Cover Jaime Xie

Bling Empire’s Jaime Xie and Hula’s Sarah Fung tell Tatler why shopping used is cool and how resale of pre-loved fashion is reshaping Asia’s retail market

“I had so many clothes and I was doing a lot of shopping. Then my mom was like, ‘Jaime, the clothes that you don’t wear anymore, they are just sitting there, right?’” says Jaime Xie, Bling Empire star and fashion influencer. “I was selling things on eBay and I discovered vintage.” The 24-year-old Chinese American reality TV star started shopping vintage about four years ago and now keeps a growing collection of more than 200 second-hand pieces.

Over the past year, she has brought vintage looks—from John Galliano’s Dior to archival Versace—to runway front rows and red carpets. A couple of days before speaking to Tatler by phone from Los Angeles, Xie was in London, where she spent five hours in a vintage boutique and introduced another fashionista to the concept. “I took my mom vintage shopping for the first time. She loved it too.”

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Xie is one of millions driving momentum in the resale market. According to the 2022 resale report by ThredUp, the largest online thrift and consignment store, the global second-hand market is expected to grow to US$36 billion by 2024 and to more than US$200 billion by 2026. While the pandemic crippled physical retail, the growth of the second-hand market in Asia and Australia is more than three times faster than that of the new apparel market.

Consumers in the Apac market have a huge appetite for luxury,” says Sophie Hersan, the fashion director and co-founder of Vestiaire Collective, the leading online fashion resale platform. “Women in Asia invest in luxury fashion, accessories and jewellery, and are very smart shoppers. They like to find unique treasures at great prices,” adding that the average basket value of Hong Kong buyers is US$617, almost double the global average.

 

Tokyo has developed the strongest second-hand luxury market among Asian cities, and supplies much of the world with vintage goods. According to global marketplace Farfetch’s 2022 Conscious Luxury Trends report, South Korea demonstrated the biggest increase in pre-owned spend per item at 116 per cent, while Hersan adds that Singapore and Australia are fast-growing markets too. China’s University of International Business and Economics revealed in a joint report with Chinese luxury resale platform Isheyipai that sales of pre-owned luxury items in mainland China accounted for 5 per cent of the total global luxury market in 2020.

Fashion brands are realising the potential value of resale, too: Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are among the names that have offered resale for years; 2021 saw Oscar de la Renta, among others, launch resale shops, while brands including Lululemon and Hugo Boss rolled out resale programmes this year. “It allows them to build brand loyalty and customer relations, and attract new consumers looking for circularity” from brands, says Hersan.

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Collaboration is proving a key element of this industry: Vestiaire extends its expertise to partnerships with brands such as Alexander McQueen and e-retailers such as Mytheresa and LuisaViaRoma. “To launch a resale programme requires tech and operational skills and abilities; we were happy to see more and more brands coming to us as this is our core business,” Hersan says. Another popular pre-owned fashion site, The RealReal, has partnered with Stella McCartney, Burberry and Gucci. Over the past two years, ThredUp reported a 275 per cent annual growth in brands adopting resale, and the acceleration shows no sign of stopping.

 

The Resale Boom

“In 2017, the business model [of consignment] was quite new and still not accepted by the public. Although I was collecting [pre-loved] products, it was difficult for me to sell them,” recalls Sarah Fung, who founded Hula, a consignment site and store for designer fashion and accessories in Hong Kong. After almost a decade’s experience retail, Fung wanted to prove that Hong Kong was ready for pre-owned. When Vestiaire, a far bigger player, came to Hong Kong, “I just thought we were going to drown and die, but actually, it boosted our business,” says Fung. “Because we had somebody else—somebody as big as them—saying it’s ok to shop second-hand and it’s cool. It just confirms that resale is here to stay.

“What I wanted to do is to dispel the notion that it was in any way embarrassing to [buy second-hand],” Fung adds. The first roadblock to overcome was mindset: in Asia, many consumers, particularly of Chinese heritage, traditionally regard second-hand items as unlucky, as they may have been worn by someone who has died. This attitude towards pre-worn pieces also means that people don’t consider selling or donating. To start Hula, Fung first had to rely on contributions from industry friends until she could convince others to open their wardrobes. “We collected about 80 Chanel pieces from one wardrobe once. ... [The owner] had never thought about selling them before,” Fung says.

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It's not just about shopping for one collection, one look or one colourway, it's about having the choice and being able to diversify your wardrobe.
Sarah Fung

The second-hand stigma goes beyond superstition—there’s a lack of trust in the resale businesses themselves. “I think people in Hong Kong are still very wary about e-commerce. If you’re going to buy a Chanel bag on a platform, do you trust [the retailer]?” says Fung. Building a reputation helps: currently, Hula sellers are “by invite only” industry insiders and referrals, each consigned product goes through an in-house authentication process, and customers are encouraged to go to its warehouse and physical boutique. Vestiaire Collective, meanwhile, employs a team of about 60 authenticators who are experts in fashion, luxury, streetwear or jewellery.

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StockX, the renowned marketplace for sneakers, streetwear and collectibles, is another good example of how to build trust. It only accepts brand-new items from sellers, and penetrated the secondary market by creating a platform where pricing is set by supply and demand. “StockX has invested millions of dollars to fight the proliferation of counterfeit products and ensure a seamless end-to-end customer experience,” says Audrey Ma, StockX’s director in Hong Kong and Macau. “Every single item that is sold on our platform goes through our in-house authentication process before it is sent to a buyer.”

 

ThredUp’s findings showed that consumers choose to buy second-hand to save money while levelling up their wardrobes. It also showed that younger consumers search for unique pieces that balance authenticity, relevance and sustainable practices. By their very nature, pre-owned luxury products are highly individual, and that is exactly what appeals to Gen Z, the demographic identified by ThredUp as particularly enthusiastic about vintage.

“I started to shop vintage purely because I was finding some really cool pieces—some were even cooler, or more my style, than current collections.It was like a treasure hunt,” says Xie, who recently acquired a Roberto Cavalli evening dress which once was displayed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass. “Now when I look at vintage, it’s not only that you find really cool and interesting things, but it’s also sustainable because it’s like you are recycling.” Xie also believes in the power of influencing other people to do the same.

With eco-conscious Gen Z consumers’ growing purchasing power, the environmental impact of style choices becomes an ever-more important consideration for both buyers and retailers. Today, 70 per cent of buyers of pre-owned goods worldwide “like the sustainable aspect” of second-hand shopping, according to the ThredUp report, compared to 62 per cent in 2018. There have been several reports that suggest a ten per cent increase in second-hand clothing sales could deliver major environmental benefits, cutting carbon emissions per tonne of clothing by three per cent and water use by four per cent.

Make Less New

It is important to understand that when people talk about “pre- owned”, it’s not always in relation to luxury items. According to ThredUp, nearly three-quarters of consumers who shopped second-hand in 2021 consider themselves to be a thrifter and half of them bought ten or more items.

Fashion Revolution, a non-profit organisation and global movement campaigning for a greener and more ethical fashion industry, has pointed to the substantial potential hazards of resale. For many developing countries in Southeast Asia, second- hand clothing sales rely heavily on import—the US is one of the biggest exporters of textiles, for example. “What they are doing is shifting all these resources, moving here and there, across countries,” Melissa Tan, the country coordinator of the Malaysian office of Fashion Revolution, tells Tatler. “It possibly extends the life [of apparel]. But it’s by no means circular.”

 

The frequent low cost of inferior- quality second-hand clothing “leads to another form of overconsumption where we don’t really appreciate the material or product. It is still viewed as disposable,” Tan continues. “It also displaces local designers.” However, resale platforms becoming more accessible and affordable may encourage more people to move away from fast fashion and buy higher-quality items at a lower price. Boston Consulting Group’s study on Vestiaire Collective’s 2022 impact backed this up: it showed 85 per cent of buyers of pre-owned goods actively reduce overconsumption by trading up from fast fashion to fewer, higher-quality, longer-lasting items. “The broader shift we’re seeing in the industry—which is a movement away from fast fashion and an increased interest in investment pieces—is a positive change for sustainability,” says Ma.

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We have to stop, stop the speed that we're producing and consuming.
Melissa Tan

Resale offers a clear way to extend the life of used clothing and accessories, but doesn’t help with their afterlife—and how to keep them out of landfill. The challenge is hidden behind the scenes: according to Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2022, 85 per cent of brands do not disclose their annual production volumes, making it impossible to track the amount of fashion waste and whether it’s being resold, recycled or dumped. In response, some companies have taken the lead in offering alternatives to buying new.

Farfetch, for example, aims to become more circular than linear by 2030, “with more than 50 per cent of all the products sold or serviced to be recycled, upcycled, pre-owned, re-sold, donated or repaired”, says Thomas Berry, senior director of sustainable business at the platform.

While there are both style and environmental benefits to shopping for good-quality second-hand pieces, most consumers are still a long way from a truly circular wardrobe. Some opt for a capsule wardrobe: a collection of a few staples for each season. Investing in high-quality classics extends the longevity of the wardrobe, and donating, swapping or upcycling gives pieces a second life. But, the only way to reduce the fashion industry’s total impact and truly manifest the resale boom is to reduce production in the first place. In the words of Tan: “We have to stop: stop the speed that we’re producing and consuming.”

 

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