Summer Tonsfeldt, 15, of Scottsdale, likes designer clothes. Especially when she can get them on a great deal.
"You can get top brand names here for cheap," the teen said as she browsed through the clothing racks at Elite Repeat, an upscale consignment boutique on 8752 E. Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale on Thursday.
Summer said she and her mom, Tracy, first went the store about three years ago at a neighbor's suggestion. When she snagged a Tiffany and Co. necklace for $40, she was hooked.
"We're frugal shoppers," said Tracy Tonsfeldt, treating her daughter to a "like new" black lace Paris Paris sleeveless top, usually retailing between $49 and $69. She snapped it up for $14.99.
Bargain hunters have long known about the lightly used and sometimes never-worn designer goods that can be found on the racks at consignment shops and thrift stores.
But as the economy started to slow, Scottsdale consignment shop owners say sales have picked up.
"Business is up 30 percent. People are figuring out this is a really good idea," said Lucille Zimmerman, co-owner of Celebrity Encore, a designer consignment store at 7121 E. Fifth Ave.
"This business is more recession-proof than the average business," noted Diane Harris, co-owner of Secrets and What the Butler Saw consignment shops at 4436 N. Miller Road.
Harris also reported a boost in business, with sales 20 percent higher in May and June.
"With these gas prices, I think people are staying in town more. We're not seeing a decrease in business, and summers are usually slow," said April Bogue, owner of Nancy's Repeat Boutique, a consignment shop at 10636 N. 71st Way in Scottsdale specializing in reselling trendy T-shirts and designer jeans.
At consignment shops, clients enter into a contract with the shop owner essentially acting as a middleman in the sales transaction. The shop owner typically sets the price of the garment or accessory and often reaps a commission of between 50 percent to 60 percent of the sale.
Supply at these stores is keeping up with the greater demand. Harris said she's seen an increase in consigners looking to convert unwanted clothes into spending money. Some consigners, she said, are selling because they need the extra income.
"I've noticed people bringing in more treasures they normally wouldn't part with," Harris said, recalling a woman who brought in five Judith Leiber couture evening bags early last month because she needed the extra money.
For Lisa Sgrignoli, 47, of Gilbert, being a consigner has its advantages.
Sgrignoli said consigning her three children's clothes at the Small Change consignment shop at 6206 N. Scottsdale Road when they were young was a good way to make extra money to buy new clothes for her family.
"Children grow out of their sizes so quickly," said Sgrignoli, in the My Sister's Closet at 6204 N. Scottsdale Road this week with 9-year-old daughter Gabby looking to spend a $100 store credit she earned from a recent consignment sale.
Sometimes, even the consignment store owners are surprised at the volume of designer merchandise coming their way.
"A lot of Scottsdale girls will clean out their closet every season," said Margie Sawyer, co-owner of Elite Repeat.
Sawyer said two weeks ago an Arrowhead woman came in to consign 10 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes, some never worn. Sawyer said she often consigns never-worn items - impulse buys that never made it out of her clients' closets.
Her biggest consignment came from a north Scottsdale woman last July, who decided to redo her entire wardrobe.
"She consigned 1,900 pieces that included Jimmy Choo shoes, Prada, Chanel, all the top designers," said Harris.