Luxury Resellers Are Giving Fashion a Second Life

The burgeoning market for 'pre-loved' goods

Threadflip’s Singh adds that most women wear only 5-10 percent of what’s in their closets, and are looking for ways to turn unused luxury accessories into cash—either as a way of economizing, or as a way of financing the purchase of more luxury goods. “We’re giving people a way to monetize what has traditionally been a static asset,” he says. “A big industry is being disrupted here. Traditionally, the only way to refresh your closet was to go to the local consignment shop and have a poor experience, or go to eBay.”

Ah yes, eBay. “The World’s Online Marketplace,” as eBay bills itself, now does business in over 30 countries and closes some 1 billion transactions every single day. Yet it’s an ecosystem that’s grown too large and undifferentiated, say critics, to adequately manage the unique demands of luxury buyers. As Whang puts it: “You just don’t feel right about buying a pre-owned Chanel bag that’s also on the same site as used-car parts.”

There’s a darker reason here, too. Not only is eBay simply too large to manage customer-service complaints with a personal touch, the site has a reputation—deserved or not—for counterfeit merchandise. When Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy hauled eBay into a French court in 2008, the luxury brand charged that a staggering 90 percent of the Dior perfume and Louis Vuitton bags selling on eBay were fake. The site countered that it has a global staff dedicated to spotting counterfeits and that most dubious merchandise is removed before auctions close. But consumer wariness remains, and that anxiety is the fertile soil from which this new crop of luxury resellers has sprouted.

Simply put, nobody’s going to plunk down $30,000 for a used Hermès Birkin bag unless there’s a guarantee behind it—the kind that eBay cannot provide, and the kind that most luxury resellers do. contracts with a third-party authenticator that reviews all posted items. offers its Portero Promise—a five-pronged customer-service pledge that includes a money-back guarantee of authenticity. “We wouldn’t still be in business if we had any issues surrounding that,” Clarbour says. requires all sellers to ship their items to its headquarters first where Shanfeld has all the items authenticated. But what’s more interesting is who does the authenticating: employees of the nearby luxury-brand boutiques.

Shanfeld’s unusual and hard-won arrangement raises another of luxury resale’s delicate questions: Are these sites hurting the business of the very luxury brands they trade in? Adweek contacted Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana, but none responded by press time. For her part, Shanfeld says no. “We’re not cannibalizing brands—we want to work with brands,” she says. The Shop-Hers founder incentivizes boutique sales clerks to help her with authentication by offering them something in return: a ready resale market to recommend to customers who might be iffy about spending full price. Put another way, she says, “We offer last year’s bag so shoppers can afford this year’s bag.”

It’s certainly an interesting argument—that resale indirectly fuels full-price traffic. The O Group’s Cohen agrees with the point in concept but maintains that the effects are more nuanced. On the one hand, he says, “a well-structured secondary market is a great complement to luxury brands by increasing their reach, and consumers might be more willing to buy [full-price] luxury knowing that they can sell off their purchases later.” But Cohen also says that a slightly used, deeply discounted designer bag “might also discourage some aspirational consumer from buying a new piece.” He adds that traditional discounters—the Loehmann’s and factory outlet villages—may find their market share under threat.

Maybe so. For now, though, online resellers prefer to take a longer, and certainly more benevolent, view of consignment’s morphing into the digital age—that it drops luxury’s exclusionary pretense, increases access and celebrates individuality. “Maybe that customer couldn’t afford the Chloé bag at the store, but she has the opportunity to purchase one from us,” says Vaunte co-founder Christian Leone. Whang says that sites like SnobSwap offer a sorely needed retort to chains like Uniqlo and H&M. “With so many fast-fashion stores, everybody’s wearing the same thing,” she says. Resale, she says, “gives people something exciting to talk about—‘I found this vintage Chanel bag for this price!’ It’s a conversation starter. It’s part of the excitement of shopping.”

And what is fashion anyway, if not that?

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