Summertime in the Twin Cities area means two things: festivals and food trucks. But another trend is emerging: the fashion truck. Instead of pulled-pork sandwiches and fish tacos, on-the-go shoppers can pick up a colorful new scarf or a pair of chandelier earrings.
Housed in retrofitted Airstream RVs and step vans, these roving shops are popping up at festivals, markets and private events. Like food trucks, mobile retailers provide their owners with a lower overhead and more flexibility than traditional brick-and-mortar shops. And unlike online shopping, fashion trucks offer customers instant gratification.
Kim Huston, owner of the Style A Go-Go truck and organizer of Saturday’s Fashion Truck Festival — taking place near the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis — said she enjoys the versatility of a fashion truck. She works full-time as a supply team specialist for Target. “You’re not in one place waiting for customers to come to you, and you have a more flexible schedule,” she said.
Customers seem to be responding.
“I think so many people come in because they’re like, what is this? They want to see what it’s all about,” said Melissa Hardin, owner of the Flaunt Accessories fashion truck. “When you’re inside, you forget you’re in a truck.”
Huston added, “I think they like the novelty — it’s something they usually haven’t seen before. And not only are wives excited about shopping, the husbands are curious about how the truck was made.”
As with food trucks, social media are vital for finding out where fashion trucks are. Shoppers can track their whereabouts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and some trucks can be booked for private events.
Fashion trucks started hitting U.S. streets about six years ago, according to the American Mobile Retail Association (AMRA). The movement began in cities with mild climates year-round, such as Los Angeles; San Francisco; Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. AMRA president Stacey Jischke-Steffe estimated there are about 400 mobile boutiques nationwide.
“It’s growing at a much faster pace every year,” Jischke-Steffe said. “I definitely think mobile retail is here to stay.”
Trendy clothes, cupcakes
For some businesses, a fashion truck can be a step toward opening a brick-and-mortar location. After nearly two years with her fashion truck, Flaunt’s Hardin opened an occasional storefront in northeast Minneapolis in April, although she continues to utilize her truck.
Jischke-Steffe said most mobile businesses that open brick-and-mortar stores end up keeping their trucks as promotional tools.
Minnesota has a few marks against it when it comes to the fashion truck business. Unpredictable weather and cold winters pose challenges, and unlike food trucks, mobile retail trucks cannot be licensed to park on city streets.
“We have a shorter time span of when we can be out,” Huston admitted. “Even in the summer, it can start pouring rain.”
Local fashion-truck fans hope the weather holds out for Saturday’s fest. Most of the trucks involved, such as Style A Go-Go, ZoChic Traveling Boutique and the Style Trolley, sell trendy clothing and accessories. Others include Pie Essentials (vintage-inspired lingerie), Iowa’s Gotta B Country (contemporary western wear) and Tennessee’s Pichardo Boutique (boho-chic clothing and accessories). Rounding out the event are sweet treats from Uptown Girl Cupcakes and Geno’s Gelato, a lounge area, a DJ and a photo booth.
Despite the drawbacks, Huston believes fashion trucks are here to stay in Minnesota. “When we have great weather, people love being outside,” she said. “It’s definitely a unique way to add to a party or festival.”