Thrift, fashion mingle on Wellington Avenue in Walla Walla

Blue Mountain Trading Company has the feel of an upscale boutique but not the prices.

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WALLA WALLA -- Not everything is what it seems at clothing store Blue Mountain Trading Company.

From the track lighting illuminating the corridors of the cottage shop on Wellington Avenue to the tidy displays of neatly spaced garments, the thoughtful design of Walla Walla's new retailer evokes the feel of a swanky boutique.

Except that each item is less than $30. In fact, most range from $4.95 to $22. Many of them also come with a story: A khaki skirt that was refashioned from a pair of men's cargo pants. A hooded sweatshirt converted into a halter sundress. Saris from Mumbai sewn into colorful pairs of funky pants. Brand-name items plucked from racks at discount stores from Seattle to Portland.

The concept of the higher-end used clothing store, which opens Saturday, is intended to appeal both to consumers' sense of economy and sustainability, said founder Greg Roybal.

"The time in our culture is right," the Seattle area resident said via telephone this week. "There's a huge amount of people right now interested in saving money and being eco-friendly."

Roybal, a store designer who works for a national retailer, has partnered with longtime friend and Walla Walla entrepreneur Alexa Palmer to develop the business model. For the better part of a year, Roybal has been collecting inventory to stock the store.

"I moved my car out of the garage, and I actually purchased an industrial sewing machine to go in there," he said. "It just kind of tornadoed."

He's made weekend trips to Walla Walla, where he rents a home, converting a former cheese and tea shop at 321 Wellington Ave. to make a perfect fit for the store. Palmer and Roybal enlisted Kevin Melvin as general manager. They're still looking for one more "fashionista" to help with the operation.

Where possible, every aspect of the business embraces and reflects sustainability. Repurposed doors are used for racks and shelving to hold the recycled and "upcycled" clothing. Even the webhost that powers the business's site uses wind energy.

The business model is similar to Plato's Closet or Buffalo Exchange, stores that buy, sell and trade designer, vintage and brand name clothing in good condition. It also focuses on repurposed clothing items, where garments are converted into something new.

Though the inventory is collected as a result of massive scavenging in urban communities, the store is the "antithesis of a thrift store," Palmer said.

"We wanted the store to have a really boutique-y, but distressed look," she said.

The name for the store -- Blue Mountain Trading Company -- is an homage to Walla Walla's history as a trading post. The moniker fits locally, but could be marketable elsewhere, too, if the business booms, Roybal said.

Roybal started developing some of his sensibilities about fashion from his mother who was a sportswear designer. He grew up shopping for clothes in Western Washington's urban shopping centers and boutiques.

"I am appalled at spending $125 for a shirt," he said.

Combining his understanding of trends with quality fabrics, he enjoys scavenging for clean, quality garments. The timing for repurposing is more appropriate now given consumers' concerns about reducing waste, he said. He's found that to be true on this side of the Cascades, as well, particularly among college students who are a major target market for the store.

"It seems like Walla Walla is really on a green, sustainable track," he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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The Blue Mountain Trading Company will officially open its doors to the public Saturday.

Hours of operation for the retail store that features "recycled and upcycled" clothing are: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. To learn more, visit the store's Facebook page or website at www.blue-mountain-trading.com or call 529-5395.

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