As a fashion-curious teenager who grew up in a provincial Italian city, shopping for vintage clothing was a rare and precious opportunity for me. I remember driving to Forlì with my mother and sister for the biennial vintage fair, an expedition that would last an entire afternoon while we, often several times, bred the 5,000-square-foot stalls. It was there, between the mix of motorcycles, bakelite jewelery and temporary tattoo parlors, that I found my first treasure: a Celine boxing bag from the 1970s in smooth burgundy leather, which I bought after long and hard consideration for € 150.
However, not everyone has the time or inclination to seek out that dream piece. And with the demand for second-hand items increasing sharply – was the second-hand luxury goods market growth surpassed in the overall luxury goods market for at least the past five years, according to Bain – luxury brands are now in action, making it easier for buyers to buy bona fide vintage wares.
In the past two weeks alone, Jean Paul Gaultier has launched a vintage selection on his website; Valentino has announced that customers can now return their Valentino clothing to select boutiques, which will begin selling certified pieces under the new Valentino Vintage label; and Diesel introduced Diesel Second Hand, which makes available restored jeans purchased from customers available for purchase. Launched at the Gucci Vault in September, customers can purchase a variety of refurbished Gucci items, from handbags to homewares. Philippa K, Rachel Comey and Marques’ Almeida are also now offering resale on their sites, the first two as peer-to-peer marketplaces.
These vintage shoots are small and are unlikely to affect the bottom line in any significant way for the time being. But they are an effective way to attract new, climate-conscious consumers and boost customer loyalty, analysts say. “Younger demographics are focused on making sure the brands they buy into perform well on ESG [environmental, social and governance] criteria, ”says Kathryn Parker, senior associate in luxury goods research at Jefferies. “One thing brands can do that is very visible is to launch projects in resale.”
For Mark Cross, second-hand has already become a significant business. In 2019, the American leather goods label launched a vintage section on its website with pieces repurchased from customers, a segment that now represents nearly 10 percent of sales, according to Ulrik Garde Due, CEO. Prices range from £ 280 for leather wallets to £ 2,500 for handbags – which is comparable to the cost of new items.
Cannibalizing sales of new bags was not a problem. On the contrary, 20 percent of users who visit the vintage website end up buying products at full price, says Garde Due. “It’s still amazing to me why no one else really jumped in,” he adds.
Diesel CEO Massimo Piombini looks genuinely surprised by the reaction to the launch of Diesel Second Hand. On the launch day, November 3, the brand sold 50 of 150 pairs of refurbished jeans, at between € 75 and € 115 – about half the cost of a new pair. “We expected much less, to be honest. If that’s the trend, it’s not just going to be a good project, but a very lucrative one, ”he says, speaking on Zoom of the company’s headquarters in Breganze, Italy.
But 50 pairs of jeans is a drop in the bucket for a brand as big as Diesel. Preparing used denim for sale is also laborious: the label has processed only about 25 percent of the 900 pairs of jeans it has repurchased since July, as the process of refurbishment and sanitation is done by a single supplier. Piombini admits that the project is expensive in terms of logistics and refurbishment. “The real challenge will be to roll it out elsewhere,” he says.
Customers who buy Diesel Second-hand products are likely to be attracted by price, as well as gain access to styles that the brand no longer produces. According to Boston Consulting Group, the number one reason listed by consumers for second-hand consumption, even at a luxury price point, remains affordability.
In the case of some brands, however, there is little price difference between used and new. On Gucci Vault, a vintage Jackie Square G-handbag from the 1970s cost £ 2 110. A Jackie 1961 model costs £ 1,750 new.
So on whom are luxury brands targeting with these new ventures? “I’m not the target audience, because for me it’s a hobby,” explains Sarah Kate Byrne, a vintage and sustainable stylist and co-founder of Open for Vintage. “The reason brands are introducing these spaces is because your average consumer now wants to find something unique and unique, but does not have time to go to a fair.”
Instead, these easy-to-navigate, hyper-curated vintage offerings are likely to appeal to those first-hand luxury buyers for whom second-hand becomes a virtue signal flex.
“For a consumer of luxury brands, it is not necessarily so aspiring to get a new outfit all the time. [as it was before], ”Says fashion trend forecaster Geraldine Wharry, mentioning how celebrities are starting to recycle their outfits on the red carpet. “There’s a movement to point it out and put it off as a model behavior.”
More generally, these initiatives capture a shift in the way consumers, and especially young people, build their wardrobes, focusing on uniqueness, exclusivity and long-term investment, without distinguishing too much between first- and second-hand. “Consumers are increasingly interested in investing emotionally in pieces as something they want to keep for a very long time,” says Stavros Karelis, founder of the London concept store Machine-A. “Whether it belongs to the vintage world or to young designers is becoming less relevant, it’s more about a unique presentation and having an emotional connection.”
Last week, Machine-A partnered with vintage brand Byronesque to launch Machine-B, a retail concept that breaks the boundary between vintage and contemporary by fully integrating editing of archives of the latter, including brands such as Rick Owens, Maison Martin Margiela and Raf Simons, with Machine-A’s current season offering on the store floor.
Joy Montgomery, a copywriter in charge of the Secondhand Shopper franchise, says that “to present these pieces along with the main collection, they are placed on an equal footing. [and contributes to] the idea of second-hand as an open and viable alternative, no longer faff for the buyer. ”
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