Branded bargains

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 18, 2013

At Suntec City Mall, Kilo Fascion Asia, a new boutique that opened early this month, is selling a new M Missoni knit dress for $502. The dress from the Italian fashion house is half its original price.

Online, second-hand e-tailer StyleTribute is selling a floral silk top from French fashion house Chloe for more than 70 per cent off its usual price, at $380.

Fans of designer clothes no longer have to wait for sale season to pay less for their favourite brands.

There are now at least four online and physical stores that offer discount designer clothes which are either pre-loved or new off-season items.

Three have opened in the last six months - online boutiques StyleTribute and Chic Stash, and Kilo Fascion Asia, which has a store at Suntec City Mall.

StyleTribute and Chic Stash carry pre-owned clothing from brands such as Diane von Furstenberg, Gucci and Marni, while Kilo Fascion Asia carries only new, past-season clothes from labels such as Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Galliano and Christopher Kane.

Robe Raiders, which opened in 2011, has an online platform and physical showroom at Delta Road for its pre-loved clothes. It also holds pop-up sales at various locations four times a year.

StyleTribute, Chic Stash and Robe Raiders take in second-hand items on consignment. These shops charge at least 50 per cent less than the original prices in the boutiques, depending on the condition of the items.

For Kilo Fascion Asia, all its items are from Lilla S.p.A International Group, which has long-standing connections with the major fashion houses. Items at Kilo Fascion Asia, which are one to two seasons old, are 50 per cent cheaper than what it would have cost in the boutiques.

Except for Kilo Fascion Asia, which carries a selection of menswear from brands such as Galliano, the rest carry mainly women's items.

Previously, most of the shops selling luxury brands for less focused mainly on second-hand designer handbags, such as Madam Milan at Raffles Place and Prestige Collector at International Plaza.

Ms Dianne Conti, co-founder of Chic Stash, says "a quintessential trait of Singaporean consumers is that they are value seekers", which is where businesses such as hers come in.

One concern that shoppers might have is how genuine the designer items are.

StyleTribute, Chic Stash and Robe Raiders say they check the items for identifying marks and also check with industry insiders who are familiar with luxury goods.

When in doubt, they also take the items to the stores to have them looked at by the retail assistants for a second opinion.

Checks with some luxury brands show that while they will help customers look at their items, they will not say for certain if the item is real or not.

A marketing executive from a French luxury brand, who declined to be identified, says such resellers dilute the image of luxury brands.

"If you want to be sure of its authenticity, you should buy it at the boutique. There are really good counterfeits around," she says, referring to luxury goods in general.

Ms Brenda Sng, 45 an image consultant who shops at luxury resellers occasionally, says she is concerned about authenticity, which is why she shops only at stores that have received good reviews.

Recently, she bought an Hermes scarf from StyleTribute for $300.

Account manager Michelle Liew, 25, trawls such second-hand luxury e-commerce websites almost every day.

Recently, she bought a slightly used Hermes leather bracelet for $180 from StyleTribute. It normally retails for $700.

"Luxury items are not worth buying at full price because they're not necessities, but they look nice and are well-made, so I would not mind buying them at a discount," says Ms Liew.

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ROBE; 05-02x Delta House; e-mail to make an appointment

At the Robe Raiders showroom, one can find pre-loved Chanel jackets, Missoni tops and Prada dresses. But instead of these big-name brands, the team behind Robe Raiders says what makes it stand out from the competition is its offering of cult brands such as Charlotte Olympia, Alessandra Rich and Erdem.

Currently on sale at the showroom is a long dress from Erdem priced at $1,500 (original price $4,000) and a pair of Charlotte Olympia heels priced at $500 (original price $1,200).

With suppliers such as fashionable local socialites and It girls, it is no wonder that Robe Raiders has easy access to such covetable labels.

Friends Claudia Sondakh, Sarah Tan and Resham Melwani started Robe Raiders in 2011, first by organising pop-up sales. They opened a showroom in Alexandra Road in July, but still hold pop-up sales four times a year (the next one is on Dec 7). Some clothes are also available online.

Ms Tan, 35, who also designs her own line of innerwear called Cosset, says: "Previously, people's idea of a second-hand designer shop was what you could find in Lucky Plaza or Far East Plaza, where the items are usually really old or not trendy. We've given them more options."

Last year, they started offering shoppers style tips by uploading fashion spreads featuring their merchandise on the Robe Raiders website.

Ms Tan, a former Female magazine editor and the brains behind the fashion spreads, says: "We do it to show them how something from the past season can still be current. Trends are cyclical and they keep coming back."

Ms Sondakh, 36, who is in charge of marketing and communications for the company, adds: "We've had customers ask for their items back after seeing them in a fashion spread, because we styled them in a different way than they would have before."

Its customer base is made up of working professionals in their 20s to 40s. Without commenting on specific figures, Ms Tan says sales have been good. Pricing depends on the brand and condition of the item and is set by the seller.

For example, a pre-loved Chanel tweed dress is going for $4,000, compared with its original price of $6,000.

Robe Raiders takes a 25 per cent cut of what is sold. Ten per cent of proceeds from each sale goes to various charities such as Operation Smile and Club Rainbow.

On what meets their criteria for being accepted for consignment, Ms Tan says: "We generally reject anything with stains, tears or bad smells."

She adds that it is easier to spot fake clothing than fake handbags. "With clothes, the finishing and material on something fake is nothing like the real thing. But with bags, some fakes are of really good quality and have all the necessary marks, such as craftsmen's stamps," says Ms Tan.

The trio, who have spent more than 10 years each in the fashion industry, have friends who are familiar with luxury goods and turn to them when in doubt.

Ms Sondakh is the co-founder of multi-label boutique Retail Therapy and Ms Melwani, 36, who handles the inventory for Robe Raiders, used to run her own fashion labels. Her family also runs Jay Gee Melwani Group, which distributes Levi's and luxury brands such as Aigner and Giuseppe Zanotti Design in Singapore.

Occasionally, the team goes to the brand's boutiques to get the retail staff to check on an item's authenticity.

"Even if we know the person who owned the item, we're still very careful about what we take in," says Ms Melwani.

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KILO FASCION ASIA01-62/64/66 Suntec City Mall

Ms Alexa Goh is a serial entrepreneur.

In the last 10 years, the 38-year-old has opened a mobile phone shop, a prepaid phone card distribution company and a property investment company.

Earlier this month, she opened a multi-label boutique, Kilo Fascion Asia, based on Kilo Fascion in Milan, which she chanced upon while holidaying in the Italian fashion capital last year.

The 3,000 sq ft Kilo Fascion in Milan carries past season clothing from more than 150 luxury brands such as Missoni, Prada, Balenciaga and Galliano. None of the clothes have price tags on them; instead, they have tags which indicate how much each item costs per gram.

Weighing scales are placed around the store for shoppers to weigh their items to get the full price.

This concept cans now be found at Kilo Fascion Asia at Suntec City Mall.

At the 1,184 sq ft store, brand-new off-season pieces from more than 30 designer labels, including Balenciaga, Viktor & Rolf, Alexander Wang, Valentino, Lanvin and Fiorucci, are priced from 4 cents to $6 per gram, depending on the label and type of item.

For example, a Balenciaga silk top that costs $678 will cost $252 at Kilo Fascion Asia, based on its 84g weight.

"Charging by weight gives the impression that the things are affordable - and they are," says Ms Goh.

All the items in her store come from her business partner, Lilla S.p.A International Group, an Italian company which deals directly with the fashion houses.

She says Lilla S.p.A International Group is able to get past season items at a lower price due to its long-standing relationship with the brands. Clothes usually go back one or two seasons. Lilla S.p.A International Group has been in business since 1975. It operates a multi-label department store called Magazzini F* in Brescia, a city in northern Italy, as well as Kilo Fascion in Milan.

To prepare herself for entering the fashion industry, Ms Goh took a short course on fashion merchandising at TheAcademy for Fashion Professions, which is a Singapore training institute.

"I'm no fashionista, but I'm always on the lookout for interesting business opportunities," says Ms Goh. Her husband is a partner in all her businesses.

She adds: "I love the challenge of starting something from scratch."

She says clothing makes up the majority of her merchandise as there is a lack of luxury resale shops selling clothing.

"There are many people who appreciate the quality and good workmanship which are not replicated in mass market brands," she says.

Prior to opening her store, Ms Goh did not own any luxury clothing items, but she now has a John Galliano top and a Trussardi skirt which she bought from her store.

"I don't believe in splurging. When I buy something, I need to know that I got a good deal out of it," she says.

For now, the boutique will only be open until January, which is when its lease at Suntec City Mall is up. But Ms Goh plans to move to a different location after that.

She says business has been promising so far, with about 70 per cent of shoppers making purchases.

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Ms Stephanie Crespin has had her fair share of impulse buys.

She once bought a pair of Prada heels for $1,000, which she decided she did not like after a few wears. Another time, she bought a dramatic Alexander McQueen dress with huge shoulder pads for $1,300 which she had no occasion to wear to.

"It's a universal problem. When women have a bad day, we will walk into a store and buy something that we don't need or something that doesn't fit," says the 28-year-old.

The Belgian quit her marketing job at Procter & Gamble in Romania to move here in August to start StyleTribute. Launched in May, it aims to be a fuss-free platform for women to sell their designer goods.

"eBay is one of the biggest platforms, but selling on it is a frustrating experience. Because it's not curated, your items are buried among all the other items," says Ms Crespin, who has sold clothes on eBay before.

She adds: "People who can afford a silk cocktail dress for $1,500 are highly unlikely to queue at post offices to mail their items out."

With StyleTribute, sellers send in a picture of the item and everything else - from writing a short snippet about the item to editing the photo and uploading it - is done by Ms Crespin and her team of seven. Items from luxury fashion brands and up-and-coming designers are accepted.

Once the item is sold online, StyleTribute picks up the item from the seller and mails the item out by courier to the buyer.

Ms Camilla Testori, 28, a member of the team, is responsible for making sure all items are authentic before mailing them out. The Italian, who is friends with Ms Crespin, has worked in sales at Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta and Dolce & Gabbana in Italy.

Ms Crespin says Singapore was a natural location to set up her business.

"A lot of people in Asia are buying luxury goods. It's the biggest market for luxury brands," says Ms Crespin, who is married to a marketing consultant.

"This means there will be a bigger supply of designer goods for resale here. I also needed to be in an English-speaking environment."

She says most of her sellers are well-to-do locals and expatriates. In addition, she travels to vintage shops in Europe to source for rare items every three months.

She would not give specific sales figures, but says traffic and sales have been doubling every week.

An unworn Maison Martin Margiela top is going for $198, 78 per cent off its original price. A pair of Prada pumps in size 37.5 is being sold for $215, 76 per cent off its original price.

The company takes a 25 per cent cut of the selling price of items.

Buyers can return their orders for a full refund, without stating a reason, within seven days of receiving the item.

"When you buy something online, sometimes, it just doesn't fit right. We want to offer a service that makes clients happy," says Ms Crespin.

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Growing up, Ms Dianne Conti would spend hours rummaging through thrift stores in West Village, New York City. There, she would find everything from Chanel necklaces to Betsey Johnson dresses.

"I love dressing up and the only way to afford quality clothing on my allowance then was to buy second-hand clothing," says the American, who is in her early 40s.

As she grew older, shopping at second-hand shops became more than just about getting designer clothing at a discount.

"It's about finding limited-edition items, such as a Tom Ford for Gucci dress," says Ms Conti. About 50 per cent of the clothes in her wardrobe are second-hand.

When she moved to Singapore three years ago, she was disappointed at the lack of second-hand stores here.

"Many of my friends here were also frustrated because they didn't have a place to pass on their clothes and they didn't want to sell to strangers on eBay," adds Ms Conti, who previously worked in real-estate investment in New York. She moved here when her husband was posted here for work.

So in August, she decided to open Chic Stash, a website where women can buy and sell pre-loved designer and high-street clothing, with her sister Denise Palladino, who is also in her early 40s. Ms Palladino, who did sales and marketing for e-commerce start-ups in New York, also moved to Singapore three years ago.

There are two ways to sell items on Chic Stash. Sellers can sign up for an account and upload photos of their items on the website or hand them to Chic Stash on consignment.

The website also has a VIP section which is by invitation only. Well-known or interesting individuals are invited to sell their items. Its 14 VIPs include Ms Gina Lau, creative director of The Hair Shop, and image consultant Julia Blank.

Ms Conti says that she only takes in items that are in "excellent condition". This means that they have never been worn or have been worn only a few times.

Items that pass through their hands are checked for "identifying marks".

"If we're in doubt, we know people in fashion and, sometimes, we even run over to the actual shop to have them checked by the retail staff," says Ms Conti.

Items uploaded directly onto the website are monitored closely to ensure that counterfeit goods are not sold. Those suspected to be counterfeit are removed and their accounts will be deleted. Ms Conti says none have been spotted so far.

For items that are not on consignment, the return policy is set by the seller. Buyers who purchase items taken in on consignment by Chic Stash have seven days to return an item.

Items are priced based on condition, rarity, popularity of the brand and demand.

For instance, a 35cm black Hermes Birkin in Togo leather (calf leather) is going for $16,500, about 35 per cent less than what it would normally cost. A pair of Christian Louboutin heels with lightly worn soles is on sale for $700, about half the price of a new pair. The company takes a 20 to 30 per cent cut of each item sold.

Ms Conti says that since it started, Chic Stash has exceeded sales targets, but she would not give actual figures.

But Chic Stash is not just for luxury labels, she adds. The website also carries clothing from high-street labels such as Warehouse and Massimo Dutti.

"Good quality clothing does not need to be branded; you can find great pieces for your wardrobe that have no labels, but are incredibly well made," she says.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 18, 2013

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