Affordability is the new black

Lynchburg, Va. fashion haven Live Trendy or Die! reinvents what it means to be fashionable in a world full of “brand anxiety.”

Stephanie Atkinson, owner of local small business Live Trendy or Die! glanced through her tortoise shell glasses and smiles. Turquoise walls and miscellaneous objects surrounded her: suitcases perched on the wall like shelves, wooden cases and counter with an ancient globe perched on top. She smiled, crossed her legs and looked around the room.

“All the wood is reclaimed from my grandfather’s barn,” Atkinson said, and added that every other feature was either free or cheap, because they came from her family of entrepreneurs. Her new business is in the field of affordable fashion, and includes vintage and wholesale items along with local artisans’ candles, pillows and even iced coffee. She spent $100 in decorating the store, and the rest came out-of-pocket to stock every inch of the space on Church Street.

The phenomenon of “brand anxiety” is how the idea for Lynchburg’s affordable clothing shop Live Trendy or Die! was born. Atkinson grew up in southern New Jersey where brand-name fashion was revered, and worked three jobs to not only pay for everyday living expenses like rent and food, but also for that coveted $100 sweatshirt. Name brand clothing is unaffordable for most women and girls, which causes distress when it comes to fitting in with what everyone else is wearing. Anxiety over having the trendiest brands ran rampant, and checkbooks ran dry in local shopping malls.

“I grew up in the decade of Juicy Couture and Paris Hilton, where idols of young women were replicated in the pursuit of expensive labels,” Atkinson said. It was unaffordable, she said, hence the need to two to three jobs at a time to keep up with the trends. She also experienced several instances where a professional dress code was enforced, but women continued to struggle to pay for such a wardrobe.

Affordable wholesale and vintage clothing, such as the merchandise sold at Live Trendy or Die! bridges the gap between affordability and chicness. It allows customers to free themselves financially and show off their true personality.

“Bottom line clothing trends are fun and all but dressing to your unique style-that’s going to make you seem effortless,” Atkinson said in her first Live Trendy or Die blog post. “I mean seriously we can’t all show up in fringe just because we want to be fashionably effortless- that’s not what fashion was invented for.”

All clothing at Live Trendy or Die! comes in under $50, and the entire store’s inventory turns over every six to seven weeks. She flies out to California to the warehouse districtto choose new pieces to feature on the shelves. Atkinson said the quick turnover is due to the small square footage of the store. She also added that all of the jewelry, accessories, paintings and other décor are locally made in Virginia.

As a testimony to her mission, Atkinson said that kids in high school are finding their style earlier, and are therefore looking for unique, vintage clothing. Atkinson said this is due to the small square footage of the store. The Live Trendy or Die! Instagram account features select pieces completely styled, with prices attached. She has recently previewed spring pieces on the account, live_trendy_or_die.

Atkinson looks to the future and plans on expanding the store into a new space, whether it is connected to the standing space or not. A recent partnership with vintage clothing store Stay Gold Clothes has prompted the developments is an opportunity to bring in a higher selection of coveted items.

Another way Live Trendy or Die is growing is through a new book buy back program. People bring in old books, by the bag, and they are then sold at affordable prices in-store. The program began with a fundraising opportunity with the Campbell County Humane Society, an organization that Atkinson has strong ties to since the adoption of her dog, Philbert.

“Our candles, wall hangings, planters, purses, and jewelry are all local and affordable. Why shouldn’t our books be, too?” Atkinson wrote in her blog. She said the books will also bring a more “visually stimulating experience” to the store with the addition of hardback and paperback books on the shelves.

Live Trendy or Die!’s business model at the heartbeat of this affordability revolution that preceded the label conscious generation. After moving to Lynchburg to complete a Master’s degree at Lynchburg College, she saw the city as a perfect foundation for her affordability concept. The revitalization of downtown Lynchburg to include more local merchants is a prime area to try out this new business models to increase foot traffic.

“In order for downtown Lynchburg to become this place that people want to be, we have to provide means for people to want to go downtown and stay downtown,” Atkinson said. “You have to have a very, very, very smart business plan. You can’t rely on foot traffic, and [your store] has to be a destination.”

Live Trendy or Die! is located at 1101 B. Church St. in downtown Lynchburg. Its hours are 11-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and is closed on Sunday.