A New Life
Michelle Wells offers fashion and friendliness at Mariposa Consignments
By Remy Sisk
Photos by Christian Watson
PULL QUOTE: “We get new items not only daily but hourly.” –Mariposa Consignments owner Michelle Wells
In downtown New Albany’s eclectic cultural landscape, Mariposa Consignments sits nestled on Pearl Street between Market and Main. A unique boutique, Mariposa offers an extraordinary range of like-new, vintage and brand-new fashions that vary from high-end to completely affordable. The shop is owned by Michelle Wells, an experienced Southern Indiana retailer and style icon. After a dynamic career in fashion, Wells is more than content to be running her own store, happily serving the residents of Kentuckiana.
“My grandmother was a seamstress. She always made our clothes when we were kids, and I think that’s definitely part of how I became interested in fashion,” Wells said.
Growing up, she was encouraged by her family to get a job if she wanted to buy her own clothes (her first aspirational purchase at 14 was a pair of Jordache jeans). So, she accepted a position at a Paul Harris clothing store. From then on, Wells was immersed in fashion and has spent three-quarters of her life in the fashion and retail industry.
Several years ago while working as a manager for a furniture store chain, Wells realized she wanted to do something that made more of a difference in her local community. Consequently, she merged her passions and began operating Hosparus’s Spring Street thrift store. As the shop was relatively small and somewhat off the beaten path of New Albany shopping, Wells knew she had to take action to make this work. She formed relationships with other area consignment stores and greatly enhanced the stock at Hosparus, making it a viable destination for uncommon finds.
Wells’s efforts were successful; however, Hosparus eventually disbanded the store. But her work did not go unnoticed. In 2012, Laurie Jacobs, who opened Mariposa in 2010, called Wells and said that she wanted to move on with other ventures in her life. She knew Wells was good at her job and would ensure Mariposa’s survival. Jacobs asked Wells if she wanted the store at no cost. “She literally paid it forward,” Wells recounted. “She wanted it to continue and knew that I knew what I was doing since I’ve been in retail my whole life.”
Fast forward six years, and Mariposa is now a fashion staple of downtown New Albany, where Wells and her staff see new customers every day. After working for others throughout her life, Wells has found her place as a store owner and ushered in an era of growth at the shop, which is in no small part due to her business vision and ardent commitment to customer service. “My whole goal is for people to find something really unique, try a new fashion and not spend a fortune on it,” she said. “One of the things I strive for is old world customer service. … Going into the mall, you may not get greeted or you can’t find what you’re looking for or can’t find a salesperson anywhere – we hear that a lot from our customers. And here, regardless of if they’re spending $9 or $400, we treat them all the same – like old friends – and help them find whatever special treat they’re looking for.”
Her one tip for first-time and frequent shoppers alike: Come often. “We get new items not only daily but hourly,” Wells said. “We schedule consignments by appointment that are set up every hour, sometimes every half hour, and our goal – the staff and myself – is that it has to be out on the floor within 15 minutes.”
With repeat visits, customers will undoubtedly soon develop a diverse, singular wardrobe representative of their own style. And that comes from the top down. Wells’s own style has morphed over time, but she’s proud to wear her fashion sense with pride. “My own style has evolved over the years,” she affirmed. “It used to be probably more preppy and classic, you could say, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had the confidence to wear what I really, really love. I love vintage. My favorite piece is a 1950s housecoat that I wear as a dress. I just love wearing vintage pieces and mixing it up with current fashion or adding a little quirky touch to it.”
When customers walk into Mariposa, Wells utilizes this style confidence to encourage others to be open-minded and up for seeing pieces through a different lens – and that all starts with engaging with the shoppers. “You ask questions,” she said. “What is it that they like? And you try to get them to try something a little bit different or think of things in a different way.”
Mariposa is constantly stocking the shelves with new pieces. The best way to stay up to date is to follow the shop on Facebook, where photos of special pieces are frequent. For instance, Wells recalled, there was a recent time when she posted a dress online at 9:30 a.m. and not 20 minutes later, a customer, who’d taken an early lunch, bought the dress. If you’re seeking prom wear, keep an eye out January through March, and if your prom-goer finds her dress at Mariposa and lets the store snap a photo, you get 15 percent off the gown.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, however, you can be certain that at Mariposa you won’t just be able to explore a fabulous collection of fashions but you also will be treated as if Wells and her staff have known you all their lives.
And if you can only buy one thing, Wells said with certainty there is one item everyone should have in their wardrobe: “The best pair of shoes you can buy!”
Five Tips for Finding Your Signature Style
By Michelle Wells
- Figure out your body type.
- Find a celebrity who has your body type and whose clothing you like – not to copy them but to find the designer that makes clothing for your body type.
- Find your color palette.
- Wear what you LOVE.
- Invest in quality.