Big money in pre-owned fashion

Second-hand retail sellers are sprouting up in Asia, among them resale sites like Vestiaire Collective

Ms Fanny Moizant, co-founder of Vestiaire Collective, in Hong Kong earlier this year. Asian consumers are beginning to warm to Vestiaire, a luxury fashion resale site, which is now in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, with South Korea and Japan next on the horizon.

(BLOOMBERG) - Fanny Moizant isn't used to the cold shoulder. In the United States and Europe, she is celebrated for the success of Vestiaire Collective, her luxury fashion resale site.

But in Hong Kong, she was snubbed for the very idea of second-hand clothes. "They said, 'We don't want to align with the resale companies. It is not that chic,'" Ms Moizant, president and co-founder of Vestiaire, said about the time she moved to the city in 2017.

That is starting to change. Asian consumers are beginning to warm to Vestiaire, which is now in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, with South Korea and Japan next on the horizon.

Its orders volume doubled in a year when retailers worldwide were crippled by the pandemic - much of that thanks to Asia, where the number of new second-hand sellers jumped 98 per cent and orders surged by 122 cent.

The pandemic and the economic insecurity that followed have been good for fashion resale globally, which has ballooned to a US$40 billion (S$53 billion) industry. Asian Wardrobes Asia's just at the beginning, thanks to local celebrities making pre-owned items seem trendy and shoppers realising it pays to clean out their closets.

That's a prospect that fills Ms Moizant with glee. "The amount of products stuck in the Asian wardrobes is tremendous," she said. Consumers have spent years building collections of garments and handbags prime for resale.

The region is set to make up more of Vestiaire's business over the next year, from less than 10 per cent currently. She declined to share details of their financials such as revenue and profit citing their status as a private firm.

Kering, the owner of Gucci, Bottega Veneta and other luxury houses, recently acquired a 5 per cent stake in Vestiaire, lifting its valuation to over US$1 billion.

Across the world, online resale platforms are reaping new funding and expanding. US-based Poshmark Inc has headed to Australia after raising US$277 million in its initial public offering early this year. ThredUp Inc raised US$168 million in an initial public listing in March and even Nike Inc is starting to resell used shoes.

Ms Moizant can thank a shift in the way shoppers think about secondhand goods. Local upstarts like Beijing-based Plum and Ponhu Luxury have reaped the windfall, securing rounds of funding and an explosion of consumers.

Chinese tourists unable to travel abroad have turned to second-hand shopping apps and the duty-free malls on Hainan island.

"People spend so much time at home and they went through their closets. Then they realised, how come I have so many things I never wear, and a lot of the price tags are still on," said Ms Charlene Ree, whose company EternityX helps brands from LVMH to L'Oreal reach consumers in the region. The view that selling or buying second-hand items was a sign of money problems is also fading, she said.

Singaporean actress Fiona Xie, who played socialite Kitty Pong in the Crazy Rich Asians movie, worked with Vestiaire to sell 10 luxury items from her personal closet for charity, becoming one of a growing number of local celebrities making pre-owned goods seem more like collectibles rather than discarded items.

"Asia has a traditional bias against second-hand. You feel social stigma, you feel it's like going to a pawn shop," said Ms Ree. "Now there's an explosion of positive messages on social media about the benefits of second-hand products including affordability and eco-friendliness. You clean up your closet space while you can shop more."

Authenticity is the other big challenge for Vestiaire. China, Hong Kong and Singapore account for two-thirds of global counterfeit exports, according to the most recent figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Vestiaire, which relocated its chief Asia authenticator from Paris, says it identifies a higher percentage of fakes in the region than in Europe and the US. Since then, two inspectors from Hong Kong have joined the team to check items from all over Asia for quality and authenticity before sending them to buyers.

Anyone who submits a counterfeit product for sale are first warned and then banned from the platform. Sellers have also become wise to the value of keeping proofs of purchase. More of them are realising that goods can have second lives and are saving the original packaging and receipts to get higher resale prices. This kind of behaviour will be key to the next part of Vestiaire's expansion: direct shipping in the region, where buyers can choose to opt out of the authentication process and receive the product directly from the seller.

"We are just at the beginning of what we call the Asian expansion," Ms Moizant said.

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