If there is one thing the pandemic has brought to the fore, it’s that mother nature needs all the care we can give her. And with the fashion industry contributing to 10 percent of global carbon emissions, 20 percent of global clean water pollution, and an inordinate amount of landfill waste (according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), there is no turning a blind eye to the urgent steps we need to take to preserve our future. The good news? Thrift and vintage shopping for luxury items is seeing a steady growth as consumers show an evolved allegiance to sustainability and affordability. In fact, vintage-savvy and eco-conscious shoppers, primarily Gen Z and millennials, are gravitating towards pre-loved investments as opposed to fresh-off-the-runway offerings.
In 2021 alone, the pre-loved luxe market was estimated to be worth $37.2 billion (₹3,720 crores), according to the consulting firm Bain & Company—a 65 percent increase from 2017. And reports suggest that the Gucci Jackie 1961, Chanel Boy Bag, and Speedy 30 by Louis Vuitton elicit some of the biggest returns...collector’s pieces hold the strongest value. With this focus, apps and online retailers have been streamlining their offerings, and luxury connoisseurs are quick to snap them up. Globally, The RealReal, Tradesy, and Rebag; and in India, Retag, My Luxury Bargain, and Saritoria have made a name for themselves with pre-loved (and sometimes cheaper) luxury goods.
The most important criteria for investing in a pre-loved piece is its authenticity, and legitimate pre-loved businesses conduct careful checks to guarantee this. Raghavendra Singh Raghav, Founder of My Luxury Bargain, shares that over the last two years his portal has built a niche in selling Hermès Birkin bags. “To be able to order a Birkin from the store, a customer should have shopped extensively at the particular Hermès boutique and should even have a relationship with the brand for the sales team to take their purchase request,” he reveals.
This problem offered him an opportunity to provide a concierge service for Birkin shoppers. Raghavendra has tied up with pre-owned boutiques in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Paris who provide him with access to at least 50 to 70 Birkins in different sizes and colours. “The best part about a pre-owned Birkin is that it sells for more than its retail price,” he shares. “The premium exists because it provides you the luxury of shopping for a Birkin off-the-shelf and receiving it at your doorstep.”
A welcome result of these platforms is that they have democratised vintage luxe by reaching out to a wider audience. Buyers get access to rarefied products at more affordable prices. Namisha Gupta, Founder of ReTag, hails pre-owned items as a tool for fashion empowerment. “Shoppers often look for monogrammed pieces from brands like Fendi and Gucci, and some of them don’t cross the ₹20,000 price point...this makes luxury more affordable for many more.” ReTag also restores pieces, as a majority of the products it receives have signs of usage and need cleaning.
“The focus is on embracing the three ‘R’s—Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Covid impacted consumer behaviour, and Gen Z is concerned about its carbon footprint, besides social and environmental issues. We are looking at the product value chain, from sourcing and packaging to shipping... The pre-loved luxury sector has shifted the discourse from a traditional, linear economic model to a more circular one,” adds Namisha.
Another platform, Saritoria, co-founded by Shehlina Soomro, provides couture pieces by India’s most coveted designers at lower prices. Recently, they sold a Sabyasachi bridal set for ₹2 lakh, which was originally priced at ₹7 lakh. “You’re getting an Anamika Khanna lehenga for around a lakh. A whole new demographic is getting access to luxury couture. Of late, we’ve also seen a lot of brands increasing their prices...so the first-hand buyer now has a way to recover money by selling their pieces in the pre-loved market,” says Shehlina. She is also partial to vintage pieces for their quality, which she considers far more refined than what is seen on current styles.
For Nidhi Panicker, Marketing and Communications Specialist, Gucci, the greatest joy of finding a rare vintage piece is its uniqueness and exclusivity. The avid collector shares, “These pieces set me apart from the crowd and help me do my small part for the planet, feeding two birds with one scone. My second motivation is time travel, and no, I’m not being crazy! I can’t go back in time, but just putting on my vintage dress instantly transports me to a different era,” she states.
Having lived in Paris, visiting vintage shops was one of the pleasures Nidhi looked forward to. “It’s not only about the purchase for me... I also enjoy meeting the boutique owners, getting to know their story, and discovering their passion and the history behind so many pieces,” she recalls.
Nidhi’s next big purchase will be a vintage watch. “The past two years truly made me understand the transience of life. The watch, to me, will be symbolic of the time we have and will remind me to enjoy every moment, just as its previous owner may have. I’ve got my eye on a really special piece but until it’s mine, my lips are sealed!” she shares.
For fashion and food entrepreneur Samyukta Nair, vintage is a personal journey, which began with heirlooms passed down from her mother and grandmother—bespoke jewellery, collectible handbags, and saris. “As I grew older, I began visiting vintage shops and finding rare collectibles. I love what vintage stores Resurrection [Los Angeles], What Goes Around Comes Around [New York], and William Vintage [London] offer. If you approach vintage shopping with a ‘second-hand’ filter, you’ll never be able to enjoy it as it’s not simply about the value, but also the memory,” she asserts.
Pre-pandemic, Samyukta purchased a vintage Alaïa dress in New York and has worn it numerous times, in numerous ways. “My intrinsic motivation was that I absolutely loved it because it was one-of-a-kind, which is always a good starting premise,” she adds.
Stylist Sheefa Gilani, who runs a thrift handle on Instagram called TheThriftStudio, hunts for and curates timeless, versatile pieces that are season-less. “For my own wardrobe, Na Nin vintage [online store] is my go-to place. Over time, I have replaced fast fashion with more basic pieces that have lasted me longer,” she says.
It’s no secret that coveted designer brands have scaled-up their prices over time due to inflation and availability of materials, among other factors. In response, a love for vintage and a commitment to sustainability are morphing the luxury resale landscape towards a more consolidated ecosystem.