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Vestiaire Collective co-founder Sophie Hersan: Gen Z enters luxury consumerism with secondhand

By Ole Spötter


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Business |Interview

Sophie Hersan | Foto: Vestiaire Collective

The second hand market is booming and, especially with the current price increases, offers a cheaper and more cycle-oriented alternative for consumers. But it can also offer more than that, says Sophie Hersan, the co-founder of resale platform Vestiaire Collective. In the age of the internet, filled with fashion drops and the hype of exclusivity, second hand fashion is no longer reserved only for thrifty shoppers who rummage through bargain tables at the flea market - it also offers real treasures and investments.

Hersan, who founded Vestiaire Collective in Paris in 2009 alongside Fanny Moizant, also uses the French resale platform to invest in collectibles. In this interview with FashionUnited, the fashion director talks not only about her investments but also about how the consumer behaviour around used clothing has evolved, in which markets the business is booming, and which trends are influencing second-hand fashion.

Which brands are most searched for on Vestiaire Collective?

We follow the first hand market and they are really close in terms of trends. Gucci was a super hot brand last year and the platform followed the same boost on the brand. This year Prada was really hot and we followed. But in general Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Chanel are global evergreen brands which always work. After that you have hot brands like Jacquemus and other designer brands.

What influences these trends?

We noticed that after events like Cannes or the Met Gala where we saw Gucci, Versace or Jean Paul Gaultier, searches on Vestiaire went up. People see a lot on social media which influences the trends today.

But it’s not the brand itself which is hot or not. Before it was more the designer, like Phoebe Philo, who made the brand hot. Now your brand may be transparent and valuable, then people will stick to it. Fashion still has an emotional part. Today influencers, stars or music and movies have a strong impact on people, more than the brands themself. If you see in the movie Carrie [Bradshaw, a fictional character in HBO’s Sex and the City] wears a vintage bag suddenly, they then search it on Vestire.

Which products sell particularly well?

Bags are still our biggest category. After that, it’s also a lot of other accessories. Maybe because it’s easier in terms of the size and evaluating the value of the item, because it’s sometimes more difficult with clothes and how they lose value. For some brands you can pay a lot in the boutique but then it decreases a lot. Bags and accessories maintain the value. We also have more potential on shoes, jewellery and watches - especially for men it is a good entrance.

Bags are among the most popular products on Vestiaire Collective | Image: Vestiaire Collective

Has the pandemic influenced the way consumers think about clothing as an investment?

Post-covid has brought this feeling that there is a need to buy something of lasting value, but it mustn't be too expensive and it can go up in value over time. Of course, there is also the ‘drop’ phenomenon, which drives up the price. [Editor's note: In a 'drop', a collection/product is usually offered in small numbers, which means that the (re)selling price can be higher due to rarity]. But besides that there are definitely good pieces which allow you to earn more money over time. Customers are no longer only interested in buying something that is expensive at the time of purchase. People think differently now.

Is it more about the product than the purchase price?

And what the story behind the product is. There is some pride in that as well. When you buy something second hand, you have hunted it - you have seen it, want to find it, and find who is selling it. And when you find it, it’s a treasure. It’s not the same as just buying it new, then finding it doesn't fit and returning it - a lot of people pay so much now for returning. Stop this consumption without conscience!

Do you have a personal treasure that you found on Vestiaire?

First of all, I sell a lot. When I launched Vestiaire it was easy for me to sell what I wanted, because before it was not easy for me to find the right platform for it. This is where I want to sell because I care about my product, I know the story behind it. With me being a ‘fashion connoisseur’, I know the value and physical part of the item. It also has a personal story so I don’t want to sell the product for free. I had a lot of clothing from my personal 20 years of fashion history before Vestiaire, so before inserting a new item into my wardrobe, I remove a lot.

When something is super trendy, my emotions are very strong and my happiness is very high at the beginning. Then when I buy it and then it ends up in my wardrobe, it wears off. So now when I want something, I wait until the trend is over and control my emotions. After I know that I really want it – I will let several months pass – then I can buy it. This was the case for a vintage Chanel bag. At Vestiaire I invest a lot in vintage watches and other timeless pieces.

In which markets is second-hand fashion particularly in demand?

It changes a lot. We have launched in several markets, but we were born in France, so we are really strong there – both with sellers and buyers. The UK was super strong. Then we launched in Germany, Italy and Spain. Europe is strong but with different levels.

Italy – now one of the top markets – was more of a sellers' market in the beginning, where not much was bought. This was a question of education, because the countries are different. Now buyers and sellers overlap.

Was it the same in Germany?

In the beginning, German customers sold products that were not sought after by our community. Now we are very strong in Germany because of the influx from e-commerce – Zalando, Mytheresa. The more e-commerce grows in Germany, the more traffic there is. Also partnerships with Mytheresa work very well because they have the certification and sell good pieces.

We have to educate the countries a little bit. It's funny to see how we turned the sellers into buyers of second-hand goods. That was not in line with the habits and mindset of the countries.

Of course, the US is also strong - they are very well informed about second-hand. So it was much easier, but we also had more competition. Now we are on the West Coast.

Which markets are more difficult to crack for second-hand clothes?

In Asia, second-hand was a bit far from the culture. They don't wear their clothes often and they didn’t know what to sell. Resale was very new. So we had to educate them about it.

So you were able to convince the Asian market then. Are there other markets that have been more difficult to crack?

We don’t sell in South America – it’s not a match. We are always waiting until the countries really fit. Even when it does match, we still need to educate the new market about the DNA of Vestiaire.

Image: Vestiaire Collective

Are there any new collaborations planned?

Our focus is to expand the circularity with as many brands as possible. We launched the first partnership with Alexander McQueen, then Mulberry, then the two platforms Mytheresa and LuisaViaRoma. We also have other partnerships that will come during the year.

We want to get more and more involved. We've had pop-up partnerships, and a corner at Selfridges. We're not a retailer, we're a digital player, and we really want more brands to come to us because it's not easy for retail brands to move to circularity either - it's a lot of logistics and technology that they don't understand. So it takes time for them as well.

Who is part of the Vestiaire community?

We have 23 million members today. We focus more on personal mindset, consumption, habits and so on, rather than age. In the beginning, we were stronger with millennials and those aged 30 to 50. They like to sell timeless pieces, luxury and designer shoes. Now more and more Gen Z is coming to us. Mainly for economic reasons. Because they can't afford the pieces first hand. They know Gucci is trendy and they want the Gucci pieces. Maybe they will buy them first-hand later, but their entry point is buying second-hand.

Is the approach of Gen Z different?

It's natural for them to buy second-hand first and to know what influence they have on fashion. My generation – I'm 50 years old – consumed very differently when I was 20 years old. I didn't think about whether I needed it, what personal value it had or what impact I had. But it's in their blood. They buy vintage pieces, have a unique style, and explore and highlight their own personality with their clothes instead of going with the trend because it's the trend.

Has the younger generation also influenced the older generation to buy more second-hand?

The younger generation is educating their parents and their generation to buy differently and think differently. For them, it is completely normal to buy second-hand. When they don’t have a lot of money, they find the good pieces with a smaller budget and move away from fast fashion.

The older generation has already thought about investment pieces: I buy something that will last, that I can pass on. We have passed on this way of thinking, but perhaps the younger generation has adopted this way of thinking less. It’s less common [for families] to pass pieces to the younger generation. They are more educated than we were and have a lot of information.

This edited article was previously published on FashionUnited.DE

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