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LaRoyce Marsh: The Birmingham Business Owner Who Buys And Sells From ‘GAP to Gucci’

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LaRoyce Marsh, owner of d’Trespa Consignment & Vintage Boutique in Woodlawn, is pursuing her dream of owning a business. (Alaina Bookman/AL.com)

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LaRoyce Marsh, owner of d’Trespa Consignment & Vintage Boutique, was 50 years old when she began pursuing her dream of starting a business.

From the outside, the gray brick building in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood is unassuming. Upon entering, the space becomes a time machine.

Flowing sequined prom dresses from the 90s hang from the walls, 80s leather bomber jackets, 70s style fur trim coats and bell bottoms hang from clothing racks packed tightly with hidden gems, Mary Jane heels and calf-high go-go boots from the 60s sit atop the racks. There is a wall of purses and a counter filled with gold brooches, silver charms and funky earrings. The mannequins are dressed in plaid suits, suede and leather western wear and holiday evening gowns.

“I had never even worked in a store before I opened d’Trespa. I was always a big time shopper, ever since I was little I was always shopping in every store,” Marsh said. “I was over 50 when I started my business. I think it’s good for people to know that sometimes you just have to do it. Step out on faith.”

Growing up, Marsh was always shopping in consignment stores and boutiques. She spent hours searching through unique, vintage pieces.

Before becoming a business owner, Marsh was the director of a legal fund in Philadelphia. She often traveled for work. She said when she got to her hotel, she found a phone book and a map, identified all the nearby stores, rented a car and explored the stores every new city had to offer.

Marsh has moved six times in 10 years. She was born in Philadelphia. From there, moved to Lawnside, New Jersey; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Washington Township, New Jersey; Tallahassee, Florida; Blacksburg, Virginia; and to Miami.

Marsh got married in 1985 and had two children in New Jersey, where she became a stay-at-home mother.

“Home Base”

She finally found her “home base” and settled in Birmingham after opening her shop.

Marsh said the “timing was just right” for her to start her business. Her son was graduating from Birmingham Southern and her daughter was starting school at the University of Alabama. She had the time and the support she needed to follow her dreams.

Today, her husband coaches football in Detroit, her son lives in Las Vegas and her daughter is a stylist in New York. Marsh said all of her friends in Birmingham are people she has met through the store.

“I love people. I love clothes. I love people that love clothes. My store is perfect for my personality. It’s exciting when people bring new stuff in here,” Marsh said.

When her children grew up, she decided it was time to make due on her dream of owning her own consignment boutique.

When she opened the first location in Homewood, she called all her friends and family, asking them to send clothes, jewelry and shoes. Her son and his friends helped her to paint the store and hang up lights.

In 2009, Marsh opened her store with a single rack of clothing. Over time, the store grew and so did the number of customers.

Marsh said when she first opened, her shop was the only Black woman owned business in Homewood.

According to a recent Brookings Institution study, Black women owned over 19 percent of all women-owned businesses in the U.S. in 2017, higher than their proportion in the population. However, representation lags in the Birmingham metro, according to a report from Prosper.

In 2019, there were 19,077 African American-owned businesses across Alabama, according to a study by the Alabama State Data Center at the University of Alabama.

“Some people have come in and told me that it makes them feel good seeing a Black, woman owned business. In Homewood, I don’t think people expected to see me as the business owner,” Marsh said.

“Blessing In Disguise”

In November 2020, her store’s building came under new management. The new owners gave her two months to clear out her things.

She said her new space in Woodlawn is much smaller than her old brick and mortar.

“It was very frustrating, very. Especially as a business owner before the holidays,” Marsh said. “But everything happens for a reason. This has been a blessing in disguise. I feel like the vibe here fits the store and it fits me. I can be more eclectic here.”

On an average day, consignors hand clothing over to Marsh; she splits the profits 50/50 if an item sells. She said she only takes items that are vintage, funky, unique and in season such as fur coats and evening gowns.

“I get new things all the time. When you’re here, you don’t run out of things to look at,” Marsh said. “There’s always a lot of things in here, and I like it like that. No matter where you look, you’re seeing something unique.”

“From GAP To Gucci”

Marsh said she buys and sells both retail and luxury goods, “from GAP to Gucci.”

Sometimes customers call and ask for outfits for events. Marsh will shop for them and pick out items they may like. She said she has a long list of people, stored on her computer, who are searching for popular items like vintage luxury bags and jewelry.

She said many of her Homewood customers continued to shop and sell at d’Trespa, even after the move. She has built her customer base in Woodlawn by hosting fashion shows, open houses and collaborating with local business owners.

In October, three consignors sold her more than 100 vintage hats in one week. Many of the hats from the show are displayed on the walls and perched atop mannequin heads. The hats are feathered and sequined, cheetah and leopard print, bulbous and pointed, with bold shapes and colors.

With such a large supply of hats, she hosted a fashion show at Woodlawn Marketplace, a coffee shop across the street. The models were her friends and customers who volunteered for the event.

Theuda Nmosa Tusajiwe, owner of neighboring Nmosa Designs and Fabrics, said she often collaborates with Marsh, who refers customers in need of a tailor to Tusajiwe.

“LaRoyce is one of the most hardest working Black women I know,” Tusajiwe said.

“Queens Of Birmingham”

Marsh said her favorite thing about owning her own business, besides the clothing, is getting to connect with those who walk through her doors.

This year, her shop was featured in a Sidewalk Film Festival award winning documentary, “Queens of Birmingham,” where drag queens danced through the store in fancy hats, sheer robes and knee-high boots.

On another occasion, Marsh remembered feeling tired and frustrated on a particularly slow day, until a woman walked in. They talked about life and family and the woman’s 11-year-old daughter, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

“It was such a relief for her to get it off her chest. She said, ‘I think God brought me in here,’ and I said I think he brought you in here for me. I was having this really bad day about things that had no real significance. It puts things in perspective to hear other people’s stories,” Marsh said. “More often than not, I have days where people come in here and they open up.”

“The vibe in here is a good one. It makes people want to come in, they want to talk,” she said.

Marsh said she hopes her store is a place where people can feel comfortable and that those who come in are inspired to step out on a limb and do what they love.

“I think it’s good for older women, older people to know that they can start something new. I think it shows younger people as well that they will never get too old to do what they love. Try it. If you can, do it. ”