Photo by Jennifer Steel

Common Threads Celebrates 15 Years 

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This is more than a store. It’s a social gathering place, an education center, an environmentally friendly marketplace to score incredible deals on designer goods and the heart of one of Boulder’s favorite annual creative events.

Common Threads is truly not common.

A glimpse at Common Threads’ Instagram makes that immediately apparent. Diamond jewelry, Tom Ford sunnies, Gucci accessories and Alexander McQueen heels appear at surprisingly discounted prices. The reason: Everything is gently used — it’s a consignment store. But it’s also a careful curation of some of Boulder’s finest fares.

Common Threads, 2707 Spruce St. in downtown Boulder, is getting ready to celebrate its 15th year as a Boulder staple. Its younger Denver branch just celebrated its big 1-0.

And Libby Alexander, founder, says business is still going strong, despite the bumps in the road related to COVID-19. In fact, she says, perhaps the store is playing a more important role than ever before.

“After this last year, people need to feel good about themselves. A lot of us gained weight or feel depressed or are struggling in other ways,” she says. “When someone is smiling when they walk out of the store, it really does matter.”

Last year’s big-sellers (sweatpants and comfortable clothes) have been replaced by sexy shoes and date-night dresses. Plus, Alexander says, many people are finding it cathartic to sell the clothes they lived in in 2020. Letting go of those clothes can be a healing way to transition out of lockdown into trying to reclaim life again.

Not to mention the discounted prices, which help many people buy quality items they otherwise might not be able to afford.

“People are shopping again,” Alexander says. “It’s been gangbusters since the vaccinations. It feels good to be a part of the community again.”

Photo by Jennifer Steel

The cornerstone of Common Threads, according to Alexander, is having a positive impact on the community. And this unique store strives to do this in a variety of different ways.

She founded Common Threads in 2007 with the intention of blending the consignment store concept with sewing. Initially, the vision was to teach people how to select secondhand items in the store and then repurpose them.

But to do that for each transaction was incredibly time-consuming.

“You’d need a whole staff of people sewing and repurposing to do it right,” Alexander says.

So the business evolved into two different but complementary branches.

The Consignment Store

On one hand, there’s the consignment model. You can bring in your gently used clothes to sell. Consignors get 50 percent of the sale price, and it stays on the racks for 45 days. If you choose to use the credit in store, you get 10 percent off. This leads to a bit of a circular system, where many people bring in what they’re no longer wearing and leave with new (used) items that they’re excited about.

After a few successful years in Boulder, Common Threads opened a Denver branch, on Old South Pearl Street, headed up by Alexander’s sister, Jennifer.

Between the two shops, you can find everything from Prada to Anthropologie, with a careful eye on higher-end, current styles. Unique, eclectic, quality pieces are the priority; Common Threads shies away from clothes you can find in big-box retailers.

“We don’t take in everything to fill space. We try to curate the items we take in,” Alexander says.

Since Common Threads opened, Boulder has evolved into a more fashion-forward community. Shoppers come to the store from beyond Boulder’s borders, and frequent consignors — drawn largely by word of mouth — live in Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat and other Colorado ski towns.

The Creative Lab

Then there’s Common Threads’ sewing program, The Creative Lab. This is what makes Common Threads different from any other store in Boulder.

While it’s not as intimately woven into the shopping experience as the original vision, Common Threads still offers sewing classes and camps for people of all ages and experience levels. Ninety percent of the sewing participants are kids, but adults can also sign up, and The Creative Lab can offer private classes for people with specific goals.

Classes begin with the basics (tote bags and pillows) and can get as advanced as the students want (jumpers, shorts, tops). Common Threads has also offered knitting classes.

Sewing classes were cut back in 2020 during the pandemic restrictions (although there were some virtual offerings for more experienced sewers), but after vaccinations became more available, The Creative Lab has opened back up and is thriving. Four days a week after school, the lab is packed with students eager to learn and design.

Photo by Jennifer Steel

Some of those students are taking it to the next level. They’re getting ready for Common Threads’ annual fashion show, Trash the Runway (formerly known as Recycled Runway).

This fashion show competition was the brainchild of a sewing teacher who wanted to challenge her students to design clothes out of unexpected, repurposed materials. Not just trash bags and old fabric, but the likes of bike tires, holiday lights, trampolines, balloons, you name it.

Participants can make any garment of their choice, from dresses to suits to ski jackets.

“I was blown away. They were some of the most amazing garments I’ve ever seen, straight off the bat,” Alexander says.

The event grew every year, until it landed a spot at the Boulder Theater — which it sold out every year in about 10 minutes.

This year, the popular event went virtual; Alexander says she’s still waiting to see if the 2022 show will be at the even bigger Macky Auditorium, as planned.

“Every year, I wonder how it can be as good as the previous year, but the kids are so creative,” Alexander says. “Every year there are new ideas and designs coming out that are phenomenal.”

Participants have used their creations to help them get into design college, and the winners’ designs are displayed throughout Boulder, in University of Colorado museums and storefronts on the Pearl Street Mall.

Trash the Runway is a natural extension of Common Threads’ original mission, Alexander says. It’s not just selling things. It is teaching and growing and connecting.

In that, she says, it’s rewarding. Design students return to the shop years later to share their successes, wins that started in this small Boulder store.

If You Go

Visiting Common Threads for the first time? As with any consignment store, it can require a bit of digging to find the right items. A key to a successful shopping experience is to enlist the knowledgeable sales staff. Tell them what you like and what you’re looking for. The staff loves to help and are excited when they can help people find the perfect treasure, says Alexander.

Also make sure you follow Common Threads on Instagram (@commonthreadsboulder). This is where staff posts their best finds. If you see something you like, just ask them to hold it for you so you can run over and try it on.

Other services Common Threads can offer:

  • Wardrobe styling. Staff can help you revamp your wardrobe or pick out clothes for a specific purpose.
  • Private parties. Common Threads can host private events, such as a wedding shower or party where you shop, drink, snack and sew. These events are currently on pause, due to pandemic restrictions, but may be offered again soon.

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