A second chance

Elizabeth Mathew | Updated on January 17, 2018
Round two: Rigorous checking is done and experts are called in to help authenticate a luxury branded bag when it comes in for resale.

Round two: Rigorous checking is done and experts are called in to help authenticate a luxury branded bag when it comes in for resale.   -  Confidential Couture

Appreciating investment: A Chanel 2.55 medium flap from 2004, for example, will fetch the same rate as one bought today.

Appreciating investment: A Chanel 2.55 medium flap from 2004, for example, will fetch the same rate as one bought today.   -  Shutterstock

An industry developing around second-hand luxury goods is making high-end fashion affordable for a larger demographic

‘Pre-loved’, ‘gently used’, ‘nearly new’ — there are many different ways of saying second-hand and just as many different websites ready to sell you luxury at a reduced rate.

In the TV show that single-handedly created a religion out of luxe consumerism — Sex and the City — brand-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica-Parker) once quipped famously, “I like my money right where I can see it — hanging in my closet!”

And she’s not alone, sharing her sentiment is a large section of online shoppers who are increasingly looking for ways to show off their coveted brands, but without breaking the bank. Of the millions of HNIs in the country who can afford to spend a lakh on a handbag, only 0.43 per cent can actually buy it without thinking twice, says Vijay KG, co-founder of Luxepolis. Unlike China, he adds, where even the upper middle class doesn’t think twice before buying expensive luxury goods, people here are extremely careful about expenses and value, no matter how rich they are.

Vijay started Luxepolis after he saw the huge gap in the luxury goods market, where brands were having a hard time creating a physical presence in India, though their products were very much in demand. The answer was to go online, also because, 44 per cent of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNIs) in India live outside the metros, while luxury brands had exclusive stores only in certain metro cities.

The market really opened up when brands took to social media and awareness increased in leaps and bounds. You don’t need to be in the vicinity of a Louis Vuitton store to know their window display this season — an Instagram account will do. Add to this, the fact that celebrities are seen carrying and endorsing brands like Tory Burch, Céline and Tony Matcieveski — and suddenly awareness levels are higher for even a niche British designer or a Lebanese couture brand like Ralph & Russo. “So, awareness has increased, along with visibility of brands, but not so much affordability,” says Vijay. Since the most coveted brands like Louis Vuitton never go on sale, the odds of someone on a budget hoping to own an LV drops significantly — and this is where Luxepolis aims to come in.

Sourcing bags from liquidation stock at the end of a season, as well as individual sellers who are looking to sell pre-owned goods at a lower rate, the website aims to give these goods a second home. With a proper authentication method in place, and by providing a guarantee, Vijay says that the site has gone from strength to strength since they launched last year. With an average transaction value of ₹33,500 and 40 per cent repeat customer rate, they believe that they have found a space that’s sure to grow.

One of the first players to tap into the “pre-loved” goods category was Confidential Couture back in 2014. Started by Anvita Mehra, after she tried a second-hand purchase online abroad and loved the experience, Confidential Couture was created to recreate the experience that she wanted in India.

A portal that both buys and sells luxury items that were previously owned, Mehra says they have a rigorous two-step authentication process to ensure that a minimum level of quality is maintained. The first step is done in-house when they receive the bag, for example, and a checklist is used to eliminate fakes and gauge the condition. The second step involves clicking 80-100 images of each item in great detail, to send to their authentication partner abroad.

When people think of second-hand, they assume ‘I’m going to get a smelly bag!’, but that’s not the case. Second-hand simply means that a bag will look like you yourself have used it before — it will have creases and tarnishes that a piece naturally acquires with age, according to Mehra. “And luckily for us,” she adds, “people in India take good care of their luxury goods!”

Confidential tries to ensure a familiar luxury experience with the second-hand product. When they ship out a product, Mehra says, they go all out with the China tissue, a dust bag, a well-packaged product that gives you an experience very similar to what you would get if you were buying from a luxury store.

About 40 per cent of buyers, says Mehra, are from tier II and III cities, while the sellers are mostly from metro cities. And with discounts ranging from 10-30 per cent for a brand new product (in its original packaging) to 35-60 per cent for a ‘gently used’ product that’s in good condition, to a huge 65-80 per cent discount on a ‘frequently used’ product (one that is still functional and has no missing parts, but looks aged), there is something for every one on such websites.

Pricing depends on the designer, year of manufacturing, whether it’s a classic style, and many other factors. A Chanel 2.55 medium flap from 2004, for example, will fetch the same rate as one bought today — the value has only appreciated, thanks to the cult status of the 2.55.

“The holy grail of ‘must-haves’ include mainly Chanel, Hermés and Louis Vuitton,” observes Mehra. Mostly because these brands never go on sale, you’ll never find a Dior outlet in the world, adds Chitra Goenka, founder of Label Centric. These premium brands have the highest resale value, as do classics, as well as discontinued pieces like limited editions, she adds.

A black Bottega Veneta knot clutch, for example, would never go for anything less than full value. Seasonal colours of the same knot bag may go on sale but the classic black is so much in demand, that you’ll never get it for less. This is where websites like these come into play.

Goenka’s idea for Label Centric came about over lunch with friends one day, when they were all complaining about the space last season’s handbags were taking up in their closet. They didn’t want to just give it away — they did spend a lot of money on it — but they were sure they wouldn’t want to use it again. That’s when she came up with the idea of finding a way to ‘recycle’ high-end fashion.

But it’s not only the hunt for a good bargain that drives people to these sites. According to Goenka, access is another driving factor. Brands like Prada, Tory Burch or Balenciaga do not have a physical store in the country and online stores don’t deliver to India yet, but on resale sites like this, you never know what treasures you could stumble upon. She also confirms that much of the traffic on her site comes from tier II cities. “Places like Ranchi, Firozabad and Raipur are where we end up shipping to. One of the main reasons we opted for an online store was to cater to these customers,” she adds.

While most products on these sites are a season or more old, there are also brand new products that find their way there. For people who receive bags that don’t suit their taste as gifts, or shoes that are the wrong size, these sites are a great way to get rid of them and buy something else instead. And when they are looking to resell a product, if it comes in its original packaging, with a dust bag, shoulder strap and all accessories, they will get a higher price, says Goenka.

Goenka gives the example of a seller who wanted to resell a bag she bought just the day before. The reason? She hadn’t realised how heavy the bag was when she bought it, and she had already thrown the bill away. The solution? Put it up for sale on a site like Label Centric, where someone gets to buy a practically brand new bag at a slight discount, and the lady gets her money back — possibly to invest in a bag more suited to her.

In India, the audience does look at luxury as a status symbol, says Goenka, which is why you see that the demand is highest for monogrammed bags. The more brand conscious people get, the more they want to be seen with the right brand. And for first time buyers, these websites offer a taste of luxury, without hitting the pocket too hard. It’s a great first step into the world of branded luxury goods.

Published on July 20, 2016

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