This past fall, I became the proud owner of a faux fur vest originally worn by Grammy award-winner and country queen Kacey Musgraves. All it took was a direct message (DM) to Stage to Closet. The fashion Instagram account, co-created by Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild and her personal assistant/nanny Kristy Mondelli, sells designer clothing and accessories from country music’s biggest stars directly to their fans — pieces worn for tours, music videos, awards shows, interviews and photoshoots.
What started out as cleaning Karen’s closet turned into an online retail strategy to creatively fill a glaring gap between high-end consignors and donation bins. Having consigned clothing for the past four years, Kristy and Karen knew their options for selling the country singer’s outfits were limited. Online consignors only accepted luxury brands and had strict “no wear and tear” rules for items, regardless of whether they were worn to the Grammys or Dan Rather interviews. At the same time, local brick and mortars had laborious consignment processes and often weren’t the right price range for Karen’s higher-end articles of clothing. As both women stood facing a mountain of clothes, the idea dawned on them: why not sell the items to Karen’s fanbase on Instagram? They could then donate the profits to a charity.
After creating an account, the two worked with Little Big Town bandmate Kimberly Schlapman to post photos of clothing that she and Karen would sell. The rules were straightforward: the first person to DM Stage to Closet the item they wanted and their shipping information would win it. Within seconds of the first sale going live, every item had been sold. Stage to Closet has since held four more sales, featuring the wardrobes of some of country music’s biggest names including Jimi Westbrook, Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves. The proceeds from each sale go to a charity of the artist’s choice (past recipients have included One Love International and the Ocean Conservancy). In the last sale alone — a second sweep of Kacey’s wardrobe — Stage to Closet raised $30,000 for tornado relief efforts in Nashville, after a storm hit the city on March 3rd.
Although Kristy and Karen have had a working relationship since 2015 (the two women met while Kristy was a school teacher), Stage to Closet is their first foray into working together as business partners—and they are full of ideas for what comes next. I spoke with Kristy about what it’s been like to co-lead a creative venture with Karen, why including a charitable element was important to the sale model, and how she envisions Stage to Closet growing as an inclusive marketplace.
What inspired you to create Stage to Closet?
Kristy Mondelli: First and foremost, a need: filling the gap between luxury consignment and donation bins. Karen and many other notable women in her circle have had the conversation, “What do you do with your stage clothes?”
Once these women are on stage or the red carpet in certain outfits, they usually don’t wear those clothes again because they’ve already been photographed in them. So, they just sit there in their closet. Of course, Karen has kept important, sentimental pieces. But this retail gap made it tough to sell the rest of her stage clothes. So, we decided to sell them on Instagram. I had seen bloggers do it all the time. They put items up on their Instagram stories, link to a PayPal, and say “Send me your shipping address.” I told Karen, “We should totally do this and let fans know that we’re selling your stuff.” We could’ve posted these clothes on Ebay, Poshmark or TheRealReal, or I could’ve taken them to a consignment shop in Nashville.
But if I gave a store a pair of pants that Karen wore on the Grammy red carpet, they’re just a pair of pants to anybody walking into that store. People wouldn’t know the story behind them. If an actual fan could get those pants, that would be so much cooler. So, the idea was to create both a retail outlet and an exciting way to engage with fans of different artists.
What do you like about consignment and fashion?
KM: Honestly, I’m not that fashionable (right now, I’m in jogger pants and a t-shirt). But working in fashion has reignited this creativity I had as a teacher, when I would find ways to get the children engaged with material. As a nanny, I sometimes feel stuck in the day-to-day of grocery shopping and picking socks up off the floor. Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole Little Big Town family and adore my job so much.
But I will say that Stage to Closet has really sparked a lot of newfound joy for me. Even though I’m not wearing sequins or heels every day, it’s fun to dress my mannequins and take all the photos using the photo roll and ring light in my guest bedroom—which I’ve now turned into a Stage to Closet office! I could not do this without Karen, though. She has all the fashion and business knowledge.
How has Instagram impacted your consignment work?
KM: The reach that we have on Instagram versus a brick and mortar store is what really drives our success. We’ve sold to people from Los Angeles to Boston, Florida to Montana — even Canada and New Zealand. Everyone’s on Instagram, and we don’t have to get people to do much more than follow our account. Plus, we work with celebrities who have hundreds of thousands — or millions — of followers. So, when they tag us in a post saying “I’m selling my clothes with Stage to Closet,” their fans flood our account.
We’re not really advertising. We’re just letting the celebrity’s followers come to us. If they unfollow us after the celebrity’s sale is done, that’s okay. As long as an artist’s items sell, and the people who are actually fans are the ones getting the items, we’re happy.
What made you decide to include charity donations in the sale process?
KM: We keep the charity donation optional, but we felt that it was needed to include when pitching to clients. Obviously, the celebrities we work with aren’t looking to make money off of this. They just want to see their clothes go to someone who will appreciate their sentimental value. But to make it more personal, we decided that each celebrity would pick a charity that was important to them instead of us. During a sale, we’ll add a donate button for the charity in our Instagram story. Whatever money is raised off of that goes directly to the organization; it never passes through us. Then, we leave it up to the client to figure out how much of the sale’s proceeds they want to donate. It’s usually a surprise to the charity, which is cool. We don’t partner with them ahead of time. They find out the second that we (and the celebrity) post about it on Instagram.
How do the two of you go about putting a sale together?
KM: We pursue potential clients from Karen’s contacts, collect their clothing and take inventory. We’ll separate the items into categories and type up the necessary information: brand, size, any noticeable rips or stains, and a suggested price based off of online retail research. Since Karen’s so knowledgeable about fashion, I always consult her on the selling price. Afterwards, I photograph the pieces and sometimes model the items if I think it makes them look better.
Then, Karen steps in with the creative direction. She makes everything go from good to exceptional. She’ll adjust the mannequins so that each outfit’s aesthetic is cohesive, and she makes sure we have the right supplies to make our content look its best. Karen’s all about the details. She’ll even take the extra time to steam each item and curate our photos.
Finally, I upload the photos to Instagram, facilitate the sale when it goes live, and ship out the clothing to the winners. I go through all the DMs from the sale, starting from the bottom and working my way up to see who replied first for each item. It’s pretty tedious, so we’re thinking about other ways that we can make the sales more efficient — like a website for starters!
What’s it like working together on these sales?
KM: It has added a new layer to our relationship in the best of ways. Karen has been my boss and friend for the past five years. Because we had a great working relationship already, we fell into our roles as business partners pretty easily. We’re both go-getters, constantly striving and wanting to up our game. And we’re very respectful of each other. I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, nor is she.
What’s next for Stage to Closet?
KM: So far, we’ve only worked with country music artists, but we’re open to anyone with a significant online following that can bring people to our sales. A couple of actresses that Karen knows have shown interest, so we’re trying to expand beyond music where we can. We also have a male celebrity who’s interested, which is one of the reasons why we did a “his and hers” sale between Karen and her husband, Jimi — to see how selling men’s clothes would do. About 96% of our followers are women, so it was kind of a tough market. But we hope to grow Stage to Closet to a point where anybody can sell.
We’ve also thought about going beyond sample sizes. There has yet to be any clothing that I could buy on Stage to Closet, and I think that matters. If we just keep selling celebrities’ clothes that are sizes zero to four, we fear that some of our followers will get discouraged because they won’t see items in their size. It’d be really great to work with a client who isn’t afraid to share their clothing size on our account, especially if it’s larger than a sample size. Another idea we have is to share an outfit on our Instagram story and include the swipe up feature to purchase the item at its store’s website, so followers could buy it for themselves. That’s our biggest goal: to make Stage to Closet more inclusive.
What do you find most rewarding about being part of a female-led creative venture?
KM: It’s empowering. I’ve never been a “co-boss” before. It feels good to have my thoughts, opinions, and ideas hold value — and then see them come to fruition. I’ve learned a lot from Karen these past five years. I see her on business calls, working and writing with her bandmates, messing with art, designing her Fairchild fashion line, directing and producing records, and styling music videos. The way Karen takes the reins, makes decisions, and has her hands in it all is really inspiring. We’re both natural leaders. I see myself both following in her footsteps (except for singing!) and, with Stage to Closet, walking beside her.