Fashion has always been about what's new, now, and next. But over the past few years, the industry's breakneck pace of cycling through trends, collections, and designers has started to pivot as consumers increasingly move away from "It" bags and fast fashion toward items built for the long haul and actually worth an investment. This shift has only been expedited by the pandemic, which has put a renewed focus on slow fashion, sustainable choices, and less unnecessary consumption.
Secondhand shopping is booming as a result, so it makes sense that instead of letting major resellers like The RealReal or Depop reap all the rewards of their cast-off and pre-owned pieces, big designers are now beginning to incorporate the resale market into their own business models to cash in on this lucrative new revenue stream.
Mark Cross was one of the first luxury labels to offer its own vintage wares to customers, launching the service in 2019. Ulrik Garde Due, the brand's CEO and president, explains that deciding to sell these items as an extension of the 175-year-old heritage label was a no-brainer as "luxury resale is set to grow 15 to 20% each year over the next five years, and most transactions are currently made through third-party sites." The brand considered this to be "a missed opportunity" and realized that bringing these items in-house could allow more control over the value of its pieces. "We can authenticate the product, offer repair services, give a price valuation, and overall support an acquisition safety net," says Garde Due.
But this isn't just a financial opportunity; it's also an environmental one. "In 2020, we are witnessing a rapid rise of the 'hyper-conscious consumer' further magnified by shifted priorities brought on by the pandemic," explains Garde Due. "It is no longer only about the appealing aesthetic of a vintage piece but also the sustainable ecosystem that supports secondhand retail." And this initiative hasn't just increased sales of Mark Cross' archival pieces; it's also helped convince customers to invest in their new bags as well. According to the brand, 10% of new product sales are actually coming from customers who initially searched for its vintage offerings.
Levi's is also taking its first steps into the resale market with the debut of its Levi's SecondHand recommerce site in October, which offers both unique and reworked vintage pieces as well as a buyback program for worn items. The brand sees this initiative as an opportunity to not only demonstrate the enduring quality of its garments but reshape the retail market as a whole. "Our industry makes too many clothes, and people are wearing their clothes fewer times. It's not at all sustainable," Levi's Brand President Jennifer Sey says.
Brands are also rapidly evolving in response to the demands of their Gen Z customers who, in addition to their enthusiasm for thrifting and vintage, have put pressure on corporations to take strong stances amid social justice movements and on issues like global warming, transparent production practices, and minimizing waste. "Repurposing and repairing jeans uses only a minimal amount of energy, a minimal amount of water, and no dyes," notes Sey. "SecondHand is a chance for us to move in the same direction as the consumer, especially Gen Z, and encourage more sustainable consumption. It's also a chance for us to reduce the environmental footprint of our products, at every stage of their life cycle, and to keep moving toward more circularity and less environmental impact."
Accessories brand By Far is the most recent label to launch a resale partnership, teaming up with Vestiaire Collective in November to offer upcycled and archival pieces. The brand's co-founders, Sabina Gyosheva, Valentina Ignatova, and Denitsa Bumbarova, say that what began as a way to promote their circular approach to fashion and a more sustainable future has also developed into an opportunity for them to give back. All proceeds from their partnership with the pre-owned retail site will go to Women for Women International, which supports women survivors of war to help rebuild their lives.
"With this collaboration we are fighting back against fashion overconsumption, reducing our negative impact on the environment by up to 91%, and protecting the planet," By Far's co-founders explain in an official statement. "As our friends from the Vestiaire Collective pointed out: 'The most sustainable fashion is fashion that already exists.' The world can no longer continue with the old ways of thinking in the short term. Sustainability should be a top priority for everyone. We think that it's where not only the fashion industry but all industries are headed."
The RealReal has also seen enormous success through its official partnerships with various high-end brands, including Stella McCartney, Burberry, and, most recently, Gucci. According to Marco Bizzarri, Gucci's president and chief executive officer, this opportunity aligned perfectly with the brand's current "focus on reducing our environmental footprint across our entire supply chain" and exploration of "ways to embed circularity in our approach."
It also seems the partnership is paying off for both companies as Gucci's resale value is 2.3 times stronger than average and demand for the brand has grown 19% year over year, making it the most in-demand men's brand on the website for the third year in a row. To date, the consignment of women's and men's Gucci clothing on The RealReal has reportedly saved 230.1 metric tons of carbon and 10.4 million liters of water. And it's not just the resale site's partnership with Gucci that has paid dividends. Since partnering with the retailer in early 2018, demand for Stella McCartney has increased 180% and consignors have increased 65%. Likewise, Burberry, which teamed up with The RealReal in October 2019, saw an 18% increase in new consignors in the first three months and another 18% increase in consignment of Burberry items in the first six months.
"By making luxury more accessible, we're serving as a gateway and building earlier affinity for luxury brands, like Gucci, that ultimately expands their audience," explains Allison Sommer, the senior director of strategic initiatives. "I also think it's about encouraging more consumers to move away from fast fashion and instead invest in well-made items — whether that's in the primary or secondary market — that can be recirculated and hold strong resale value over time."
But while these brands have already seen huge returns across the board, that doesn't mean these resale initiatives are without their particular complications. Garde Due explains that one challenge Mark Cross has faced is helping customers to "understand that they are buying a product this is not new and may come with patina and signs of usage," a process which has thus far resulted in a return rate of 27% but has evened out since the launch of the web store one year ago. It's also precisely that uniqueness and wear and tear that Mark Cross is hoping to turn into a selling point. "When you purchase a vintage Mark Cross piece, you are inheriting its former life and building upon it with a story of your own," Garde Due says. Which is why the brand recently partnered with TrueTwins to create a "digital passport" that "gives the customer unparalleled transparency to their product provenance and design story. It's an intersection between authentication, sustainability, and traceability."
Similarly, Sey says a difficulty Levi's has faced is that "resale is quite a complex model. Everything is one of one; you don't get the same scale as you do in traditional retailer models. Each item is unique. It needs its own photo, measurements, sizing, condition notes, and pricing estimate. Also, the stream of inventory is less consistent. You have less control when you are relying on trade-ins of pre-owned as your inventory — matching supply and demand is trickier." But, at the same time, she adds, "what makes the marketplace challenging for us makes it appealing to consumers. They love the hunt. They love the discovery, finding something old but new, something used that can now be uniquely theirs, something that speaks to them and requires very little in the way of natural resources, compared to something new."
"We're focused on encouraging consumers to buy what they love, live with it, and love it longer," Sey continues. "We make products that are built to last with timeless style and that get better with age. We can make them last even longer through SecondHand. This is a win for everyone. We want to make SecondHand second nature."