Style Encore: Plato's Closet Goes Sophisticate

If you're one of those women who loved to shop resale at Plato's Closet, but sort of "aged out" of the clothes in your twenties, you aren't alone; Ann Whitton, owner of six Plato's Closets in the Houston area, says it's common. "Plato's Closet is for women in their teens and into their twenties, and carries brands like Forever 21. I used to have to turn down a lot of clothes from older women, so when I had the opportunity [to open Style Encore] I knew I wanted to do it." Style Encore carries more sophisticated labels like White House | Black Market, Talbots, Banana Republic, and Coldwater Creek.

Whitton recently opened her first Style Encore location in Willowbrook Mall, and two more are on the way. The Willowbrook store sits side-by-side with one of Whitton's Plato's Closet stores, and she observes, "We frequently have mother/daughter pairs shopping together."

With six Plato's Closets (plus two more slated to open), and three Style Encore locations, you might think Ann Whitton is one busy woman; you would be right, but she's used to a bit of chaos. "I worked at Metro Transit as an engineer for 13 years, and then moved to Singapore with my family when my husband took a job there; I did a bit of tutoring, a bit of contract work, and some math and science teaching." A twist of fate brought Ann and her daughters back to the States while her husband remained overseas, coming to visit one week a month, but in the meantime Ann was looking for a business opportunity. "I wanted something without a big commute, something I would be in control of with two teenage daughters and a husband working overseas." Plato's Closet was a perfect fit for Whitton, whose two daughters and husband are part of the family business. "Both of our daughters have managed stores, although now they are each off doing something else--one is getting her MBA at UT, and the other is working for Epsilon in marketing. The deal was that we wanted the kids to come into the company, but only after they work for five years outside the company. We worked that out at a family meeting eight years ago!"

The resale aspect of the business also appealed to Whitton's commitment to sustainability. "Our entire family is dedicated to environmentalism. We recycle, drive electric cars, and we truly believe in that sustainable approach." She was also influenced by her own teenage daughters, who led Ann to understand, that "teenage girls are fickle--I understand, but when clothes are discarded after only being worn a few times, that's a shame. Shopping resale like [Plato's Closet and Style Encore] is ecologically sound, and it doesn't break the bank."

When a woman "graduates" from Plato's Closet to Style Encore, she can expect a little more than a wide selection of higher-end brands, she can also rely on a staff that is trained to authenticate items for resale. "We do a quick check at Plato's Closet to authenticate things like purses, but at Style Encore our staff gets an in-depth training on how to spot, say, a Chanel bag." Personal attention is another important aspect of Whitton's approach to retail. "We had a girl come in who was shopping for a cocktail party; her first, and it was her husband's boss's party. She came into Plato's Closet, but we brought her over to Style Encore to get her what she needed. She bought everything we showed her--shoes, dress, bag, and jewelry. She was so happy and so much less nervous when she left--that made me feel good."

You don't have to limit yourself to shopping Style Encore; the Willowbrook Mall location also purchases clothing. "We buy all seasons, all day, every day," said Ann. "If you have a designer purse, we'll ask you to fill out an additional form to help the authentication process. We price based on brand, style, condition, and we give estimates; you can take cash, or trade for things in the store."

When asked what her favorite things are in the store right now, Whitton answered, "These Tory Burch flats came in and we priced them at $35. If I could have fit my foot into that pair of shoes, I would have grabbed them! We also have quite a lot of designer purses right now, and," Whitton pauses briefly, "I did in fact, just purchase a pair of jeans."

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