Towards the end of September, Gucci launched a unique online concept store, Vault, showcasing exquisite pre-owned pieces handpicked by creative director Alessandro Michele, besides new creations. Soon after, Jean Paul Gaultier announced a runway rental service, along with a second-hand marketplace for vintage items sourced from private clients and resellers. Whether it’s the love for vintage designs or to embrace slower fashion, it’s safe to say the one trend that’s being followed by many designers, big or small, in the pandemic era is offering preloved clothes, jewellery and other accessories that celebrate old-world charm.
It’s certainly a good business opportunity too. Globally, the second-hand apparel market, valued at $28 billion (around ₹2 trillion) in June, is forecast to hit $64 billion within five years, says a report by ThredUP, the world’s largest online thrift store, and research firm GlobalData Retail. By 2029, 17% of a person’s share of closet space will be second-hand; the figure was 3% in 2009.
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Closer home, the demand for secondhand items seems to be increasing. While there is no official data on the growth of the stores offering preloved clothes and accessories, a look at the recent 440,000-plus posts with #thriftindia on Instagram gives an idea of the rise in interest.
It wasn’t the case two years ago, says Diva Dhawan, who along with Gabriella Demetriades, founded VRTT Vintage, an online store that offers pre-owned vintage luxury. “The initial scepticism towards secondhand products could be attributed to external validation as people were embarrassed to be seen in pre-owned things but now there’s a gradual shift in terms of conscious buying,” she says.
The nuts and bolts
Any conversation around the culture of investing in preloved vintage clothes and accessories is incomplete without shining the spotlight on northeast India. Buying secondhand clothes has been popular in the Northeast region for years, a trend that’s now spreading to other areas as well. “We have grown up wearing secondhand clothes. The region has a huge role to play in the pre-owned fashion market,” says Manipur-based Lumri Jajo, who along with her sister Linno, started the Instagram boutique store Folkpants in 2019. Their aesthetically curated feed drubs the preconceived notions around thrift stores.
Explaining their approach to make old clothes look fresh, she says, “We try to put together appealing images to present the pieces and collaborate with upcoming artists and creatives.” Their vintage products are priced between ₹600 to ₹4,000.
Scaling divergent heights is Luu Liu, a vintage lingerie Instagram store founded by best friends Celia and Jang (who use only one names), also from Manipur. Their collective effort to break the stigma around second-hand intimate wear makes way for dreamy lace bras, and well-constructed corsets and bustiers.
The idea of buying second-hand lingerie irks a lot of people. Parents often discourage young, more conscious buyers, to invest in them, says Celia.
Brands like Luu Liu, however, well understand that to run a successful business offering good, clean products is non-negotiable.
“We get asked a lot of questions pertaining to quality and hygiene. Since we wear them ourselves, we buy the clothes which are in good condition with signs of being worn lightly or which can be given life for a longer span,” she claims. “All our pieces are hand-washed or laundered and steamed.”
Besides ensuring quality checks, secondhand fashion brands are also delving into more creative interventions to breathe a fresh lease of life into pre-owned clothes. Conceived in quaintly secluded vintage shops of Paris, stylist Divya Saini’s online store Bodements is a testament to her nuanced understanding of fashion. In addition to her exclusive vintage treasures hand-picked from across around the world, Saini has recently launched her first upcycled collection made of pre-loved saris, Neelam—named after her mother. “There are different ways we offer customisations since each piece is unique, made from a single sari and has no second options,” she says. “Clients can either give their saris or opt from our stock and we can make a design. We want to keep the inventory minimal.”
Code of transparency
While every small business faces challenges, the ones specific to the secondhand vintage fashion market could be narrowed down to educating consumers about the lifecycle of luxury products and building a loyal customer base.
Dhawan explains, “There’s a two-step verification process—in-house and a third party vetting procedure. We follow a strictly anonymous process where the buyer wouldn’t know who they are buying from, and maintain complete transparency on the condition of the product and take the prospective buyers through video calls where our trained professionals show every angle of the product—whether you want to see the flap, metal, zip, or the inside of it.” She goes on, “We refrain from using filters on our product images so that you get what you see.”
Saini adds it is imperative to deal only with verified sellers. The process usually involves checking the fabric, labels, brand/designer tags, inner linings and even stitches. “Before you step into a vintage store, research on the kind of products they stock. Sometimes a store may say it’s vintage but would be filled with second-hand fast fashion brands or cheap vintage knock-offs,” she recommends.
That’s not the only challenge. The increase in interest in thrift stores has made it difficult to find more “trendy” pieces as opposed to unique vintage ones. Lumri stresses that it gets down to opening a pile before any other thrift account owner gets their hands on it, as the competition to source the best and before everyone else has become stiff.
For Celia, running a vintage lingerie store on Instagram made her take the tough decision of switching to a private account setting to keep the trolls at bay. “It does affect our reach and hinders sales too but we prioritise a safe space for our customers,” she clarifies.
Dhawan, meanwhile, points out that when it comes to secondhand shoes, the response has been hot and cold. They are a bit difficult to sell in comparison to bags, not for hygiene issues but more so for fit and sizing concerns, she says. “We get a lot of vintage luxury heels in stock and understand clients wanting to try it out before buying. While the Mumbai-based clients can avail of at-home trial service, our professionals try their best to offer virtual consultations for others,” she says.
With more people gaining a perspective of trans-seasonal style, brands are hopeful to look past the hurdles of the second-hand market and break free from the entrapment of a linear model. A utopian future foreseeing circular fashion would still, however, require curbed fads and transparency.
The writer is a fashion journalist.
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