The Rise of the NOwners and Wardrobe Recycling

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Fanny Moizant, one of the six co-founders of the Vestiaire Collective: “The reselling business is all about people being able to enjoy new products and then reselling as quickly as possible.”

​‘NOwners’, consumers who prefer not to own goods but instead to share and trade, are driving a new industry based on access to products over ownership of them.

‘NOwners’, consumers who prefer not to own goods but instead to share and trade, are driving a new industry based on access to products over ownership of them.

Take, for example, ride-hailing apps Uber and Zipcar; entertainment-streaming platforms Netflix and Spotify; online hospitality platform Airbnb; and co-sharing space WeWork. These companies may sound the death knell for traditional industries such as cable television or physical CDs.

Wardrobe recycling is part of the movement. Whether you’re a thrifty luxury buyer or a fashion addict needing to de-clutter, love for pre-loved apparel is on the rise. At the heart of this is Vestiaire Collective, a luxury French reselling site that launched in 2009, and has grown 50-60 percent each year in its top markets of France, UK and the US each year since. It offers an online catalogue of more than 600,000 “carefully curated” items, with around 30,000 new items submitted by sellers each day.

The company is leveraging the tangible shift in luxury consumer patterns, says Fanny Moizant, one of the six co-founders of the platform. It comes down to, she says, the opposite attitudes towards owning, of baby boomers and Millennials.

“My mother used to buy a coat that she would almost use for life, an investment piece that would last over the winters,” recalls Moizant. “She would treasure that piece, make sure it was well protected and so on. Today we go for the latest trend or something that appeals in that moment. We buy something for a year, a season, and then it’s out of favour.”

Social media is partly the cause of our shift in attitude, Moizant believes. By the time a collection arrives in the shops, it’s old hat.

“With the immediacy of social media you see something on the catwalk and six months later you don’t want it anymore, because you’ve seen it everywhere,” she says. “There is something that is shifting for sure because [the fashion industry] is not sustainable anymore. The reselling business is all about people being able to enjoy new products and then reselling as quickly as possible.”

Moizant has just moved her husband and two daughters, aged 10 and 12, from London to Hong Kong. After Vestiaire’s fifth round of funding, including a US$65 million cash injection, she has a mandate to grow the business here. Starting with Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by Korea and Japan and, ultimately, China, they’re all totally distinct markets, she says. But Asia represents largely untapped business and a huge opportunity, currently representing less than 5 percent of its sales.

“I am here to understand the Asian consumer. In our main markets, you have buying countries and selling countries. For example, France and Italy, as the mother countries of fashion, have huge pools of sellers, while Germany and the UK are buyer countries,” she adds.

“Hong Kong will, I think, be similar to London,” says Moizant. “There will be social pockets with big, big sellers, who will be the ones craving VIP service [an add-on where Vestiaire Collective collects your items and processes them, including photography, pricing, stock-holding, for a 35 percent fee, as opposed to 25 percent for its regular service].”

Despite having a large pool of wealthy social butterflies, Hong Kong is not a market without challenges. At the Asia launch event at Hong Kong’s The Upper House this year, one fashionista said many Hong Kongers would balk at owning a second-hand handbag, because of the social stigma. Others point out that second-hand goods can be associated with bad feng shui, or energy. Another suggested the lack of trust towards the recycled market in Hong Kong is because of the proliferation of fakes in next-door neighbouring China.

Moizant hopes to bat away counterfeit concerns with Vestiaire’s rigorous authenticity team, some of whom are Sotheby’s and Christie’s alumni. As for people’s attitudes and beliefs, they are harder to change. But Moizant says her company offers something for everyone. It’s the perfect solution, she believes, for people who are frugally or sustainably minded, and those who are the opposite.

“We appeal to three different behaviours. The savvy ones who want a bargain or can’t afford a designer bag at full price, as well as the fashionistas who are treasure hunting for the perfect, rare or vintage piece. And then there are the well-heeled social butterflies who can’t be seen in the same outfit twice. They simply need space in their wardrobe, and they also get a buzz out of seeing their items go to a loving new home.”

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