They've taken their game plan directly from the food truck phenomenon that rolled into the L.A. area more than five years ago. They spruce up their trucks with bright colors, cool graphics and catchy names as they tweet out information about when and where they'll pop up next.
But instead of serving fusion tacos, organic burgers or lobster rolls, they're hawking fast fashion as part of the latest business trend to hit the streets: fashion trucks.
“We're promoting being mobile, a new way of shopping and a creative way of bringing the product to the customer,” said Monique Cruz, who owns Selvedge Dry Goods, a vintage clothing boutique she runs out of a fixed-up cargo truck.
She opened about a year ago with an investment of less than $10,000. Part of the retrofit included a small wooden staircase that leads to the interior of Selvedge Dry Goods, which, thanks to its inventory, has the feel of a very small Urban Outfitters or Wasteland. It was one of the five fashion trucks that recently parked at Cal State Long Beach's campus for an outdoor shopping event.
Cruz is now preparing to return to CSULB on the weekends of April 7 and 14 for another day of mobile fashion dubbed “Springchella.” The events will include seven retail trucks aimed at students in need of some desert-friendly fashion before heading out to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Some other locations the trucks often hit up are the Downtown L.A. Art Walk and the annual Malipalooza in Malibu. On Saturdays, about 10 fashion trucks can be found at the Melrose Trading Post at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills while on Sundays a handful of trucks park at the Post's Fairfax High location.
“It's been really great. We've had a great response to the mobile retail trucks,” said Melissa Richardson Banks, a spokeswoman for the Melrose Trading Post. “They have a good social following, they have people that will follow them from place to place and they add so much excitement to the event.”
Fashion Trucks like Selvedge Dry Goods and the others coming to the upcoming Long Beach event began rolling out in the L.A. area about three years ago, and like their food truck counterparts they're made up of older vans and cargo or delivery trucks that have been fixed up inside and out.
“The growth has not been as fast as the food truck boom but it has gone global. We've heard from trucks in Europe, Africa, everywhere, so I think it's going to continue to grow,” said Stacey Steffe, who along with her partner Jeanine Romo launched Le Fashion Truck in January 2011.
Their pink truck has been credited with being the first mobile retail truck to drive through Los Angeles.
Steffe and Romo later formed the American Mobile Retail Association to offer consulting services, business seminars and to help bring trucks together for events like those at CSULB.
“We wanted to originally join the food truck association, but we were so different from the food trucks it didn't make sense to join. So Stacy and I started saying we should just have our own,” Romo said.
So far nationally about 300 fashion truck owners are members of the association, with about 19 here in the Los Angeles area, including Cruz and the others participating at the upcoming CSULB event. The appeal of the new business model, fashion business experts say, is lower overhead with considerable savings on rent and the relative speed and low cost of launching the business, which can range from about $20,000 to $30,000.
“It's cheaper to get off the ground for sure, you save a lot of rent a month and you invest a few thousand in a truck to have it retrofitted and you have a mobile boutique that can go anywhere,” said Frances Harder, founder and president of the downtown Los Angeles-based Fashion Businesses Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that helps develop fashion-related businesses.
Harder has penned several versions of the book “Fashion for Profit,” a how-to guide on starting a fashion business. She's updating her book to include the new mobile stores in response to the fashion truck trend.
But there are also drawbacks to the trucks, such as not being able to park and sell whenever and wherever they like because most cities, including Los Angeles, will not issue permits to allow trucks to park on public streets and sell goods.
The permitting issue is the main reason why the trucks join together for events on private property such as the ones at CSULB.
“I love it. I love this idea,” said Rebecca Ramirez, a dance major and sophomore at the college who was browsing around the Selvedge truck.
She has shopped at fashion trucks and likes the convenience of fashion coming to her and the look of the trucks. “It's very cute, it's very inviting. It's just so adorable how it's set up, it makes you just want to go inside,” she said.
Inside they're modeled after stylish boutiques with floors made to resemble hardwood or concrete; small shelves displaying accessories like earrings, necklaces and sunglasses; and neat racks fitted with enough clothing to let customers browse for a while but not too much to make the small space feel cluttered or claustrophobic.
The interiors are usually big enough to accommodate two to three shoppers comfortably, and are decked out with tiny spaces curtained off as dressing rooms.
There are now as many as 400 fashion trucks on American roads, according to Steffe. The few dozen in the Los Angeles area sell fashion that varies from funky vintage threads, to ethnic clothing and modern sophisticated styles.
The truck proprietors are as varied as the clothes they sell, with fashion school graduates, clothing designers, former marketing professionals and business-savvy entrepreneurs getting behind the wheel. Some are using the trucks as a means to earn enough money and a customer base before investing in a traditional store, while others like Steffe and Romo have plans to stay on the road.
“We're good with the truck. We don't want to go the traditional route, at least not in the near future,” Romo said.
Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, agrees fashion trucks are the newest trend in fashion right now. Thanks to the inventive retrofits, Metchek said the trucks have a lot of visual appeal, which helps sell the clothes and other wares they offer, although the fashion may not be as high-end as found at trendy boutique stores.
“They appeal to the impulse buyer, the same people that like to eat standing up, it's the ultimate fast fashion,” she said. This also means significant discounts on fashionable clothing, she noted.
So far, though, Metchek said there seems to be little competition between fashion trucks and traditional fashion stores.
“The major brands will not sell directly to the fashion trucks,” she said. Instead, fashion trucks will pick up product from small rising designers or large scale discount distributors.
“We love working with all the local designers because it's not something you're going to see in any store, and definitely not in a department store,” Romo said.
Nationally, the trend began back in 2010 when New York-based designer Cynthia Rowley decked out an old UPS-style truck before taking her fashion line on a national road trip that made several stops in the area.
Rowley's traveling truck and their own experience eating at local food trucks inspired Steffe and Romo to open their business.
“Le Fashion Truck” is written in delicate cursive on the side of their truck, where they sell women's fashion and accessories by local and emerging brands priced from about $25 to $55 for clothes and as high as $120 for sunglasses.
Steffe, a former marketing and advertising professional teamed up with Romo, who studied fashion design and merchandise at Cal State L.A., to launch the truck at the Downtown L.A. Monthly Art Walk. Their opening night was a bigger hit than they imagined thanks in large part to the food truck model they followed, promoting the opening on social media weeks before their launch.
“We were going for a French boutique kind of theme when we were creating Le Fashion Truck three years ago,” Steffe said while standing inside her box-truck store that was parked in front of her small office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
While it was there for a photo shoot and not open for business, the truck turned the heads of many pedestrians and people who walked by in the area on a recent afternoon.
“That is such a great idea. It's so cool and I would totally shop there,” said Eric Delgado, as he walked by Le Fashion Truck with a friend. He was disappointed to find out that, like most other fashion truck owners, Steffe and Romo sell mostly women's fashion.
When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 7 and 14.
Where: CSULB, in front of the 49ers Bookstore, 6049 E. Seventh St., Long Beach.
Information: For a list of other fashion trucks and their schedules go to americanmra.com.