Based on the media soundbites alone, one would owe the recent resale boom to the rise of the eco-conscious consumer. The resounding message: Since the start of the pandemic, shoppers have taken more care to consider their purchase choices. As a result, they’re foregoing supporting the primary market, in favor of buying less-taxing-on-the-environment secondhand styles.
But in actuality, are shoppers just looking for a deal in increasingly unstable times?
According to industry leaders speaking earlier this week at Glossy’s Future of Fashion Summit, whether shopping resale apparel or clothing produced using more sustainable processes, consumers still regard sustainability as a perk or afterthought. Price is a bigger purchase driver, and style trumps all.
“Everybody [in the fashion industry] has rallied around the notion that the product still has to check the box; the average customer isn’t going to sacrifice aesthetic or price for sustainability,” said Stuart Ahlum, co-founder of circular sneaker brand Thousand Fell.
Hassan Pierre, co-founder and CEO of six-year-old fashion marketplace Maison de Mode, echoed the sentiment. “We’re first and foremost a luxury retailer, so aesthetics come first; that’s the No. 1 reason we bring any brand onto the platform,” he said. That’s despite that the company describes itself as a luxury ethical marketplace, requiring the products it sells to meet one of its 11 social and environmental standards.
And Elizabeth Layne, CMO of luxury resale marketplace Rebag, said, “While we think resale as part of the sustainability equation, we don’t overly promote it.” While some of its customers see Rebag as a sustainable option for purchasing, many others “just find resale as a more accessible option, from a price point perspective,” she said.
And investors are showing they believe resale’s recent success transcends any pandemic-related trends. In September alone, streetwear resale marketplace Grailed raised $60 million from investors including GOAT Group and handbag resale platform Tradesy raised $67 million. Luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective closed a $210 million funding round, bringing its valuation to $1.7 billion. Also this year, resale platforms Poshmark and ThredUp went public, and Depop sold to Etsy for $1.6 billion. According to a June 2021 report by ThredUp and GlobalData Retail, the resale market is worth $36 billion and is expected to reach $77 billion by 2025.
A leader in luxury resale, Vestiaire Collective is clearly prioritizing winning price-conscious consumers (competitor The RealReal went public with its own $1.7 billion valuation in 2019). Its product pages are not void of sustainability messaging — they feature the option to “reduce your item’s journey to save on CO2 costs” by having it ship directly from the seller. But more glaring are the money-saving options. Shoppers can opt to make payments via payment provider Klarna, use a discount code, make an offer to the seller versus purchase the product for the featured price, and be notified if and when the product’s price drops.
“Vestiaire connects 11 million members [in more than 80 countries] by continuously improving the tech features that make their experience unique on our platform,” said Sophie Hersan, co-founder and fashion director of Vestiaire Collective. “We’ve learned to listen to our community’s needs and adapt quickly, and over time, we’ve improved the experience to be logical and effortless.” The U.S. recently surpassed Europe as Vestiaire Collective’s top market, based on sales.
Hersan said that the use of the “Make an Offer” function, which allows shoppers to offer sellers 70% or more of an item’s listing price, has increased by 94% year-over-year. However, “the best deals go fast and without offers,” she said.
To attract sellers, the company takes 0% commission on their first listing of under $300 and has “some of the lowest seller fees in the market,” she said. The company’s commission varies according to a product’s price, but its cut is 20% for items priced $500-$10,000. The RealReal’s commission also varies, but it takes 30% on handbags priced $995-$4,994, for comparison.
However, sustainability is indeed a big consideration for the company. It became the first fashion reseller to achieve B Corp status last month. And it backs a QR code-based initiative, called “Follow the Leaf,” allowing customers to scan purchased items to see the impact they’re making by buying secondhand. “The simple act of buying a secondhand bag on the platform versus buying a new bag can reduce the environmental impact [of the purchase] by up to 91%,” said Hersan.
Overall, for resale companies, it seems the approach to messaging sustainability is to make ample information available for those who care about such factors, but don’t make it the lead.
Across the fashion industry, companies are looking to connect with increasingly conscious shoppers in search of better buys. But, to a good extent, they’re letting those shoppers come to them. Fear of being accused of green-washing is no doubt a factor.
“At the end of the day, you are consuming something [when you shop resale],” said Layne, regarding Rebag’s reasoning for not hyping sustainability. “But we do think it’s a great option, in that you’re sort of extending the lifecycle of a luxury good.”
But tides may soon be turning as consumers’ priorities continue to shift.
“In the last couple of years, more people are shopping [sustainability] first,” said Ahlum.
As such, Chloe Songer, co-founder of Thousand Fell, added, “When we pivot our marketing messaging to [circularity] education, our site traffic bumps up by 70% and our sales bump up 80%. That’s when we’re talking about [fashion’s waste] problem, versus just posting UGC or influencer photos of sneakers, where you lose engagement over time.”
Educating the customer on such issues also works to build community, Songer said. To back that up, she pointed to the rising popularity of education platforms like Future Earth and of sustainability-focused infographics being shared on social platforms. “People are craving that education,” she said.
On TikTok, where the brand has 2,500 followers, its most popular post shows stats on the amount of landfill waste stemming from fashion. It has 61,000 views and 18,000 likes.
“Resale and rental are awesome — they’re the first two pillars of the circular economy. But they only act as a loan,” said Songer. “At the end of the day, 85% of that textile poundage, or that fiber, is still going to a landfill. And over 60% of that is synthetic or plastic.”
Within the last year, 30-year-old women’s fashion brand Silvia Tcherassi started selling through Maison de Mode to “express and expose” its own history of sustainability efforts, like using upcycled materials, said Mauricio Tcherassi, the brand’s chief innovation officer. It had never spotlighted sustainability in its messaging prior.
“With the world changing all the time, we’re all trying to figure out what [storytelling] works best,” he said.
‘Affiliate is the new PR’: Brand executives on effective customer acquisition
At this week’s Future of Fashion Summit in Miami, Glossy hosted a town hall discussion on the challenges facing attending industry executives. A large portion of the group conversation centered on customer acquisition.
“Now that the world has been flipped on its head, is there something right now that’s really working, in terms of acquiring customers and getting the word out?” asked the head marketer of a decades-old fine jewelry business. So far, the company’s operated solely on referrals and inbound inquiries versus paid marketing. It’s now considering launching a ready-to-wear line, with pieces priced $450-$10,000, and a corresponding marketing strategy.
“There are just so many opportunities — social ads, Google ads, giveaways, pop-ups,” she said. “We have really competitive prices, so it’s interesting for me in setting a marketing budget. If I want to keep my pricing the way it’s always been in private sales, I have to have a really small marketing budget — or I just have to shift [priorities] and get the name out there.”
The room of fashion executives, which was heavy in marketers, chimed in with suggestions. Among them:
“Test [around] as quickly as you can. Google [search] works over time, while Facebook and Instagram ads are a bit more immediate. And local links are your strongest assets.”
“Pinterest is surprisingly a bigger converter than Instagram is, when it comes to jewelry. So if you’re trying to figure out how to divide your marketing budget, look at Pinterest and Instagram.”
“You’re probably going to need to talk to some influencers. That’s always a challenge because you have to find the right ones that have the right message. If you’re working with a small budget, it’s going to be a lot of doing your own vetting and being careful by looking at what an influencer’s covered and what [content] they have out there. Don’t be afraid to target someone who has less than 10,000 followers. Those are the people you can usually get for product, instead of cash.”
“Working with an influencer agency is going to be a lot [more costly] than if you’re organically reaching out to someone. But because you have a premium product and want to work with a really specific person, I would suggest working with an influencer marketing agency.”
“For really high-cost items, I would recommend hiring a high-end, well-known photographer — somebody who wouldn’t necessarily work with influencers or Instagram models. The influencers come over, and you style them in hair and makeup and put $10,000 rings on their fingers. Then they get these beautiful photographs of themselves and share the tags. You aren’t gifting them, plus you get amazing content and not shitty selfies.”
“Affiliates are important, especially when you’re direct-to-consumer. On the PR side, a lot of publications won’t cover you if they’re not going to get an affiliate link because of where the world is going. So I always say that, if you’re building out a new website, make sure you get on Skimlinks because that’s 90% of what the publications are using. Reaching out to journalists in the consumer space is not where it was when I first started out 15 years ago. It’s a totally different space.”
“But I still love PR, in terms of thought leadership. I [use it to] target thought leadership opportunities for my CMO, CFO and CEO. But affiliate is where you want to be for ‘The Top 10 this or that,’ and ‘The Top 5 that for this.’ Affiliate is the new PR.”
Glossy asked its 17,000 Instagram followers whether they agree if “affiliate is the new PR.” Fifty-seven percent said yes.
Inside our coverage
Neiman Marcus’ new content strategy is big on video.
How fashion brands are navigating new shipping delays.
Aleali May on years of partnering with the Jordan brand.
What we’re reading
Inside the hype house for mega TikTok influencers.
Indie fashion brands are exploring the metaverse.
Welcome to the era of MerchTainment.