Clementine’s Boutique is Changing the Way We See Consignment

Seated on Yonge Street in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood is Clementine’s, a small and charming boutique. When you walk into the light-filled shop, you will first be greeted by the bark of a puppy named Bear, followed by a warm welcome from the store’s founder and creative director Christina McDowell.

McDowell, who previously reigned as Holt Renfrew’s image consultant and national spokesperson, knows a thing or two about clothing and opened Clementine’s earlier this year in December, just days before Christmas. Clementine’s offers “like-new” luxury clothing, and McDowell’s goal is to elevate people’s perception of re-sale. The reputation consignment has of being a mish-mash of everyone’s grandmother and grandfather’s old junk is something that she’s trying to change.

“There’s no reason for these pieces to go to the trash,” said McDowell, pointing to a stunning dress from Dolce & Gabbana’s recent Sicily collection displayed on a mannequin across the store. “Some of these items haven’t even been worn before.” And it’s true—many pieces still have the original price tags hanging from them as proof.

McDowell points out that many trends either stick around forever, or they cycle back every few years (calling to mind the iconic line once uttered by Miranda Priestly: “Florals? For spring? Ground-breaking.”)

Re-sale is an eco-friendly solution to a popular consumer attitude toward clothing as being “temporary,” and Clementine’s proves that consignment can be luxurious.

Photo by Jen Morden.
Photo by Jen Morden.

McDowell uses the skills she learned from her time as a consultant at Holt Renfrew to curate a collection of luxury “like-new” designer clothing (not “gently used,” she insists. They’re “like new”). The brands she carries at the boutique range from J Brand, ALC and Helmut Lang on the contemporary end, to Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Prada on the higher end of the scale.

In addition to re-sale items, Clementine’s will also carry micro capsule collections from various designers such as the Canadian designer label Beaufille, and unique jewellery collections sourced from around the world.

McDowell explains that her goal for Clementine’s is that it consistently offers pieces that she believes to be “beautiful, relatable and accessible with luxury being the key component. That branding has to be consistent,” she says.

The clothing racks are all colour-coded and arranged by size (they vary from 2 to 12, and sometimes 14). The store is extremely tightly edited, and the environment is that of a contemporary art gallery. Vibrant paintings decorate the walls, a seating area on one side invites customers to take a moment to relax, sip coffee and read the newspaper. The window display is continually changed to reflect the most elegant selections offered inside.

Photo by Jen Morden.
Photo by Jen Morden.

As part of the experience, McDowell offers image consulting at the boutique either one-on-one or in groups. “Style is more than just clothing,” explains McDowell. “It’s about personal presence and communication and what that means to the people that see you or talk to you.” Her goal is that shopping at Clementine’s will be a personal experience, and that a customer will never just hand a product to the cashier and walk out the door without a thorough discussion with her about their wants and needs.

McDowell works alongside her daughter Kelly, who handles the business operations. “It’s a wonderful family business,” says McDowell. “You know, it was only once Kelly agreed to leave her position in marketing at another company that I knew I was ready to start [Clementine’s].”

The mother-daughter duo are familiar with their individual strengths, and by dividing the creative and operational sides of the business, they are both able to focus on what they know best. “We work very hard and we love hanging out all the time,” she says.

From left: Christina and Kelly McDowell. Photo by Jen Morden.
From left: Christina and Kelly McDowell. Photo by Jen Morden.

Clementine’s targeted clientele is categorized into two demographics: those within McDowell’s age group and those within her daughter’s. “We will have pieces here that are ageless, and are able to be worn by both of us,” she explains. “My goal is to match the right client with the right product for the right reasons,” she says, listing body type, lifestyle and budget as several of the criteria she considers. Her other goal for Clementine’s is to become part of the community. “Longevity is the goal,” she says. “I want the community to know us and enjoy coming in here.”