March 16, 2010

Maternity-clothing store helps fill a fashion niche

DEBORAH SAYER

— By

Staff Writer

Janet Sparkowich, 50, remembers her two pregnancies and how she struggled to find attractive and affordable clothing to fit her ever-expanding waistline.

These days, Sparkowich makes it her business to help outfit expectant mothers with fashions that will help them feel better about keeping up appearances during pregnancy. She is the owner of Maternity Fair, a Biddeford clothing shop that sells gently used maternity attire.

''(Pregnancy) is the one time in our lives that we can really say, 'I have nothing to wear,' '' said Sparkowich, who exclusively sells maternity wear. ''I'd been toying with the idea (of opening the business) for quite a while, when I was working in advertising.

''I had a corporate job for my first pregnancy and was in a sales position for the second one. And it was so frustrating for me to be able to buy affordable, professional, quality (maternity) clothing that I would only be using for a short period of time. One day, I went in to sell my daughter's clothing (at a consignment shop) and I stumbled on a maternity clothing rack and thought, 'Nobody caters to just moms.' Lots of clothing places will have just one rack for maternity clothing.''

Sparkowich developed a working relationship with that store's manager during her pregnancies, receiving calls when new clothing items in her size became available. From that, Sparkowich determined to fill a niche, catering solely to pregnant women.

''I began running ads looking for maternity clothes that were in good condition,'' said Sparkowich. ''Within one month, I had a full inventory of clothing. So, I took out a loan and found a place to rent.''

''I've got about 1,200 square feet of retail space,'' said Sparkowich of the store that opened in 2003. ''I have 14 racks plus two sets of shelves featuring everything from casual (attire) to jeans, blouses, tops, bottoms, bathing suits, night wear, professional wear and nursing items.

''I try to carry it all. It's not a consignment shop. It's resale. I buy things outright so I can sell it outright. It's less paperwork and customers can be on their way. I make an appointment to look at the merchandise and pay them on the spot. It's just maternity clothes that are gently used. On occasion, I'll have brand new items in the store that have never been worn. I handle every piece that comes in, making sure there are no stains, no broken zippers and no snags. They are as close to perfect as they can be. If they're not in great condition, they don't come in my store.''

Sparkowich insists that items brought into the store be clean but said, ''It's all re-laundered and freshly pressed again. I do it myself. I date the clothing and color code it, donating things that don't sell. That way my inventory is always fresh.

''My whole goal is to save (pregnant women) frustration, let them be comfortable and trendy and do so at a savings,'' said Sparkowich. ''The most expensive pair of jeans I have in the shop is $14.99. The average (in other retail stores) is somewhere in the $45 area. I sell bathing suits, jackets and seasonal items year-round for folks taking swimming classes or going on vacation.

In 2004, Sparkowich opened Baby Furniture Fair, an adjoining business offering sales of quality used child and infant furnishings such as cribs, changing tables, bureaus, toddler beds, highchairs, walkers, bassinets, strollers, portable cribs and toys.

''I sell bedding, bumper pads, crib sets, blankets, Snugglies, infant carriers, bath tubs, swings and outdoor stuff like slides and splash pools,'' said Sparkowich. ''Most of my items sell for 40 to 60 percent lower than the cost of new retail.''

''I'm all about clean, safe and functioning,'' said Sparkowich. ''I disinfect everything and try to put instruction books with everything I sell. I want people to know that what's being sold is in as-good-as-new condition.''

''I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do,'' said Sparkowich. ''It's a blessed event they are anticipating. And, I'm part of that happy thing going on.''

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 282-8228 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com

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