From the source: Fanny Moizant, Vestiaire Collective

Inside Retail Weekly: Tell me about how you came up with the idea for the Vestiaire Collective.

Fanny Moizant: We started 10 years ago based on two pieces of physical evidence.

We opened our wardrobes to see all the interesting pieces that we had but no longer wear. It was a waste, but on the other hand, we understood that fashion consumption has drastically changed over the years. People are buying more and more and we are addicted to newness, compared to the previous generation, which invested way more in their wardrobes. We are more impulsive and need change, so consumption has changed from possession to usage, We’re more into usage than the previous generation and it’s not sustainable in the bigger scheme of things.

We knew that it was a problem for our generation to solve and that one of the answers was to give a second life to the items we don’t wear anymore. Of course back then, you could do that on eBay or in a secondhand store at the corner of your street.

But we disrupted the market by bringing the issue of trust into online. It was missing when people bought from other individuals and they could be fooled at any time. The second element of the business was offering inspiration. It wasn’t really cool to shop secondhand in Paris – they were seen as dusty and old. We wanted to bring back some coolness into the industry and basically treat resale as retail.

So we innovated with a strong brand, look and feel, a nice way of displaying product and we’re also full of services. From day one, we understood that social media was super-strong and we wanted to create the business as a proper community for people to engage in, share their passion and get inspired by each other.

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IRW: And how has the business developed in the last 10 years?

FM: Very organically. From day one, we had the chance to have a successful launch. It was the right time and people were ready to embrace the concept. Starting in Paris, you have an amazing population of fashion addicts – there are amazing items in the wardrobes of French women. Over the years, we saw growth above and beyond France. Very quickly, we saw Vestiaire had to be an international business, so we expanded two years afterwards first to the UK, then we opened up in the European markets – Italy, Spain, Germany, the Nordics – and we also opened an office in New York City to cater to the US market.

At the same time, we grew organically and aggressively and went global – and when I say organically, we always tend to follow our community. It was the same with the APAC region recently. When we see a spike in a region that we don’t address yet, it means the market is ready and people have an appetite to start shopping or selling secondhand. That’s the organic side that drives the business side. We follow the demand and open the business. That was the story of those past 10 years and now we have offices in Paris, London, Milan, Berlin, New York City and Hong Kong.

IRW: You said that you built Vestiaire to have a strong brand. What does that look like?

FM: The Vestiaire brand is an inclusive brand that speaks to a wide range of women from the 20-year-old student who wants to buy a pair of Yeezys to the woman who collects Hermès bags. It’s very wide. I think it’s also an engaging brand in the sense that first we preach that there’s a new sustainable way of behaving with your wardrobe, but we also respect the industry and craftsmanship of the brands. We know what’s a luxury item, and we’ve built everything to protect the brands and craftsmanship. We have an authenticity and quality check, which is very important, so in that respect, we are highly engaged.

We are a fun brand and consider ourselves a fashion playground, so we always have an innovative way of treating the secondhand business. But we have a very close relationship with our community and talk to them in an engaging and fun way that’s not too serious.

IRW: What plans do you have for the business this year?

FM: APAC is a big focus for us this year, as I personally relocated to Hong Kong 18 months ago. For us, it was the missing piece in the world. We’re already a leader in Europe, building and boosting the business in the US and Asia was the next big thing on the roadmap. Hong Kong is our HQ in Asia and we also operate in Singapore and Australia. The idea is to grow the number of countries we talk to in the following months or years.

We also hired Max Bittner as our CEO. He used to be at Adidas, and with him, it’s a new era for the business. We have a lot of exciting plans and ideas we’re working on. One of them is around being mobile-first and we’re working on a lot of new services and features that will  go live later this year. It’s quite a big investment in terms of the tech side of the business.

We just released a new commission scheme, it was one of the first projects Max worked on. And we’re decreasing our commission fee to give value back to our consumers and our members.

IRW: Compared to the rest of the world, do you think Australian consumers are interested in sustainability?

FM: For me, Australians are leading the way in terms of sustainable behaviour. Vogue sustainability editor-at-large Clare Press is an amazing example of how serious you guys are in terms of understanding and tackling this massive issue.

The reception of our concept in Australia has been amazing and what we can see is that women are buying more clothes on our site than anywhere in the world. Australians shop more towards designers than pure luxury. It is reflected in the average baskets from Australians, compared to other countries like Hong Kong, which are very high and tilted towards luxury – it’s almost €4000, whereas in Australia, it’s $400.

IRW: How does the shopping process work for the customer online?

FM: We have a million products on the platform, and we have three ways of getting products on Vestiaire. The main one is the C2C model. An individual seller will put on the site what he or she has in her wardrobe. Once the item is sold, the product will be shipped to us for authenticity if it’s a luxury piece, then we’ll ship it to the buyer.

We don’t own the inventory as a business, it’s all with the sellers.

The second service we have is a white-glove system, the conciergerie, where we do the job for you [this is not available in Australia]. We send a VIP manager to you to collect the pieces you want to sell, process everything for you, like writing the description, choosing a price, taking pictures and storing the items. You just have to wait for the product to sell and cash your money.

The third one is the B2C, where we enable some physical or professional players to sell on Vestiaire. We have professional secondhand stores that are using the platform to sell.

Most of the business comes from individual sellers, so one of the challenges is to educate people to sell across the board, to keep them coming back over time to sell more of the right products that are on-trend. It’s definitely a challenge, but again, consumers are moving towards this more sustainable way of dealing with their wardrobes. It’s a good challenge and in the past 10 years, we’ve done  a good job of educating people, with resale becoming more and more popular.

IRW: Do you have any plans to bridge the gap between on- and offline?

FM: We don’t have immediate plans to launch a shop but we do have local initiatives, like in Asia, we did a partnership with Joyce, the concept store in Hong Kong. We were physically in the store for a few days in a row to help people declutter their wardrobes. Right now in Europe, we’ve done one pop-up and then we’re going to do another concession in Selfridges. It was a huge success and both a buying and selling opportunity – people could buy vintage items and sell their wardrobes. There are other plans for different markets, too. Selfridges will be more long term, but the others will be short-term projects.

Above and beyond the pop-ups, we regularly invite a group of top buyers onto the site to meet. In Singapore recently, we went out for drinks to say hello and get feedback. It’s very important to get that contact and be able to have that experience in real life. This is something we can treasure. I was doing it quite a lot in Europe and Hong Kong too. It’s a permanent thing. We want to keep meeting new people, understand them and involve them more. It’s a real community and there’s a feeling of belonging beyond just the business. We’re all passionate about the same thing at the end of the day, fashion, and we like to physically meet and chat about it.

IRW: What are some of the biggest challenges of working in the luxury secondhand space?

FM: For me, the first one is the trust element which comes down to fakes and how you deal with that massive problem. From the first day of Vestiaire, it was a major concern. We wanted to enable a seller to sell her wardrobe to a buyer, but we want to own that trust by being a middleman who can impartially judge the item in terms of quality and authenticity. So we’ve built a great team who check both authenticity and quality of garments daily. These people come from the luxury houses themselves and from auction houses, so they’re super-trained.

We also created our own Vestiaire Academy to train our newcomers to the business. The process goes for around six months where they go through different stages and lessons and improve their knowledge of different brands and categories. It’s a big investment for us.

We also signed the Fight against Online Counterfeit Charter back in 2012. It’s a strong commitment from us to bring the trust between buyers and sellers. The charter allows us to work closely with other luxury brands to ensure zero tolerance of counterfeit goods.

Another thing is when you deal with luxury and with products from amazing brands, you need to be at a certain level to be credible, desirable and trustworthy. It’s about how you build the brand for people to feel that you’re a credible player in the industry.

IRW: You’ve said that educating customers is the key to encouraging a change in their behaviour towards sustainability. Tell me about the new guide that you just launched for customers.

FM: We launched it last week. We really wanted to launch a user-friendly guide that really looks at circular fashion, so people really understand what it is to live a sustainable life and can actually implement those practices in their day-to-day living.

We commissioned a survey with 18,000 people across the 10 key markets in which Vestiaire operates, Australia being one, and the findings were really interesting. Australians are some of the most sustainable customers in the world. But while 72 per cent think sustainability is important, what also stood out was that only 15 per cent people had heard of the term “circular fashion”.

There’s still a lot of work that can be done in the education and awareness space. Actually in terms of circular practices, 52 per cent of people choose to donate items to charities, while 33 per cent resell and buy secondhand. There’s still work to be done. We’ve come leaps and bounds already, but it’s still a work in progress.

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