Gen Z is getting into secondhand luxury consumerism

The second-hand market is flourishing and offers, especially with today’s price increases, a cheaper and more cycle-oriented alternative for consumers. But it can also offer more than that, says Sophie Hersan, co-founder of the resale platform Vestiaire Collective. In the age of the internet, filled with fashion drops and the hype of exclusivity, second-hand fashion is no longer just reserved for thrifty shoppers rummaging through bargain tables at flea markets – it also offers real treasures and investments.

Hersan, who founded Vestiaire Collective in Paris in 2009 with Fanny Moizant, also uses the French resale platform to invest in collectibles. In this interview with FashionUnited, the fashion director not only talks about his investments, but also about how consumer behavior around second-hand clothing has developed, in which markets the business is flourishing, and which trends affect second-hand fashion.

Which brands are most searched for on Vestiaire Collective?

We follow the primary market and they are very close in terms of trends. Gucci was a super hot brand last year, and the platform followed the same upswing in the brand. This year Prada was very hot and we followed suit. But in general, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Chanel are global evergreen brands that always work. After that you have hot brands like Jacquemus and other designer brands.

What influences these trends?

We noticed that after events like Cannes or the Met Gala where we saw Gucci, Versace or Jean Paul Gaultier, searches for Vestiaire went up. People look a lot at social media which influences the trends today.

But it is not the brand itself that is hot or not. Before, it was more the designer, like Phoebe Philo, who made the brand hot. Now your brand can be transparent and valuable, then people will stick with it. Fashion still has an emotional part. Today, influencers, stars or music and movies have a strong impact on people, more than the brands themselves. If you see in the movie Carrie [Bradshaw, a fictional character in HBO’s Sex and the City] carrying a vintage bag suddenly, they search for it at Vestire.

Which products sell particularly well?

Bags are still our largest category. After that, there are also many other accessories. Maybe because it is easier in terms of the size and to assess the value of the item, because it is sometimes more difficult with clothes and how they lose value. For some brands, you can pay a lot in the store, but then it is reduced a lot. Bags and accessories maintain their value. We also have more potential in shoes, jewelery and watches – especially for men, it’s a good entry.

Bags are among the most popular products on Vestiaire Collective | Photo: Vestiaire Collective

Has the pandemic affected the way consumers think about clothing as an investment?

Post-covid has led to the feeling that there is a need to buy something of lasting value, but it must not be too expensive and it can increase in value over time. Of course, there is also the “drop” phenomenon, which drives up the price. [Editor’s note: In a ‘drop’, a collection/product is usually offered in small numbers, which means that the (re)selling price can be higher due to rarity]. But besides that, there are definitely good pieces that allow you to make more money over time. Customers are no longer only interested in buying something that is expensive at the time of purchase. People think differently now.

Is it more about the product than the purchase price?

And what the story behind the product is. There’s a bit of pride in that, too. When you buy something used, you’ve hunted for it – you’ve seen it, want to find it, and find who’s selling it. And when you find it, it’s a treasure. It’s not the same as just buying it new, then finding it doesn’t fit and returning it – many people are paying so much now to return it. Stop this mindless consumption!

Do you have a personal treasure that you found on Vestiaire?

First of all, I sell a lot. When I launched Vestiaire it was easy for me to sell what I wanted, because before it was not easy for me to find the right platform for it. This is where I want to sell because I care about my product, I know the story behind it. Being a “fashion connoisseur”, I know the value and the physical part of the item. It also has a personal story so I won’t sell the product for free. I had a lot of clothes from my personal 20-year fashion history before Vestiaire, so before I put a new item in my wardrobe, I remove a lot.

When something is super trendy, my feelings are very strong and the joy is very high at first. So when I buy it and then it ends up in my wardrobe, it wears off. So now when I want something, I wait until the trend is over and control my emotions. After I know I really want it – I’ll let several months pass – then I can buy it. This was the case for a vintage Chanel bag. At Vestiaire, I invest a lot in vintage watches and other timeless pieces.

In which markets is second-hand fashion particularly in demand?

It changes a lot. We have launched in several markets, but we were born in France, so we are very strong there – both with sellers and buyers. Britain was super strong. Then we launched in Germany, Italy and Spain. Europe is strong, but at different levels.

Italy – now one of the top markets – was more of a seller’s market in the beginning, where not much was bought. This was a matter of education, because the countries are different. Now buyers and sellers overlap.

Was it the same in Germany?

In the beginning, German customers sold products that were not sought after by our society. Now we are very strong in Germany because of the influx from e-commerce – Zalando, Mytheresa. The more e-commerce grows in Germany, the more traffic there is. Also partnership with Mytheresa works very well because they have the certification and sell good pieces.

We have to educate the countries a little. It’s fun to see how we turned the sellers into buyers of used goods. It was not in line with the countries’ habits and mindset.

Of course, the US is also strong – they are very well informed about used. So it was much easier, but we also had more competition. Now we are on the west coast.

Which markets are harder to crack for used clothing?

In Asia was used a little far away from the culture. They don’t wear their clothes often and they didn’t know what to sell. Resale was very new. So we had to teach them about it.

So you managed to convince the Asian market then. Are there other markets that have been more difficult to crack?

We do not sell in South America – it does not fit. We always wait until the countries really fit. Even when that’s true, we still need to educate the new market about Vestiaire’s DNA.

Photo: Vestiaire Collective

Are new collaborations planned?

Our focus is to expand circularity with as many brands as possible. We launched the first partnership with Alexander McQueen, then Mulberry, then the two platforms Mytheresa and LuisaViaRoma. We also have other collaborations coming up during the year.

We want to get involved more and more. We’ve had pop-up partnerships, and a corner at Selfridges. We’re not a retailer, we’re a digital player, and we really want more brands to come to us because it’s not easy for retail brands to move to circularity either – there’s a lot of logistics and technology that they don’t understand. So it takes time for them too.

Who is part of the Vestiaire community?

We have 23 million members today. We focus more on personal mindset, consumption, habits and so on, rather than age. In the beginning, we were stronger with millennials and those aged 30 to 50. They like to sell timeless pieces, luxury and designer shoes. Now more and more Gen Z is coming to us. Mainly for financial reasons. Because they cannot afford the pieces first hand. They know Gucci is trendy and they want the Gucci pieces. Maybe they want to buy them first hand later, but their entry point is to buy used.

Is the approach of Gen Z different?

It’s natural for them to buy used first and know the influence they have on fashion. My generation – I am 50 years old – consumed very differently when I was 20 years old. I didn’t think about whether I needed it, what personal value it had, or what impact I was having. But it’s in their blood. They buy vintage pieces, have a unique style, and explore and highlight their own personality with their clothes rather than going with the trend because it is the trend.

Has the younger generation also influenced the older generation to buy more used?

The younger generation is educating their parents and their generation to buy differently and think differently. For them, it is completely normal to buy used. When they don’t have a lot of money, they find the good pieces with a smaller budget and move away from fast fashion.

The older generation has already thought about investment pieces: I buy something that lasts, that I can pass on. We have passed on this way of thinking, but perhaps the younger generation has adopted this way of thinking less. It is less common [for families] to give pieces to the younger generation. They are more educated than we were and have a lot of information.

This edited article was previously published on FashionUnited.DE

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