RIVER NORTH — Jeff Cheng had an epiphany while Christmas shopping for his niece.
He found something he liked at the store: a two-piece cashmere outfit. It was cute. It was $100. It was purchased.
Then the epiphany: Cheng's niece is 6 months old.
"I thought 'how many times will she actually wear this? Twice?' " Cheng said. "The problem wasn’t the cute clothes, it’s how do you find them and what do you do with them when they grow out of them."
Cheng is the founder of Runchkins, a new online retailer he likens to "Trunk Club for toddlers." Based in River North, the startup delivers boxes of kids' clothes catered around "style profiles" customers pick online.
And when kids outgrow their clothes, Runchkins will buy them back, giving customers an e-store credit for more threads. Runchkins clothes newborns to 6-year-olds.
"Everyone's style is quite unique," Cheng said.
Runchkins gets its clothes from clothing brands and then offers them online. Then people who visit the website fill out their profile by choosing colors, patterns, and other things they either like or don't. Runchkins uses that data to pick the clothes and deliver them to customers.
The boutiques make fancy-sounding items including organic cotton dresses from Australia and handmade shoes from South Africa, and the clothes are normally sold in places like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. But the average item price is $32, Cheng said.
But unlike places like Neiman Marcus, Runchkins will buy the clothes back. Cheng said the retailer usually pays 15 to 30 percent of the original sale price for "gently used" clothes that are returned. Stained or tainted clothes will be accepted and donated to charity, and customers can take that receipt and write it off when filing their taxes, Cheng said.
Cheng, 31, lives in the Gold Coast and doesn't have kids. Neither does his business partner, John Welch. The two met while Cheng was consulting a business in Australia, but Cheng left that job six months ago. He thinks he's growing up by catering to kids.
"I always wanted to help parents find cute kids clothes in a sustainable way," he said.
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