Gen Z starts luxury consumption with second-hand fashion

The second-hand market is booming and, especially with the current price increases, often offers a cheaper and more sustainable alternative for the consumer. Sophie Hersan also knows that the market – in the current internet age, with associated drops of collections and exclusive scarce copies – is no longer only popular with frugal people who browse the flea market for bargains, but also offers real treasures and valuable investments.

As co-founder of Vestiaire Collective, she also uses the French second-hand platform to invest in collectibles. In this interview, the fashion director talks about her investments, how consumer behavior in the field of second-hand clothing has changed, in which markets trade is thriving and which trends influence second-hand fashion.

Which brands are most frequently searched for on Vestiaire Collective?

“We follow the first-hand market with great interest and can say that the trends visible here are very close to the trends in the second-hand market. Gucci was a very hip brand last year. This year Prada was very hip and we followed suit. But in general Gucci, Prada, [Louis] Vuitton, Hermès and Chanel global evergreen brands that always work. But then hip brands like Jacquemus and other designers come in.”

What influences these trends?

“We have noticed that after events like Cannes or the Met Gala, where we could see Gucci, Versace or Jean Paul Gaultier, the searches for these brands are increasing. People see a lot on social media, and this affects the way we see them today.”

“In the past, it was more the designers, such as Phoebe Philo, who made the brand hip. Today it’s about how transparent and valuable brands are. Fashion still has an emotional component. Influencers, celebrities or music and movies have a greater impact on people than the brands themselves. If your Carrie [Bradshaw, fictieve rol in de HBO-franchise Sex and the City] suddenly see a vintage bag in the film, they do research at Vestiaire.”

Which products sell well?

“Bags are still our strongest category. But after that, many other accessories follow. Perhaps the size and ability to estimate the value of the item will make it easier to take the plunge. With clothes it is sometimes more difficult because they lose their value. You can pay a lot for some brands in the store, but after that the value drops. Bags and accessories retain their value. We also see potential in shoes, jewelry and watches – especially for men, it’s a good place to start.”

Bags are one of the most popular products on Vestiaire Collective. Collective | Image: Cloakroom Collective

Has the pandemic affected the way we think about clothing as an investment?

“After Covid, I feel like I need to buy something whose value is stable, but it shouldn’t be too expensive and it’s meant to increase in value. Of course, there is also the drop phenomenon, which drives up the price. [Noot van de redactie: Bij een ‘drop’ wordt een collectie/product meestal in kleine aantallen aangeboden, waardoor de (weder)verkoopprijs door zeldzaamheid hoger kan uitvallen]. But beyond that, there are certainly good pieces that can help you earn more money over time. People don’t want to spend the money on an item anymore because they want it now, they think differently…”

Is it more about the product than the purchase price?

“And because of the story behind the product. There’s also a bit of pride in it. If you’ve bought something used, you’ve looked for it – you’ve seen it, you want to find it, you know who’s offering it. And if you find it, it’s a treasure. It’s not the same as buying something new, not trying it on and sending it back – many people pay that much these days to return it. Stop this consumption without conscience!”

Do you have a personal treasure?

“First of all, I sell a lot. Before I started with Vestiaire, it was not easy for me to sell because I couldn’t find the right platform. Here I want to sell because I care about my product and I know the story behind it. And being a ‘fashion connoisseur’ I know the value and physical aspect of the item. It also has a personal story, so I don’t want to offer the product for free. I have 20 years experience in fashion for Vestiaire. So before I add anything to my wardrobe, I sort things and sort out a lot of things.”

“I am not someone who is super trendy. I like timeless pieces. When something is very trendy, my emotions are very strong and I am very happy about it at the beginning. Then when I buy it, it ends up in my wardrobe and starts to wear out. So when I want something, I wait for the trend to end and I control my emotions, and then when I really know I want it – I let a few months pass – I buy it. Such was the case with a vintage Chanel bag. At Vestiaire I invest a lot in vintage watches and other timeless pieces.”

In which markets is there the greatest demand for second-hand fashion?

“There is a lot of movement. We launch in one market after another. We were born in France, so we’re really strong in France – both in terms of sellers and buyers. The UK is very strong. Then we launched Germany, Italy and Spain. Europe is very strong, but on different levels.”

“Italy – now one of the top markets – was more of a seller’s market in the beginning, where not much was bought. That was a learning process, because every country is different. Now buyers and sellers overlap.”

Was it the same in Germany?

“In the beginning, products were sold that were not wanted in our community. Now we are super strong in Germany due to the influx of e-commerce; think of Zalando or Mytheresa. The more e-commerce in Germany grows, the more traffic there is. Partnerships with Mytheresa also work very well, because they have the right certification and sell super good pieces.”

“We have to educate the countries a little bit, and it’s funny how we’ve turned sellers into buyers in the second-hand market. While that was initially not in line with the habits and mentality of the countries.”

“Of course the US is also strong – they are very well aware of the second hand market. So it was much easier, but we also had more competition. Now we are on the west coast.”

Which markets are harder to conquer when it comes to second-hand clothing?

“In Asia, second-hand was a bit further from the culture. They don’t wear their clothes very often and didn’t know what to sell. Resale was a whole new concept. So we had to inform them about this.”

So in those cases we managed to convince people. Are there markets that are not so easy to crack?

“We don’t sell in South America – it just doesn’t fit. We always wait for the countries to really suit us and even if that is the case, we have to transfer the DNA of Vestiaire.”

Image: Cloakroom Collective

Are there any new collaborations on the agenda?

“Our goal is to expand with as many brands as possible. We started our first partnership with Alexander McQueen, followed by Mulberry, and the Mytheresa and LuisaViaRoma platforms. We also have other partnerships planned during the year.”

“We want to get more and more involved. We had pop-up partnerships, and a corner at Selfridges. We’re not a retailer, we’re a digital player, and we really want more brands to come to us because it’s not easy for retail brands to move to the circular economy either – it’s a lot of logistics and technology they don’t understand. This costs them a lot of time.”

Who is part of the Vestiaire community?

“We currently have 23 million members. We focus more on personal attitudes, consumption and habits, etc. than on age. In the beginning, we were really stronger with millennials and people between the ages of 30 and 50. They like to sell timeless pieces, luxury and designer shoes. Now more and more Gen Z is coming to us. Mainly for economic reasons. Because they can’t afford certain pieces. They know Gucci is trendy and they want those Gucci items. They may pay full price later, but initially they buy second-hand.”

Is Gen Z’s approach different?

“It is therefore natural for Gen Z to buy second-hand first and to know what influence they have on fashion. My generation – I’m 50 – consumed very differently when I was 20. I didn’t think about whether I needed it, what personal value it had, or what influence I had. But it’s in their blood. They buy vintage pieces, have a unique style and explore and emphasize their own personality with their clothes, instead of going with the trend because it is the trend.”

Has the younger generation also influenced the older ones to buy more second-hand?

“The younger generation is teaching their parents and their generation to buy and think differently. For them, it is completely normal to buy second-hand. When they’re broke, they find the right pieces on a smaller budget and step away from fast fashion.”

“The older generation has been thinking for some time about pieces they can invest in: I buy something that will last, that I can pass on. We passed on that way of thinking, and perhaps the younger generation has adopted that way of thinking less.”

“The younger generation is more enlightened than we are and has a lot of information at their disposal. They may not have the filter to select the right information, but they know they have a choice to make. This may be more difficult for young people than for older people, who know how to filter. This again gives the older generation the opportunity to educate them so that they can make the right choice.”

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and adaptation from German into Dutch: Eugenia Melissen Ferrer.

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