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Cash in on the vogue for vintage

Drapers explores how sustainability is breathing new life into the fast-growing vintage clothing market.

Vintage clothing has gained a particularly high-profile proponent over recent months: none other than Kim Kardashian-West has been championing clothing from decades gone by, posting photos of herself in archival pieces from Versace, Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaia to her 140 million Instagram followers.

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The ultimate trendsetter, wherever Kardashian-West goes, consumers follow. The vintage clothing market is already on the rise and is set to double in size to $51bn (£40bn) over the next five years, predict analyst GlobalData and US resale platform Thread Up. 

More than 60% of women have bought or are willing to buy second-hand products, the report states, and 55 million women bought second-hand clothing in 2018 – up from 44 million the previous year.

Confluence of influences

Several trends are converging to give the vintage and second-hand clothing market a boost. Pre-loved items are well placed to meet consumer’s new demand for more sustainable shopping options – Drapers’ exclusive research found that three-quarters of Generation Z and millennial shoppers say that sustainability is important to them.

Shoppers like the ‘one-of-a-kind’ element, which makes it fun to shop sustainably

Scarlet Eden, vintage buyer, Beyond Retro

A new wave of resale platforms, at all ends of the market, are also making it easier than ever before for customers to purchase vintage or second-hand clothing.

Those looking for verified designer pieces from luxury heavyweights including Chanel and Gucci can browse resale giant Vestiaire Collective, home to more than 900,000 items. At the other end of the spectrum is social selling platform Depop, where the app’s mostly millennial shoppers buy vintage and second-hand clothing ranging from 1990s Tommy Hilfiger to high street cast-offs.

Educated choice

The high street is also waking up to the opportunities in vintage. Shoppers can buy vintage clothing from retailers such as Urban Outfitters and via online giant Asos’s Marketplace.

“Customers are becoming a lot more educated about the things they buy, and that has led them to becoming more conscious about the clothing they choose,” explains Scarlet Eden, vintage buyer at second-hand retailer Beyond Retro, which has five stores across the UK and three in Sweden.

Customers are starting to understand the impact fashion manufacturing is having on not only the planet, but on workers suffering from poor living conditions

Blanca Romero, digital marketing manager, Rokit

“Second hand and vintage is an easy option, as it is often affordable while also being on trend. Shoppers also like the ‘one-of-a-kind’ element, which makes it fun to shop sustainably.”

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Blanca Romero, digital marketing manager at fellow vintage retailer Rokit, which has four stores across London, agrees: “We’ve seen a big increase in interest for vintage. Customers are starting to understand the impact fashion manufacturing is having on not only the planet, but on workers suffering from poor living conditions in less developed countries. Shoppers are increasingly thinking about their clothing purchases for the long term and asking: how many times will I wear this?”

Luxury shopping platform Farfetch works with vintage boutiques around the world, including Japan’s Amore and Italy’s Angelo. Stephen Eggleston, Farfetch’s vice-president, commercial, argues that most of the luxury fashion etailer’s customers already take part in the secondary fashion market – either buying or selling – and as a result, are au fait with pre-loved fashion.

Consumers are being more and more comfortable with the online resale market

Stephen Eggleston, ice-president, commercial, Farfetch

“We’ve definitely seen increased interest in our pre-owned and vintage offering over the last few years,” he tells Drapers. “Consumers are being more and more comfortable with the online resale market, driven by a number of factors, including an increased number of options, improved trust and verification processes, and an increasingly varied offer across the market.”

Twentysomething plus

Although the definition of vintage is not set in stone, it usually refers to clothing more than 20 years old. However, a new interest in pre-worn clothing of all ages is blurring the category still further.

“The standard industry definition of vintage is usually anything over 20 years old, although we are starting to see a shift,” Kate Seymour, founder of vintage retailer Something Elsie, which has two stores in Bristol. “As consumers become more open minded about re-wearing clothing, there’s a move towards not being too hung up on the date of the garment.”

Authenticity is the most important element for a successful vintage offer

Colin Saunders, chief executive, Open for Vintage

Farfetch, Eggleston adds, has recently modified its vintage category to include pre-loved fashion to allow customers to find must-have products from more recent seasons: “We’ve recently adapted our vintage category to be able to include pre-owned pieces from select brands.

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“Our vintage offering is more traditional: the items have to be a minimum of 20 years old, be in pristine condition and have been sourced by vintage specialists. However, by extending the offering to include pre-owned items that would not be classed as vintage, we are able to showcase hard-to-access pieces from collaborations or key items from a designer’s first or last collection.”

Farfetch also launched its own pilot resale platform for luxury handbags, Farfetch Second Life, in May this year.

Real deals

Retailers seeking to gain a slice of the luxury vintage market must focus on authenticity, and creating a carefully curated selection that gives shoppers products they cannot find elsewhere.

“Authenticity is the most important element for a successful vintage offer,” explains Colin Saunders, chief executive of Open for Vintage, an ecommerce platform for luxury vintage boutiques, which offers brands including Hermès, Dior, Prada and Celine. “We only sell through pre-approved vintage boutiques.

“Customers are also looking for the process of discovery – when they come to us, they want one-of-a-kind pieces [from] throughout the decades that are either discontinued or sold out.”

Shoppers are still looking for trend-driven, good-quality clothing when it comes to vintage 

Scarlet Eden, vintage buyer, Beyond Retro

Farfetch’s Eggleston agrees: “Our customers are often on the lookout for very specialist pieces and are coming to us to get hold of those one-off items. We’ve had a great reaction from customers on some of the specialist archive collections we’ve curated with our boutique partners, including 500 pieces of original Versace and some of Rei Kawakubo’s most iconic Comme des Garçons pieces.”

Beyond Retro’s Eden argues that although vintage shoppers are often seeking to create a unique look, the market is still influenced by wider trends: “Shoppers are still looking for trend-driven, good-quality clothing when it comes to vintage. They want to be current, but also want classic pieces that are going to last.

“Branded pieces are doing really well for us at the moment and shoppers are looking for quality brands that they can trust, such as Levi’s, Nike or Carhartt. Plus, these brands give customers a chance to get the original version of the very on-trend 1990s look.”

Cost conscious

Price is also key. Many shoppers are buying into vintage as a more sustainable but also more affordable way to buy into either trends or brands.

“We expect to see an increase in vintage shopping from those who see it as a financially savvy choice,” Open for Vintage’s Saunders adds. “More and more, we’re seeing the value of luxury vintage goods go up each year, and as consumers become more aware and educated on the vintage market, this will undoubtedly become a selling point.”

Something Elsie’s Seymour adds that retailers need to create a comprehensive offer that can allay some of customers lingering concerns about vintage.

We’re seeing the value of luxury vintage goods go up each year

Colin Saunders, chief executive, Open for Vintage

“I like to have a high-quality, broad range that appeals to different ages, is accessibly priced and comes in different sizes. Customers often still fear that vintage will smell or there won’t be anything in their size or items will be faulty and they won’t realise [until after they’ve paid for them].”

As Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, argues, the vintage and second-hand clothing market is “uniquely placed” to meet consumers’ demand for variety, value and sustainability. As the vogue for sustainability shows little signs of waning, interest in this market looks set to grow. Retailers looking to bolster their product proposition with a vintage offer need to create a compelling, competitively priced range that offers consumers unique product they cannot find elsewhere.


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