Fashion shopping in Hong Kong

Hong Kong second-hand fashion websites change shopping habits

Online fashion portals are combining the best of internet and in-person retail to give Hong Kong buyers of luxury items a complete shopping experience

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 10:24am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 7:12pm

The second-hand fashion market has never taken off in Hong Kong. Its limited retail presence contrasts sharply with the city's luxury shopping scene. Hongkongers have always favoured the new, the sleek and the modern; anything old or last-season was quickly scrapped. But attitudes are changing.

We previously wrote about the rise of luxury vintage in the form of expensive and coveted old Chanel bags, Hermès Birkins and even jewellery becoming popular and picking up princely sums in the city.

Part of this change is influenced by attitudes in the West, where there has always been a warmer reception for second-hand goods.

Add to this equation a much younger luxury consumer who is now more open-minded and you see why the market is growing. As a result, new businesses and initiatives are hoping to ride on this secondary economy.

Luxify, an online portal based in Hong Kong, is one such emerging business hoping to take second-hand luxury goods to the next level. Founded by Alexis Zirah and Florian Martigny, the website aims to connect buyers and sellers of luxury goods on its web platform. The website's categories range from art to fashion to real estate and even cars.

The duo's decision to take second-hand designer fashion to the modern digital age came from research that they had commissioned.

"We found out 68 per cent of [our survey respondents] were using a search engine as a source of information. But strangely enough, although they researched online, they don't buy luxury products online. Why? Because it's expensive, and because they want to touch and see the product before they buy," says Zirah.

In other words, luxury customers fell within a buying trend called ropo: research online, purchase offline. With this in mind, Zirah and Martigny set up the Luxify experience to bring both modes together. Visitors can browse luxury goods on the online platform before inspecting them in person.

The online element of the business model is crucial, they argue, because it makes prices for second-hand goods much clearer. By knowing what the prices for other pre-loved goods are, new customers will feel more certain that they are paying a fair price.

"The second-hand luxury market is extremely fragmented … making it difficult for buyers to know the true value of their pre-owned luxury goods," says Zirah. "Luxify not only addresses these issues but greatly simplifies the buying and selling process."

Another concern with older forms of resale is authenticity. Given the high concentration of pirated goods in Asia, buyers are very wary of paying large sums of money for luxury goods through unsanctioned channels.

Resale websites such as Luxify, as well as the soon-to-launch Guiltless, will verify all listings before they are released online. Concierge services for expert advice will also be available, should buyers have further queries.

The concept of e-commerce resale in the fashion industry is not exactly revolutionary. Similar websites have already found traction elsewhere in Europe and the United States, including Vaunte, Hardly Ever Worn It, Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real.

But while this business model has done well overseas, very few have any operational base in Asia. This gives a distinct advantage to local players, many of whom are looking to pick up consignments from the Asia-Pacific region.

This is where start-up Guiltless  hopes to outdo international competitors. Founder Yen Kuok (disclosure: Yen Kuok is the youngest daughter of Robert Kuok, controlling shareholder of Kerry Group, the biggest shareholder in SCMP Group) was saddened to hear her favourite second-hand overseas websites would not accept Hong Kong-sourced consignments, so she decided to create her own resale business.

The editorial section of Guiltless goes online today but the sales won't be fully functional until September/October. Unlike Luxify, which also operates online, Kuok's business will source, curate, and hold all stock as part of a much larger operation. Kuok believes that by doing so, Guiltless can provide a retail shopping experience that is on par with traditional luxury online experiences and top Western online competitors.

"Our rule of thumb is never to stock anything people can only wear at an '80s costume party. We also want our products to be presented in the most beautiful way possible, with custom boxes, tissue paper and stickers to give customers the best online retail experience," says Kuok, a stickler for detail.

Having studied in the US, Kuok was impressed by the ease of online shopping there and the choice available - and disappointed there was no Hong Kong equivalent. That was when the idea for Guiltless was born.

"I know how shopping for women can become a bit out of control," she laughs. "So I thought it would be a great idea to have an outlet for these clothes, rather than to have them piling up in people's wardrobes."

Kuok recognises the untapped power of second-hand luxury goods for social change, not only for potential profits; it's a way to create commerce without adding to fashion overconsumption or introducing new products to the cycle.

Cristina Ventura also understands the positive change that fashion resales can bring. In 2012, Ventura created Luxarity, a yearly charity drive that sells second-hand goods donated by society figures. While Kuok sees second-hand shopping as a more sustainable model, Ventura sees its ability to enact meaningful social change for those less fortunate.

Luxarity is run as a not-for-profit entity, and its regular pop-up store sales in Hong Kong have become a popular way for people to pick up quality pieces at a bargain and for a good cause. The latest edition ran in May at PMQ in Central and generated HK$350,000 for charities Mother's Choice and PathFinders, which both support mothers in need and their newborn babies. Sold at a fraction of their original retail price, designer stilettos were priced from HK$300 upwards, and evening dresses that were initially retailed for HK$25,000 were sold for about HK$2,500.

Businesses such as Luxarity, Guiltless and Luxify, though operating on different models and offering different experiences, are changing attitudes towards second-hand fashion and how people shop.