Many times over, I have expressed my love of second-hand as an alternative to consumption of new personal style items, for three reasons: it is more environmentally sustainable (one fewer unit of aggregated demand), a preference for discontinued styles, and a simple inability to spend into four figures for the likes of a leather bag. Ten years ago eBay was the only reliable online marketplace available for those interested in finding aged treasures—today the market is crowded. eBay is still relevant, but it is joined by virtual marketplaces like Fashionphile, TheRealReal, 1stdibs, Vestiaire Collective, and Grailed.
Typically I have been more confident in the selling side of these markets, so it isn’t until very recently that I’ve purchased, from Vestiaire Collective (VC), a site based in Paris that has its own model for peer-to-peer reselling.
Sellers photograph and submit their products for consideration and approval by VC HQ, after which they are listed online for a price set by the seller. When an item is purchased, the seller uses preprinted DHL shipping labels to send the piece to Paris (1-2 business days) to be checked for quality and authenticity (1-3 days). It is then forwarded to the buyer also by DHL Express and arrives in a total timeframe, from purchase click to deliver, of just over one week.
Not bad for a logistical rush job that matches retailers like MR PORTER, who package and send from a central warehouse in New Jersey and still take about a week. Shipping is usually $30 for VC purchases, but occasionally they run free shipping promotions, which was true in both my cases.
The first bag I ordered from VC seemed too good to be true: a nearly brand new Bottega Veneta tote bag in black leather with gray intrecciato woven leather trim. For €520. If you know the brand and their prices, you understand my disbelief.
It arrived, and though it was as-described, it wasn’t love. The leather just isn’t what I thought it was, and the metal rings which connect the leather handles to the bag squeak. -_- Fingernails on a blackboard for someone ultra sensitive to rattles and bumps. (probably fixable with leather conditioner and a Q-tip)
Since VC is peer-to-peer they don’t allow returns, but I did have the option to relist my purchase and VC would waive their commission. It was such a good price, so I chose to keep it and try to sell it, if not for more, at least for breaking even, on other sites (eBay, Grailed).
So far (two weeks out), no bites, but I am optimistic because it is a lovely item.
My second purchase, conversely, is a little dream come true.
It is a black antique (washed) nappa bowler bag from Prada, from what I think was Spring-Summer 2009. I already own one in the same material, slightly smaller, in a grass green color, found at Bivio in Milan with a bit more wear.
This new-to-me (and seems to be new overall) bag is capacious, supple, and the right scale for my body. The only thing it’s missing is a shoulder strap, but such an appendage would probably diminish its simplistic design. I actually found it last summer on VC, and watched it anxiously for months, occasionally sending low-ball offers to the seller who consistently rejected them.
Finally, after my first VC ‘dud,’ I winced and pulled the trigger on this one, $687 later. I also decided to try Affirm, a financing service that communicates directly with VC to determine a buyer’s eligibility and creates a payback plan in real time. I chose to spread the cost over three months, paying approximately $35 in interest charges for the convenience.
I have only sold on Grailed, eBay, etc., so I can’t compare a purchase experience from those sites to my two on Vestiaire. Those two are fundamentally different in that they are pure peer-to-peer, and simply act as a virtual conduit. They also take a much smaller commission for their smaller relative role in sales.
TheRealReal, Fashionphile, and others are like Vestiaire, in that they authenticate items before a buyer receives, but they buy items from sellers up front rather than coming into play only after a buyer has purchased an item. VC is in its own category, but it seems to be a robust model. Perhaps that is why the company recently raised $62 million in venture capital funds.
On a macro level, online markets have turned a corner, from the shady, sketchy eBay (or multitude of fly-by-night sites) of yore to now, a much streamlined experience akin to traditional online shopping. Authenticity is no longer a significant question for buyers, as most platforms like VC build their reputation on verifying the origins of the products that pass through their site. Perhaps social media and social sharing has pushed businesses even further into total transparency.
More everyday honest consumers like myself, looking simply to unload unwanted quality fashion, or purchase it in preowned format, can connect with each other and worry little or at all about fraud, happily leaving the marketplace with money in the bank ($1,500 or so over the last year) or a new piece of fashion history.
When I think about what I can buy for $700 now, new, black Prada bowler bags in impossibly soft nappa leather aren’t on that list. I would be looking at a price tag closer to $2,500. Even if I could, I’d be buying one of many, instead of the single one available. It’s that which makes second hand resale exciting, serendipitous, and a little scary.
Check out my Pinterest board of neat preowned treasures from around the internet.