“I want to eliminate the stigma of the occasion”
Vintage, charity, thrift store, “pre-loved”… There are many different words for used clothing. Most are the expression of his generation. In the 1980s, people were doing “charity shopping”. Generation Z prefers Depop which, like Google, has become a consumer verb. Those who are inclined to make their consumption habits more ambitious speak of “vintage” shopping. In the end, that’s all anyone else doesn’t want.
With the digitalization of the customer experience, however, the resale market has become a major concern. Last year the FT reported that a quarter of global shoppers bought a second-hand item in 2019, and a study commissioned by the resale brand ThredUP predicts that the total second-hand market will double to $77 billion by 2025. Recent research by Leather UK, the trade association for the British leather industry, found that nearly half of adults Britons think about the potential impact on the planet when it comes to buying clothes, and 51% ‘still own and frequently wear an item of clothing that is ten years old or older’. With such market potential and the growing demand for more sustainable consumer choices, resale has moved from a niche interest to something more mainstream.
“I think interest is just the weird, inexplicable thing about the changing outlook of fashion,” says Bay Garnett, stylist and senior fashion advisor at Oxfam since 2016. “Of course there are huge factors involved, like climate change. But we knew fashion had hurt the planet years ago and second-hand was still not considered cool. The increase in resale could not have happened without the change in the way people perceive fashion and its relentless cycles. It’s as much ‘new’ falling into disuse as second-hand fashion.”
This week, Luxury became the latest luxury resale brand to enter the market. It’s the brainchild of Clare Richardson, the English-born fashion designer and consultant who helped vogue, WSJ and M The Magazine of the World among other titles, as well as overseeing creative campaigns for more than a dozen fashion brands. Why would you especially want to raid his closet? Well, for starters, she’s really, really chic.
“Reluxe’s starting point is obviously my love of fashion, which is why I’ve been a stylist for x number of years,” says Richardson, a lithe blonde forty-something who remembers a Joni Mitchell from the 70s. She shows me around a mock-up of what will be her online store – tidy rails of vintage couture, Chanel jackets, prestige accessories and pre-worn leathers mixed with archive pieces and dresses from new brands . Now based in London, having lived for nine years in New York where she has a home in Woodstock, Richardson will launch Reluxe in London and, although she can “ship anywhere”, for now her focus will be on the United Kingdom and the United States. .
In many ways, Reluxe is less a pivot than an extension: stylists are expert career stewards. Who hasn’t coveted a choice accessory or a perfectly weathered shirt while watching a fashion shoot only to discover that the cherished item is actually ‘the stylist’. Knowing where to find a stash of vintage Levi’s or “old” Celine has always been the stylist’s mandate, and today’s appetite for pre-worn – combined with a habit of mentally cataloging catwalks – means that Richardson’s skills have reach their maturity. The other impetus for Reluxe was the environmental conversation around fashion. “Being backstage, seeing the trash with swatches, fabrics, new fabrics, endless products, and being on set and honestly seeing the trash there, I think my conscience was starting to stop me from sleep at night,” she said.
Durable, modern and cost-effective, although second-hand may seem like it, Richardson admits it’s faced some resale image resistance. “A lot of my friends would never watch it,” she says, “much less would consider buying archival or factory dead from a brand.” Plus, too many resale sites, she argues, are “faceless” and overwhelming. “I was in New York when sites like The real real came, and I loved them but found it overwhelming. I’d be scrolling for hours looking at 500 pairs of black pants and thinking I couldn’t find anything I wanted.
With Reluxe, Richardson has tried to create a more accessible and ambitious environment that will suit customers of the most well-known e-com brands. There are brilliant editorials from fashion photographers and interviews with models showing clients how to style clothes. Amber Valletta wears the iconic Chloe banana top (from her SS04 collection), and there are interviews with environmentalist and model Zinnia Kumar and fashion designer Bella Freud.
Richardson’s USP is part of the selection curated by the brand. Reluxe will launch with a selection of around 1,000 pieces, priced from £50 to £6,500. “But it’s not just the Chloé banana top or Prada lipstick print skirt. It’s these pieces – and I want these pieces because I love these pieces – but there’s another customer who wants to wear the blue Frame shirt or a pair of Levi’s. There’s a real mix there; it has always been very important that Reluxe sell everyday objects. So it’s not too niche or too elite.
She is also not interested in selling only pristine selections. “We have brand new products, like this Saint Laurent” – she gestures to a handbag – “and this Chanel” – she gestures to shoes. “But we also have used products. Someone sent me a pair of Balenciaga boots, and they’re a little ragged but they’re so good. I was like, we’re not afraid of that. Customers can choose which pieces they wish to list or there is a concierge service where the Reluxe team helps organize the sale. Either way, “we photograph it, we authenticate it, we give it a price,” says Richardson. “We sell it and ship it. We do all of this.
Such ambitions can be extremely taxing for a startup. There are risks of selling all stocks. Or being completely inundated by the stuff. Currently backed by private investment, Richardson is expected to quickly scale the business, a challenge every startup faces. “The pressure to deliver, find investments and make returns can be overwhelming at first,” says Rachel Reavley, board advisor at another luxury resale site, HEWI (“almost never wore it”), which has been in business for a decade and has sold items worth £35,000. She warns that meeting customer expectations, building customer loyalty, understanding the market and sorting out prices is a challenge that many startups fail to achieve. That said, Reavley welcomes the emergence of new players in the market: “There are still relatively few brands doing luxury resale, if you look across the spectrum,” she continues. “And I think we should welcome everyone. The advent of a well-organized site opens the conversation on the circular economy, and each new brand contributes to breaking down taboos around the occasion.
Richardson is a great spokesperson for the vintage lifestyle, especially when she wears Alaia dresses or, inevitably, Phoebe Philo-era Celine. His own style would be described as timeless – an alluring mix of slim but flowing cuts, sharp shirts and forever jeans. I wonder what pieces might make her own pulse beat, or which she would hate to be separated from. “For me, it’s anything from Nicolas Ghesquière to Balenciaga [he was creative director from 1997 to 2012]. These collections inspired me so much then and continue to influence me,” she says. “Every time I see a piece from one of his collections, I can’t resist.”