Lia Lee’s fashion truck, Street Boutique, serves the trendy Arlington neighborhoods of Clarendon, Ballston and Crystal City. She offers stylish, eclectic clothing and jewelry out of her state-of-the-art fashion truck. Fondly calling her fashion truck a “West Coast transplant,” Lia’s product line is inspired by apparel typically found in her home state of California.
Lia is just one of three hundred fashion trucks operating throughout the country, a number that has swelled from just a few dozen in the last two years. Lia’s wares range from reversible leather bags to colorful dresses to sweaters than can be dressed up for drinks after work. Her truck also has a private dressing room, so you can try before you buy.
For the time being, Lia and the three other members of the DC Fashion Truck Tour, a loose association of D.C.-based fashion-truck entrepreneurs who joined together to strengthen their voice, operate mainly across the river in Arlington County, Va. There they are allowed to legally park on public streets and can secure a permit for $500, with an annual $40 renewal fee.
She would love to bring her truck to downtown Washington, but the laws make it nearly impossible for her to operate inside the district. “The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has made it unnecessarily difficult for me to get a permit to sell my merchandise in D.C.,” Lia said in an interview.
“They are asking me to pay twice as much for a permit compared to food trucks, but I don’t need to comply with the same health or safety standards they do. If anything, they should charge me less,” she noted.
The DCRA has even been cracking down on owners who host fashion truck events on private property. As Lia explains:
“The rest of the DC Fashion Truck Tour and I tried to hold an event in the District Flea at the 900 block of Florida Ave NW, and were given permission by the property owners, but when the D.C. City Council caught wind of it they cancelled the event. They called us a ‘liability.’”
Meanwhile, nearby areas like Fairfax County in Virginia and Prince George’s County in Maryland—less than a 30-minute drive away—refuse to consider new legislation for fashion trucks. “I’ve contacted these counties multiple times and they just simply haven’t gotten back to me,” Lia laments, “it’s pretty frustrating when a local government avoids your requests by simply ignoring every offer to set up a meeting.”
The American Mobile Retail Association, a national organization of mobile retailers, is trying to avoid conflict with their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Its voluntary Code of Ethics states that every member “will refrain from operating [their] Mobile Retail Truck near any brick and mortars selling the same or similar goods or merchandise, unless invited by the same.”
Read More: Food Trucks Fight for Their Rights
But fashion trucks owners like Lia should not be forced by the government to make this concession to appease their would-be competitors. And burdensome laws, like the ones Lia faces, should go out of style.
— Phil Applebaum
Phil Applebaum is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice