,” Pierce said. “When we lived out West before, we were going to have an organic farm with a house like that, with no electricity except what we generated and water capture. It’s always been my fantasy.”