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Website offers discounts on back-to-school clothes

Rachel Farmer and her son, Christopher, bag up some clothing to send to Schoola Stitch. They hope to raise money for his school in Bowling Green, Va.
Source: Rachel Farmer
Rachel Farmer and her son, Christopher, bag up some clothing to send to Schoola Stitch. They hope to raise money for his school in Bowling Green, Va.

Schoola Stitch opened for business on Thursday, offering parents a new way to shop for gently used children's clothes and promising "crazy low" prices—as much as 70 to 90 percent off retail.

And these are brand-name garments, including: Abercrombie kids, Gap Kids, Gymboree, Hanna Andersson, J.Crew, Nike and Old Navy.

The clothing—tens of thousands of garments—comes from parents all across the country who've agreed to let Schoola sell it and give 40 percent of the proceeds to their child's school.

"It's an inventive way to clean out the closet and do something good with those clothes," said Julie Verslues of Sunset Hills, Mo. Her three daughters, Lea, Kyla and Clare go to St. Justin Martyr, a private Catholic school there.

(Read more: Aeropostale sounds warning on back-to-school)


So what about the quality of this secondhand merchandise?

"Fantastic quality," said Schoola's founder and CEO, Stacey Boyd. "Kids often grow out of their clothing faster than they can wear it out, so we've been really amazed at the quality of the pieces we have."

Boyd said the company literally goes through every single item of clothing and evaluates whether it's something it should sell or give to Goodwill. If the garment is worn, stained or damaged in any way, it will not be sold. Everything on the site will be labeled "new with tag," "perfect condition" or "tiny blemish."

Schoola Stitch has all the basics—except socks, underwear and bathing suits—for kids aged 1 through high school.

There's a picture of each item (shoppers can zoom in to get a closer look), plus a description that includes the material, the retail price and the amount of the discount, plus the school that will benefit from that purchase.

And how about the prices?

Jennifer Marx, a mother of two who blogs under the name SnackMomSyndrome, did some quick price comparisons for NBC News.

"The prices were pretty good on many of the items I checked, but there were a few things I could have bought for close to the same price brand new on a back-to-school sale," she said. "You can't assume that just because it's secondhand that it's a deal, but the nice thing about this site is it's really convenient to have such a wide selection in one place."

(Read more: Lessons to watch in Wal-Mart, Macy's earnings)


Her advice: If you shop for used clothing on this site or anywhere else, do some comparison shopping first, so you know if that price is really a deal.

Marx noticed that you have to spend $50 or more to get free shipping from Stitch. And the site has a no return policy.

"If something doesn't fit, you're stuck with it," Marx said. "That makes me a little nervous."

The easiest school fundraiser ever

Stitch is part of Schoola.com, a site dedicated to filling the funding gap created by budget cuts. Boyd, a former school teacher and principal, calls it a win-win-win fundraising model.

"Fundraisers often require parents to spend extra money on things that they neither want nor need," she noted. "The beauty of Stitch is everyone has a closet full of clothes the kids have outgrown and kids that need to be outfitted. Why not help parents save money while supporting schools at the same time?"

Rachel Farmer, PTA president for the Caroline Middle School in Bowling Green, Va., called it "the easiest fundraiser ever," much better than a car wash or bake sale. She already sent Schoola a bag of clothes that her son, Christopher, can no longer wear. The site provides the bag and pays for the UPS shipping.

Farmer plans to save money by going on Schoola for some of Christopher's back-to-school clothes.

No one expects this online consignment store to replace other fundraising efforts because the need is so great. For example, the PTA at the Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco has to raise nearly $400,000 each year to help pay for school supplies and a variety of unfunded programs, such as art, music, theater and physical education.

Carl Bettag heads fundraising for the school's PTA. His twins, Mella and Jasper, go to Alvarado. He hopes the clothing drive will raise a few thousand dollars toward that goal.

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"We had a lot of clothing donations, which is the way I can measure interest," he said. "It's one thing for parents to say they'll help, but they actually brought in clothing, so I know this will work."

Schoola Stitch will operate year-round, as long as the donations keep coming in. More than 2,000 schools are already participating. Boyd said she has been "stunned" by the initial response.

"Over the next year or so, I would love to raise tens of millions of dollars for schools," she said. "We've just gotten started."

—By CNBC contributor Herb Weisbaum. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @TheConsumerman or visit The ConsumerMan website.

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