Julie Majkowski is sick of “fast fashion,” the mass-produced clothing churned out every season by the big box stores.
“The fabric of late is of terrible quality,” says the owner and designer of Random 434 boutique in downtown Apex. “It doesn’t wash well; it certainly doesn’t wear well, and it can’t be worn for many years. It’s tossed away and filling up our landfills.”
Majkowski has a point. For the past five years, fast fashion retailers like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, among others, grew 9.7 percent each year, compared to 6.8 percent for traditional retailers, according to the financial holding company CIT. But often that top you paid less than $10 for is either out of style—or falling apart—in just a few months.
At Random 434, located upstairs over the popular Common Grounds coffee shop, Majkowski makes custom pieces out of gently-used quality clothing, refashioning them to fit trends—and different-sized bodies. She also makes custom handbags and scarves and teaches sewing. An accomplished seamstress, she initially started combining pieces for her own wear.
“I was refashioning clothing for myself as I was getting older and more full—I guess that’s the nice way to put it—and wanted to cover my derriere and still be dignified,” she says.
She mulled over the concept, thinking she’d hit on a need that wasn’t being met, and she could turn it into a business: “I just knew the clothing was going to take off because there are more women like myself who are my age and fuller and want to be dignified. I’m addressing it.”
Then one night as she had what she calls a “creative explosion” at 4:34 in the morning—hence the name for her business.
“As I was falling asleep, I was thinking, ‘How am I going to know what to buy in a clothing or consignment store? It would be whatever the world offers….random.’ What a great word. And then I jumped out of bed at 4:34 a.m., alive and on fire,” she says. “I took my pen and paper and wrote down exactly how I saw my new name and bought the domain name. I was on the computer all morning writing everything down.”
She spent the next two days shopping for inventory or, as she calls it, “thrifting.”
“I bought things that I saw could be combined right there. I made the clothing, all repurposed, all one-of-a-kind, and all the pieces sold in a month. The clothing I find is much better quality from before ‘fast fashion’ was a thing and better lines of clothing, which I’m familiar with, and I make them look like wearable art, one-of-a-kind pieces,” she adds.
Majkowski’s instinct was spot on, but she didn’t anticipate what happened next—customers started bringing her clothing from their own closets.
A dress they loved but didn’t wear anymore could extend a too-short top, creating a great tunic for leggings. Other pieces were reshaped and outfitted with buttons, a flared waist or a reworked collar. Quality fabrics like linen, lace, cotton, wool and silk were used to custom-create clothing, recycling what women already had—and liked. The average price per piece is about $50.
Word is spreading. The problem now is that Majkowski has more work than she can handle by herself; her part-time seamstress had to leave for a full-time job. But Majkowski’s looking for more help; in the meantime, she’s not worried. Apex has been good to her.
“It’s called persistence and believing in possibilities.”