Pre-owned”, “pre-worn”, “pre-loved”. Whichever way you say it, quality second-hand clothing and accessories have long shed their shabby connotations of car boot sales and musty charity shops. Now new market forces are taking the pre-owned to another level, with once-prized items – from cashmere overcoats to fine watches, attaché cases to penny loafers – changing hands in greater numbers, and sometimes at higher prices, than the originals.
McKinsey and the Business of Fashion’s recently published State of Fashion 2019 report highlights the rise of “pre-owned, refurbished, repair and rental business models” as one of the 10 key industry trends of 2019 – spurred by consumer attitude shifts that prioritise sustainability and move away from the idea of permanent ownership. Another increasing driving force is the rise of slick websites offering the best of Bond Street’s and Avenue Montaigne’s back catalogues. Menswear-only player Grailed is the youngest of a trio of particularly influential sites that also includes The Real Real and Vestiaire Collective, which led the way in the women’s market after launching in 2011 and 2009 respectively – and which have built up significant menswear offerings in the past couple of years.
Grailed’s focus is on collectors and cognoscenti of directional luxury brands such as Raf Simons and Helmut Lang as well as streetwear labels including Palace and Yeezy. It was launched in 2013 by Arun Gupta, with the aim to create a better home for the prized items Gupta noticed were changing hands on men’s style blogs and discussion groups. “If the men’s market was even a quarter of the size of the women’s market, it was something worth pursuing,” he says from Grailed’s New York HQ. “And because we started with a group of users who were real enthusiasts, the core supply was very well curated.” Now in its fourth year, Grailed has 20 moderators across the globe curating items posted and priced (it offers a price comparison button for guidance) by “the community”. Inventory at any one time might include Margiela denim jackets for $800, Dries Van Noten cardigans for $400, and Saint Laurent jeans for $200, while current bestselling streetwear brands include Off-White, Nike and Supreme. “Streetwear wasn’t really a thing when we launched,” adds Gupta – he owes a good deal of his site’s growth to its rapid rise in the past 18 months.
On The Real Real, items are priced in-house, calculated based on designer, age, condition and colour. “We’ve sold so many items that we have an algorithm,” says Rati Levesque, chief merchant at the US-based site, which now ships to 63 countries. Setting the price is “a little like real estate – too high, then it doesn’t sell and it goes on sale, and you end up making less. It’s about offering the right price at the right time,” Levesque adds. Recently, I sold a 2013 Hedi Slimane-era Saint Laurent peacoat on The Real Real for $900. The first-time seller rate of 55 per cent earned me $540 – not far south of what I had paid for the jacket in the Harrods sale. As with Vestiaire Collective, seller fees are based on the frequency and value of previous sales – though Paris-based Vestiaire differs in that the seller decides the price.
The emergence of men’s categories on The Real Real and Vestiaire came about largely thanks to women users of the sites. To reach the highest percentage fees (up to 80-85 per cent) many women began to offer up items from their partners’ wardrobes – from outgrown Italian suits to barely worn shoes – and so the market began to open up to menswear. The Real Real’s men’s department has seen consistent double-digit growth every year since it began in 2011, and now makes up a quarter of all global sales, which founder Julie Wainwright told Jo Ellison, writing for the Weekend FT in late 2018, she hoped would hit $1bn in 2019. On its “New Arrivals” section at the time of writing, there was a Berluti briefcase for £1,600 (50 per cent of the estimated retail price, which it also lists) and a stainless-steel Rolex Datejust for £4,000 (a little more than 61 per cent of the estimated retail price of £6,500).
Vestiaire Collective hired its first head of menswear two years ago to take charge of merchandising and create editorial around the product across social media channels. The growth coincided with Alessandro Michele’s first Gucci men’s collections landing on the site, and a surge in demand for his signature animal heads and embellishments. “Specific brands like Gucci created a halo effect in the secondary market,” says co-founder Sébastien Fabre. “The secondary menswear market felt mature. So we decided to jump on it.”
According to Fabre, the site’s menswear sales doubled in each of the past two years. Other top-performing brands included Louis Vuitton,Hermès, Supreme and latterly Balenciaga. “Two years ago the men’s category was nowhere for us. Now, Balenciaga trainers can sell on Vestiaire at a higher price than retail, because people are looking for a specific colour, and in their own regional market they are sold out. We’re a global business and there’s an audience looking for the product at almost any price.” On the “Just In” section at the time of writing, a £550 pair of Hermès riding boots sits alongside a £280 Gucci baseball cap from the autumn 2018 capsule collection, and some Alexander McQueen trainers for £350. France is the company’s biggest market, followed by the UK. “Eighty-five percent of the product crosses borders,” Fabre adds. (Meanwhile, The Real Real ships internationally but currently only accepts consignments from within the US.)
Fabre tells me that the items that achieve the highest prices are products created by an individual designer at the peak of their desirability (such as Michele at Gucci; he expects the same of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton), and brands with enduring appeal, where secondary market prices stay close to the original ones – Hermès is a good example, as well as Louis Vuitton leather goods. But these are exceptional cases: the value of most ready-to-wear falls sharply after its first purchase. “One year after buying, say, an Acne coat, the value might have decreased by around 50 per cent,” he adds.
Although these sites primarily appeal to tech-savvy millennials and Silicon Valley types, they also cater for older clients who seasonally update their wardrobes. The Real Real has always taken consignment of items, then authenticated, photographed, priced, uploaded and shipped them for added convenience. It also now offers home collection in major US cities, and in 2017 it opened its first bricks and mortar store in New York, followed by one in LA last year, both of which allow store drop-offs.
Vestiaire Collective and Grailed operate differently: they are primarily peer-to-peer platforms, so the seller handles photography and garment description themselves. On Grailed, items never pass through the site. At Vestiaire, when a sale is made, the item is shipped to the Vestiaire HQ to be checked over and authenticated, before being sent to the buyer. To raise UK awareness of its high-standard services, the site hosted a pop-up at Selfridges last autumn, where items could be valued and dropped off, and some of the most desirable wares displayed.
These secondary market players see themselves less as competitors with the primary market, more as part of the same lifecycle – responding to consumers moving away from permanent ownership. And in a beautiful rounding of the circle, last year, Richemont, the Swiss parent of Cartier,Panerai and Piaget, acquired Watchfinder & Co, the UK-based company that has been buying, selling and part-exchanging watches across its retail locations and website for 17 years. Still, it would seem, there are “substantial opportunities to help grow the company further”, said Richemont chairman Johann Rupert last summer.
Levesque concludes that, perhaps more than female customers, “men are becoming more mindful of resale values – they now often call us to check this before making a primary purchase.” Fabre agrees: “Men are often more interested in understanding the value over time – the lifetime value, of the product. But,” he caveats, “more and more, men are also following their emotion. I love this.”