It wasn’t long ago that a luxury house wouldn’t even comment on the secondhand, resale, or consignment trend. Some had concerns over authenticity and quality, while others disliked having zero control over price, seasonality, or presentation. Despite the market’s rapid growth, the general sense for years was that “firsthand” and “secondhand” fashion were separate entities, separate conversations, separate customers.
What a difference a few years—and a pandemic—can make. Last week, Kering, the owner of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, and other luxury houses, acquired a 5% stake in French consignment e-tailer Vestiaire Collective. In a year of shrinking revenues and closed businesses, Vestiaire grew by more than 100%, buoyed by our heightened climate change awareness, #WFH-inspired closet cleanses, and a growing Gen Z clientele. Kering’s $215 million infusion pushed Vestiaire’s valuation over $1 billion; the secondhand market itself is expected to reach $60 billion by 2025.
To many, it reads simply as a wise investment. It shouldn’t feel entirely surprising, either; many of Kering’s brands have already experimented with resale, from Gucci’s collaboration with The RealReal to Alexander McQueen’s new buy-back program in partnership with Vestiaire Collective. As part of Vestiaire’s new Brand Approved service, McQueen is gathering pre-owned items from customers in its stores (in exchange for store credit), then sending them to Vestiaire to be authenticated and sold online, with a special note that the pieces were approved by the house.
Now that Kering has an official seat on Vestiaire’s board, can we expect similar buy-back programs at Saint Laurent or Balenciaga? Will Bottega Veneta’s Instagram make a comeback with entirely secondhand products? Grégory Boutté, Kering’s chief client and digital officer, says neither is guaranteed nor off limits. The investment was made at the “brand level,” meaning Kering’s houses are under no obligation to partner with Vestiaire or engage with resale at all. However, it’s unlikely they’d ignore the movement.
“I’m very bullish about this,” Boutté says. “Given the energy around this topic and the creativity of our houses, I’m confident there will be tons of ideas. Some could be with partners [like Vestiaire Collective], some could be internal… McQueen is a really good example. The bet we are making is it’s creating a bit of a ‘flywheel’ effect. If you’re bringing your pieces to a McQueen store to sell secondhand, and you use the credits to shop the new collection, and other times you buy vintage… The more you do this, the more engaged you are with the house, and [the more inclined you are] to keep buying these high-quality pieces that can have several lives. More and more of our clients are thinking about circularity that way, and our younger clients are paying extra attention to sustainability. Both are going to shape the luxury industry for decades to come.”
“We are in a transformation phase,” adds Fanny Moizant, the cofounder of Vestiaire Collective. She outlined a strategy for Kering’s investment with an ambitious “roadmap,” including achieving carbon neutrality by 2026; getting Vestiaire Collective certified as a B Corp; helping Vestiaire customers reduce their own impact by connecting them with local sellers; and, more broadly, “triggering systemic change in the industry.” To Moizant, the big picture isn’t just that luxury and resale are newly compatible; it’s that resale has the potential to alter the entire fashion industry for the better. “The more we grow the pie of resale—not just on Vestiaire, but across the whole industry—at some point, it should mean brands can reduce their production of new items,” she explains. (A study conducted with Boston Consulting Group found the number of secondhand items in our closets is expected to grow from 21% this year to 27% in 2023.)
“What we are fighting against is really fast fashion,” Moizant says. “Firsthand [luxury] fashion is not the devil here—it’s quality product that can have several lives. We love fashion, and we’re here to celebrate the creativity and craftsmanship of it. But what we hate is the ‘take, make, waste’ mentality, where a whole part of the industry is producing clothes for people who will wear it once or twice and discard it immediately. That has to stop.”
The transformation will likely begin with more Brand Approved collaborations like McQueen’s, but it’s also easy to imagine a future where Vestiaire is simply powering the logistics and tech behind brands’ own buy-back programs. Boutté predicted that in the next five or 10 years, every luxury brand will need to have some sort of take-back scheme, whether in partnership with Vestiaire or fully in-house. “Taking back pieces you no longer use is going to become a service that every luxury brand will have to offer,” he says. “I would say that 10 years from now, when we tell our kids that service didn’t always exist, they’ll say, ‘How is that even possible? How much waste did that create?’ I think the shift is here to stay, and houses will need to adapt and make it a basic service.” He didn’t mention repair services, but it was implied. As we shift our focus to high-quality, long-lasting items that can be worn, repaired, and consigned (and then consigned again), our perceptions of newness will change, too, so a vintage or pre-loved item may become even more valuable than a brand-spanking-new one.
Moizant says another force could help drive that change: regulations. Her team is talking to the United Nations about creating incentives for circular models—not just in fashion, but in all industries. “It’s going to require every piece of the puzzle [to work],” she says. “I think the shift is going to be massive, and hopefully fast. I’m very excited for what the new fashion industry will be in five, ten, twenty years. It’s going to be far more virtuous.”