‘I want to take the stigma out of second-hand’
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Vintage, charity, thrift, “pre-loved”… There exist many different words for second-hand clothes. Most are an expression of one’s generation. In the 1980s, people would go “charity shopping”. Gen Z prefers to Depop which, like Google, has become a consumer verb. Those inclined to make their consumer habits more aspirational talk of “vintage” shopping. At the end of the day, it’s all stuff that someone else doesn’t want.
With the digitalisation of the customer experience, however, the market for resale has become a major preoccupation. Last year, the FT reported that one quarter of global shoppers bought a used item in 2019, and a study commissioned by the resale brand ThredUP predicted that the total second-hand market would double in size to $77bn by 2025. Recent research undertaken by Leather UK, the trade association for the UK leather industry, found that almost half of UK adults think about the potential impact on the planet when it comes to buying clothes, and 51 per cent “still own and frequently wear an item of clothing that’s a decade old or more.” With so much commercial potential, and the thrumming demand for more sustainable consumer choices, resale has gone from being a niche interest to something more mainstream.
“I think the interest is simply the strange, inexplicable thing of the fashion outlook changing,” says Bay Garnett, a stylist and senior fashion adviser at Oxfam since 2016. “Of course there are huge factors involved, such as climate change. But we knew about the harm fashion did to the planet years ago and second-hand still wasn’t seen as cool. The rise in resale couldn’t have happened without the shift in the way people perceive fashion and its relentless cycles. It’s as much ‘new’ falling out of fashion as it is second-hand being in.”
This week, Reluxe became the latest luxury resale brand to enter the market. It’s the brainchild of Clare Richardson, the English-born fashion stylist and consultant who has contributed to Vogue, WSJ and M Le Magazine du Monde among other titles, as well as overseeing the creative campaigns of more than a dozen fashion brands. Why especially would you want to raid her closet? Well, for starters, she’s really very chic.
“The starting point for Reluxe is obviously my love of fashion, which is why I’ve been a stylist for x number of years,” says Richardson, a lithe, blonde fortysomething who recalls a ’70s-era Joni Mitchell. She is showing me around a mock-up of what will be her online store – tidy rails of vintage tailoring, Chanel jackets, prestige accessories and pre-worn leathers mixed in with archive pieces and dresses by newer brands. Now based in London, after living for nine years in New York where she has a house in Woodstock, Richardson will launch Reluxe in London and, while she can “ship anywhere”, for the time being her focus will be the UK and the US.
In many ways, Reluxe is less a pivot than an extension: stylists are expert thrifters by career. Who hasn’t lusted after some choice accessory or perfectly weathered shirting when looking at a fashion shoot only to discover that the cherished item is in fact the “stylist’s own”. Knowing where to source a cache of vintage Levi’s or “old” Celine has always been the stylist’s mandate, and the current appetite for pre-worn – combined with a habit of mentally cataloguing catwalks – means Richardson’s skills have come of age. The other spur for Reluxe was the environmental conversation around fashion. “Being behind the scenes, seeing the waste with samples, fabric, new fabrics, endless product, and being on shoots and honestly seeing the waste there, I think my conscience was starting to keep me up at night,” she says.
Sustainable, modern and cost-effective though second-hand may seem, Richardson admits that she has faced some resistance to the image around resale. “Many of my friends would never look at it,” she says, “much less consider buying archive pieces or factory deadstock from a brand.” Furthermore, too many resale sites, she argues, are “faceless” and overwhelming. “I was in New York when sites such as The RealReal came up, and I loved them but I found it knackering. I’d be scrolling for hours staring at 500 pairs of black trousers and thinking I couldn’t find anything I want.”
With Reluxe, Richardson has tried to build a more accessible, aspirational environment that will chime with the clients of more familiar e-com brands. There is glossy editorial by fashion photographers, and interviews with supermodels showing clients how to style the clothes. Amber Valletta is seen wearing the iconic Chloé banana top (from its SS04 collection), and there are interviews with ecologist and model Zinnia Kumar and fashion designer Bella Freud.
Richardson’s USP is in the brand’s curated edit. Reluxe will launch with a selection of around 1,000 pieces, priced from £50 to £6,500. “But it’s not just about the Chloé banana top or Prada lipstick-print skirt. It is those pieces – and I want those pieces because I adore those pieces – but then there is another shopper who wants to wear the Frame blue shirt or a pair of Levi’s. There is a real mix in there; it was always really important that Reluxe sells some everyday items. So it’s not too niche or too elite.”
Neither is she interested in selling only pristine selections. “We do have brand-new products, like that Saint Laurent” – she gestures towards a handbag – “and that Chanel” – she waves towards some shoes. “But we also have worn products. Someone sent me a pair of Balenciaga boots, and they are a bit bashed but they’re so good. I was like, we’re not scared of that.” Clients can either choose the pieces they want to list or there’s a concierge service where the Reluxe team helps curate the sale. Either way, “we photograph it, we authenticate it, we price it,” says Richardson. “We sell it and ship it. We do all of it.”
Such ambitions can be hugely taxing for a startup. There are risks of selling out of all inventory. Or of being completely deluged by the stuff. Currently being backed by private investment, Richardson will be expected to quickly scale the business, a challenge that faces any startup. “The pressure to deliver, find investment and make the returns can be overwhelming at the start,” says Rachel Reavley, a board adviser for another luxury resale site, HEWI (“hardly ever worn it”), which has been in business for a decade and has sold items with values of £35,000. She cautions that meeting customer expectations, retaining clients, understanding the market and sorting out the pricing is a challenge that many startups fail to realise. That said, Reavley welcomes the emergence of new players on the market: “There are still comparatively 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-curated site opens up the conversation around the circular economy, and each new brand helps blow away the taboos around second-hand.”
Richardson makes an excellent spokesperson for the vintage lifestyle, especially when she’s wearing Alaïa dresses or, inevitably, Phoebe Philo-era Celine. Her own style would be described as timeless – a seductive blend of lean but fluid tailoring, sharp shirting and forever jeans. I wonder which pieces might send her own pulse racing, or from which she would hate to be parted. “For me, it’s anything by Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga [he was creative director from 1997 to 2012]. Those collections were so inspiring to me at the time and continue to influence me,” she says. “Every time I see a piece from any of his collections, I can’t resist.”