Crazy for Consignment: The Rise of Recycled Luxury

The explosion of the luxury consignment market is starting much-needed conversations about sustainability, circular fashion systems and the possible longevity of the fanny pack.

By Angela Ledgerwood


The explosion of the luxury consignment market is starting much-needed conversations about sustainability, circular fashion systems and the possible longevity of the fanny pack.

By Angela Ledgerwood

We know that online technology has radically changed the way we shop. Soon drones will drop off our Net-a-Porter packages like those friendly white storks delivering babies in imaginary times past. There’s already a drone service in China, zooming products—not people—to remote villages. It’s also likely that fashion behemoths like Gucci and Louis Vuitton will eventually collaborate with luxury car companies to offer Uber-like autonomous vehicles for the ultimate transported branding experiences. But before we dream of a particular dramatic party entrance (rocking up astride a self-driving Chanel-upholstered Harley Davidson) there’s a far more unassuming trend gathering momentum. It’s making highly-coveted luxury items a little more accessible for a much larger portion of eager shoppers. Along the way the explosion of the luxury consignment market, worth an estimated $1.5 trillion dollars, is prompting much-needed conversations around sustainability, circular fashion systems and the possible longevity of the fanny pack.

“We are unlocking a supply of $230 billion worth of luxury goods in people’s homes and we’ve only just scratched the surface,” says Rati Levesque, chief merchant at TheRealReal, the e-commerce platform that’s sold over 8 million items since its 2011 inception by CEO Julie Wainwright, and boasts 9 million shoppers to date. Rival online consignment destination, Vestiaire, with over 7 million shoppers is booming at much the same rate. Both platforms embrace creative styling and thoughtful curation to reinforce their core message that pre-owned goods are just as precious, sometimes more so, than new ones—second hand is no longer second best.


Rati Levesque, Chief Merchant, The Real Real


The promise of authenticity is everything when you’re contemplating spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a Dior Saddle bag, for example, which has incidentally made a come-back this year. On Vestiaire, Saddle bags have a 70 per cent seven day sell-through rate which co-founder Fanny Moizant attributes to the overall upward trend in vintage shopping as a way to shop sustainably. Obviously, one wants to make sure their Dior bag is the real deal, especially if planning to resell the bag down the line—another emerging trend in consignment shopping.

“We have changed how people shop; we’re seeing that consumers shopping retail want to be educated on the resale value before they make a purchase – their mindset has changed. They make purchases now knowing they will eventually consign it and make 60-80 per cent back on the original cost,” says The Real Real’s Levesque. “We recently opened two brick-and-mortar stores in New York and Los Angeles, which besides being another touchpoint for consumers to consign and shop, introduce luxury consignment to those who aren’t quite comfortable shopping online for more high-value items.” At each store, there’s a team of experts so customers are able to get items authenticated, tailored, repaired, and valued all at the store – they also host a number of expert workshops open to the public each month.


Fanny Moizant, Vestiaire Co-founder


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From Levesque’s perspective, fashion is responding to the demands of being a modern woman – now it’s about comfort and style. Women have busy lives with work or kids and they’re on the go, so being comfortable is incredibly important. “We’re moving away from the stereotype of how a woman should dress at work – we’re seeing women wearing jeans, hoodies, sneakers. It’s more about what makes you feel like you versus what you should wear to work,” she says. Vestiaire’s Moizant credits the power and influence of social media for enlivening the fashion scene and inspiring more unique dressing. “People now have access to small niche brands and brands that only used to be available in certain countries because of the internet,” she says. “I think it’s helped people be more creative with their style.” The most popular brands on Vestiaire are Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermes. Gucci has been performing well for the past few years, as has Saint Laurent.

Gucci is in such demand because they understand the value of creating a brand that appeals to a broad consumer base and diverse age groups. “This year alone you could find Gucci on everyone from Nicole Kidman to A$AP Rocky,” says Levesque. “Gucci is bold, very individualistic and customizable, which millennials particularly embrace, and millennials have incredible spending power.” You can find what’s popular on The Real Real’s Mid-year Luxury Resale Report. For one devoted The Real Real shopper, New York-based Jessica Blumenthal who is the executive director of strategy and insights at Clique, browsing on the site puts the fun back into shopping. “Because there’s only one piece, unlike something new, they usually sell fast, especially if they’re featured in the curated collections,” she says. “It recreates the vintage hunt with the flash-sale frenzy.”

A Sustainable Investment

Consumers are also becoming more eco-conscious and gravitating towards companies and practices that share those values. Extending the life cycle of items by consigning or shopping resale is sustainable, and more and more consumers are taking to it – especially younger generations who are more open to shopping pre-owned as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. “At the heart of Vestiaire, lies the belief that fashion can and should be a smart investment, expanding the lifespan of a product is key to thoughtful consumption giving consumers the value they are looking for in our changing fashion world.”

The Real Real wants to drive conversation about sustainability in fashion, encouraging people to extend the life of luxury items so that we can keep them out of landfills and put them in the hands of new owners. “We championed this message with Stella McCartney recently in an unprecedented partnership, which promotes a circular economy. The RealReal shoppers who consign Stella McCartney will receive $100 to shop at Stella McCartney in the primary market,” says Levesque. Brands are realizing the benefits of the secondary market – not just in helping extend the reach of their brands, but also the sustainability benefits. Levesque hopes this partnership and campaign will give rise to more like it – whether that involves them or others.

It’s both savvy and smart for brands like Stella McCartney to enter the conversation around sustainability. No one quite does this like Patagonia, committed to making high-quality products that last for years and can be repaired, so you reduce the need to buy more. Perhaps luxury brands are finally taking their lead. Ultimately though, decreasing consumption, reusing clothes and keeping them out of landfill is far more sustainable than buying new sustainably-made clothes. And now that platforms like TheRealReal and Vestiaire make it so enjoyable to enliven and liberate our closets, it could become increasingly difficult to justify buying things that are brand spanking new. Even if you don’t buy into the doing-good, more-sustainable-world mission, perhaps it’s a start to buy in for the vintage bejeweled fanny pack, you had no idea you “needed”.