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Originally published October 30, 2009 at 12:16 AM | Page modified October 30, 2009 at 1:23 AM

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Retail Report

Clothing dieters' lean look leaves some retailers hungry for sales

Web site called TheGreatAmericanApparelDiet.com is attracting national attention and the interest of shopkeepers who change strategies to win sales.

Seattle Times business reporters

Tough times call for all sorts of sacrifice.

But no new clothes for a whole year?

Queen Anne mom Sally Bjornsen, 46, has begun a movement called The Great American Apparel Diet. So far, nearly 30 women have signed on and pledged to abstain from buying clothes until next Sept. 1.

Most are 30- and 40-somethings from throughout the United States, though one lives in Bristol, England. Their oath is capturing national attention at a time when many people feel financially strapped.

Redbook magazine featured the dieters in a 1,360-word write-up on its Web site, and a local producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show expressed an interest, Bjornsen said.

Other dieters include Queen Anne yoga instructor Stephanie Greco, 49, who has "enough clothes to last a lifetime," and Rebecca Kotch, a "40ish" mom in Southern California who figures she should reacquaint herself with her closet after being laid off.

They chronicle their efforts at www.TheGreatAmericanApparelDiet.com.

Entries range from practical — "Can someone teach me how to sew?" — to philosophical — "There are people living in abject poverty all over the world, people who NEVER wear anything new, and I can't manage a year?"

Bjornsen estimates her clothing expenditures came to more than $5,000 annually and she lists a $300 pair of Italian jeans as one of her most-expensive purchases ("embarrassing, I know").

Some eco-friendly Web sites praise the women for trying to simplify their lives and make do with what they have.

A writer for Treehugger.com called it a "climate-focused diet to help us stop buying so much stuff."

But the apparel diet also has its critics, including local shopkeepers who say it could hurt recession-weary retailers. One even called the women un-American.

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"What's American?" Bjornsen said. "To go into credit-card debt and be a shopping freak?"

No doubt, many retailers are struggling as consumers cut back on their spending amid rising joblessness and widespread economic uncertainty.

Clothing stores in King County sold $566.3 million worth of merchandise in the first six months of this year, down about $82 million, or 13 percent, from the same period last year, according to the Washington state Department of Revenue.

Bjornsen, who once worked at Nordstrom, said her ah-ha moment came this summer while going through her closets.

Suddenly, it became apparent she had been buying clothes as if she worked in a corporate office.

In fact, she usually works in jeans and a T-shirt as the founder of a commercial-photography agency, Sally Bjornsen Represents.

"So much of my shopping was impulsive, which made me make some really bad decisions," Bjornsen said. "I'm being more strategic about how I spend my money, and that makes me feel responsible."

At Ballard Sip & Ship, a rack of unsold tank tops and summer dresses reminds co-owner Diana Naramore that fewer people have the means or desire for a whole new seasonal wardrobe.

"It used to be, 'I gotta keep up with the Joneses.' Now, it's like, 'I don't care what the Joneses are doing; I just hope they're OK,' " said Naramore, 42, laughing.

A wife and mother of three young boys, Naramore began spending less on clothes herself after the economic meltdown last fall.

So when Bjornsen, a friend, asked her to join the diet, Naramore thought, "piece of cake — I'm in. I live in jeans and T-shirts, and I have enough."

But what about the incongruity of a shopkeeper who sells clothes, yet won't buy clothes for herself?

"Turns out, it's good for business," Naramore said, noting that besides clothes, she sells greeting cards, coffee drinks and packaging services. "I'm getting to know these women."

At Show Pony, a fashion boutique in Fremont, owner Julie Wray has spent the past year catering to frugal fashionistas.

She carved out a section of her store for gently used clothes, stocked up on accessories and began hosting private parties for loyal customers.

So when Wray heard that Bjornsen had sworn off clothes for a year, she saw an opportunity.

A few weeks ago, Wray set up shop at Bjornsen's home on Queen Anne for a diet get-together and sold eight pairs of clogs, plus jewelry. (Shoes and accessories are OK.)

"Yes, if every woman in Seattle were on the diet, it might hurt my business," Wray said. "But I also sell a lot of accessories, and accessories are a great way to make any piece of clothing new again."

For some dieters, a year without new clothes is proving harder than they thought — and it's barely been two months.

"I see the fall leaves, and I think, ahh, I could really use a pick-me-up," Bjornsen said, staring out a window at a local sushi restaurant. "And for me, a pick-me-up is a $100 sweater."

— Amy Martinez

Tidbits

Starbucks hired one of Microsoft's human-resources managers, Kalen Holmes, as its head of HR, to start work Nov. 16 and report to CEO Howard Schultz. She replaces Chet Kuchinad, who resigned last spring because of a family illness. Holmes has worked in HR at other companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and PepsiCo. It's Starbucks' second major Microsoft hire in a year. Last fall, it hired Microsoft public-relations executive Vivek Varma as its senior vice president of public affairs. — MA

The Landing in Renton has signed two new retail tenants, both locally owned and due to open there in mid-November. They are Poggi Bonsi, a housewares retailer with two locations in Burien, and C'est la Vie, which sells jewelry, clothes and home furnishings in Edmonds. The openings are an expansion for both retailers. — AM

Fabri Fine Jewelry has moved to bigger space at Bellevue Square. Previously near Macy's, Fabri now is where Friedlander's Jewelers used to be, at Center Court. Owner Doug Sjolund said the new space is about 75 percent bigger than the old, making room for a Pandora jewelry "shop-in-shop." — AM

Mill Creek-based Zipfizz has signed a distribution deal for its energy-drink mix to be carried in General Nutrition Centers (GNC) and by stores in the Ralph's Grocery chain, which is owned by Kroger and includes Cala Foods, Bell Markets, Food-4-Less and FoodsCo in California, as well as PriceRite stores in Nevada. — MA

Chef Maria Hines of Tilth Restaurant in Seattle joined the board of the PCC Farmland Trust. She opened Tilth in 2006 as a certified-organic restaurant and recently partnered with the PCC Farmland Trust to launch a series of seasonal events called The Farmer's Table to connect food lovers with farmers. Founded by PCC Natural Markets, the trust is a nonprofit that preserves Northwest farmland threatened by development and helps move it into organic production. — MA

The Port Angeles Arts Council is hosting an online auction of 10 empty wine barrels that have been turned into works of art. Barrels can be viewed and bids accepted at http://portangelesdowntown.com until 5 p.m. Nov. 6. Proceeds will help the council with its startup activities. Winning bids will be announced that evening during Paul Chasman's One-Man Guitar Festival, also a council fundraising event, at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com.

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About Retail Report

Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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