It’s time to embrace the luxury fashion resale revolution

One of the key pillars of the circular style economy is on a roll.

Balenciaga fans here can now conveniently give their pieces a second life: Launched a few months ago by the designer brand in partnership with locally founded, resale-as-a-service start-up Reflaunt, the Reflaunt x Balenciaga service helps the brand’s clients to sell their pre-owned clothes and accessories whenever they are ready.

In a conversation with The Peak via Zoom, Stephanie Crespin, one of three co-founders of Reflaunt, and a co-founder of local luxury resale platform Style Tribute, explains the process: Reflaunt offers a white-glove service that allows customers to schedule a pick-up or drop-off of their high-end items from a microsite that is held by the brand and powered by Reflaunt.

Every item is digitised, added to a customer’s digital wardrobe, and listed across a global network of 27 marketplaces, including Style Tribute. When an item is sold, the customer has the option of receiving a cash payment or shopping credits worth 20 per cent more than the cash value.

Once hesitant to enter the thriving — and frequently chaotic — world of resale, more designer brands and retailers are realising that this pillar of the circular fashion economy is only getting bigger and bigger. Rather than sitting on the sidelines, it makes sense for them to play a pivotal role in the very lucrative process: Bain & Company valued the luxury resale market at 33 billion euros (S$49.5 billion) last year.

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Closing the loops

Founded here in 2019, Reflaunt has to date raised US$3.7 million (S$5.05 million) in funding from investors mainly based in Europe, including fashion-tech funds and the CEOs of edgy fashion brands Balenciaga and Ganni. Aside from Balenciaga, the company’s clients include high-end retailers such as Net-a-Porter and Harvey Nichols, as well as more mainstream names like Cos, H&M and Zalora.

The start-up’s success reflects the continued rise of luxury fashion resale in general. Instead of hindering this growth, the pandemic has accelerated it. Crespin says Style Tribute doubled its sales in 2020, despite a slowdown when the pandemic began. Nejla Matam-Finn, co-founder of luxury resale platform The Fifth Collection, says that her company saw “really good growth last year, both locally and internationally, despite not advertising on social media for more than two years now”.

Dresses from Second Edit by Style Theory.

Newer players are also making their presence felt on the resale scene here: HuntStreet, an Indonesia-based luxury marketplace, launched its Singapore operations here last May. In a video chat with us, co-founders Sabrina Joseph-Tan and Tresor Tan shared that HuntStreet Singapore started with one employee and now has 11, less than a year into its launch. Says Tan, “We are pleasantly surprised at how quickly we have been able to scale the company.”

Tan is also the co-founder of the designer fashion rental platform, The Treasure Collective, which is currently on hiatus. While resale has prospered over the past two years, rental — another pillar of circular fashion — has suffered. Tan notes, “My main clientele was PMEBs, but since 2020, not many have been going into the office. When you can work from home in smart-casual clothes, there is no need to pay for a corporate-wear subscription.”

Raena Lim, co-founder of fashion rental platform Style Theory, says its subscriber base has risen by 75 per cent since it fell to its “lowest point” in May 2020. Nonetheless, it also turned its attention to the more thriving side of the circular economy by launching Second Edit, its resale pillar, last November. Lim elaborates, “We moved into the luxury resale market in 2020 with our Style Theory Shop (…), but we decided to rebrand our resale business as Second Edit to demonstrate that resale is not an afterthought, but a natural extension of the business.”

What’s driving the acceleration

The pandemic’s accelerating effect on the industry has surprised business owners we spoke to. Style Tribute’s Crespin, who was previously based in Singapore but has lived in London for the past two years, explains, “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were freaked out. Beyond the regulations and processes put in place by the authorities, we were concerned about the psychological impact of the pandemic on the appetite for second-hand items, even though all our items are cleaned before being listed for sale.

“Initially, we did see a big drop in sales and new inventory uploads because our operations were impacted. Shoppers probably had other things to worry about. But about three months later, things picked up, and we doubled our sales in 2020.”

One reason for this? Marie Kondo — well, kind of. Matam-Finn says with a laugh via Zoom: “Decluttering became fashionable. People were making banana bread, working out, getting into mindfulness, and all of a sudden, they were like, ‘Let me declutter! Let me be the next Marie Kondo!’” The Fifth Collection had to put a hold on the pick-up of products from consignors because of the overwhelming number who came calling.

Luxury resellers, mostly operating online, have also benefited from the rise of e-commerce. Crespin says, “Suddenly, people couldn’t shop in brick-and-mortar stores. They had to shop online. It led to education and conversion, and the adoption of online shopping.”

What’s in their carts

Unsurprisingly, what people are looking to buy often reflects lifestyle changes brought about by Covid-19. The Fifth Collection buyers, for instance, have been looking for smaller bags and easily carried styles such as cross-body bags. Matam-Finn believes that people probably want or need to carry fewer things. “When you’re working from home, you don’t need to schlep all the things that you used to schlep to the office.”

In resale as well as the luxury industry as a whole, bags by top-tier designer brands are a top-performing category. HuntStreet’s Tan notes, “In terms of luxury and resale, there are those first-tier brands that always hold their value. Bags from Chanel or Hermès hold their value well and are highly sought after.” Business partner Joseph-Tan adds with a laugh, “We just have to manage the consignors who have those bags at home. We’re like, ‘Please sell them, we can get you a good price’.”

The Reflaunt x Balenciaga resale platform.

Although that is the case, Crespin observes that the maturing fashion resale market here has also led to an interest in products other than typical top-tier designer bags. She shares, “We’re seeing a diversification in product categories. I’m not saying the appetite for apparel has reached that for bags, but those other categories are starting to expand. We are seeing more products from smaller, more niche brands like The Attico, Staud, Ganni and The Frankie Shop, whereas before, the audience was only looking at timeless, iconic hero pieces.”

Too many cooks? Nah

Moving forward, the scene is set to heat up, with most of the business owners we spoke to expressing plans for expansion in many forms. Although the scene might seem competitive, observers believe there is plenty of room for growth: Last October, a Business of Fashion article reported that “only five to seven per cent of total fashion inventory that is still in ‘resaleable’ condition is actually being resold by consumers. This indicates that there could be US$2.1 trillion in fashion inventory that is untapped in closets around the world.”

Market players will need to differentiate themselves from their competitors by alleviating clients’ reselling pain points and providing solutions that go beyond helping them to monetise their wardrobes. Crespin notes, “One reason people don’t resell is that it can be a hassle. There are many who don’t want to go through that, but there are ways of reducing that friction and making it easier.”

When homemaker Germaine Lim moved house in the middle of the pandemic, she decided to let go of some of her designer shoes, realising that she seldom wore heels after having kids. After doing some research online, she decided to consign with The Fifth Collection because of its competitive rates and the convenience. “It arranged for a courier to pick up my items at my convenience,” says Lim. “The two other resellers I looked at required me to send my items to their offices.”

For HuntStreet, one of its USPs is being a one-stop solution for its clients. Besides women’s fashion, the platform buys and sells goods in various categories, including beauty products (which must be unopened and have an expiry date that is at least six months away), menswear and kid’s clothing.

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Joseph-Tan explains, “When we started HuntStreet, we wanted to provide a solution for our consignors. We wanted to provide them with a safe, transparent platform, so they could just declutter and send everything to us. Although most of our sellers are women, they often have partners and kids who also have a lot of items, so we said, ‘We’ll take everything’.”

This article originally appeared in The Peak Magazine.

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