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An employee authenticates a pre-owned Louis Vuitton product for Vestiaire Collective. Shoppers in Asia are finally warming up to the idea of buying pre-owned. Photo: Bloomberg

Luxury fashion resale takes off in Asia as social stigma attached to second-hand clothes fades

  • Luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective saw its order volume double in 2020 – much of that thanks to Asia, where the number of new sellers jumped 98 per cent
  • Celebrities such as Crazy Rich Asians actress Fiona Xie are helping turn pre-owned fashion from socially unacceptable to almost collectible

Fanny Moizant isn’t used to the cold shoulder. In the United States and Europe, she’s 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,’” Moizant, president and co-founder of Vestiaire, said about the time she moved to the city in 2017.

That’s starting to change. Asian consumers are beginning to warm to Vestiaire, which is now in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, with Korea and Japan next on the horizon. Its order 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 per cent.
The pandemic and the economic insecurity that’s followed have been good for fashion resale globally, which has ballooned to a US$40 billion industry.
Fanny Moizant is the co-founder of Vestiaire Collective. Photo: Bloomberg

Asia’s just at the beginning, thanks to local celebrities making pre-owned items seem trendy and shoppers realising that it pays to clean out their wardrobes.

That’s a prospect that fills 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.

Second-hand is no longer a dirty word for Swiss luxury watchmakers

Vestiaire declined to share details of its financials such as revenue and profit, citing its 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, boosting its valuation to more than US$1 billion.

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

In Asia, Moizant can thank a shift in the way shoppers think about second-hand 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 China’s island province of Hainan.
“People spend so much time at home and they went through their wardrobes. Then, they realised ‘how come I have so many things I never wear, and a lot of the price tags are still on’,” said Charlene Ree, whose company EternityX helps brands from LVMH to L’Oréal 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.

Poshmark has headed to Australia after raising US$277 million in its initial public offering early this year. Photo: Bloomberg
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 wardrobe for charity, becoming one of a growing number of local celebrities making pre-owned goods seem more like collectibles than discarded items.

“Asia has a traditional bias against second-hand. You feel social stigma, you feel it’s like going to a pawnshop,” said 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 wardrobe space while you can shop more.”

Product authenticity is a 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.

An employee inspects and authenticates a pre-owned Hermès handbag in a warehouse at the Vestiaire Collective offices in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

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 is first warned and then banned from the platform.

Sellers have also got 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,” Moizant said.