“Second-hand is our first choice.” From somewhat humble beginnings in a small Paris apartment, to now leading the way in an exploding apparel resale market, Vestiaire Collective was and continues to be somewhat of a trend-setter. Since 2009, the pre-loved fashion platform has been a driving force in the movement–which is rapidly gaining momentum–towards closing the loop in the fashion economy. With offices across the globe now including Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore since 2017, Vestiaire Collective’s presence has been on the uptick. In fact, the Little Red Dot is the fastest growing country in the APAC region for the fashion app.
For fashion director and co-founder Sophie Hersan, who is visiting from the company’s headquarters in France, it’s never just been about saving on style, but helping to save the planet. Case in point? Cutting back on overconsumption, recycling and reusing, one garment at a time. As one of the five original co-founders, Hersan lives by the mantra of the company: “Long Live Fashion”, a philosophy that is rooted in extending the lifetime of a piece of fashion, and encouraging the concept of the more conscious consumer.
Vestiaire Collective was born of challenging times in 2009–off the back of 2008’s recession. Here in a post-pandemic 2023, we are seeing a significant move to the pre-loved market once again. What was your mission statement back then and how has it changed?
When we launched in 2009, I was working in fashion. I was the studio manager for many designers like Marni, Alaïa and Dior. Then, I decided to step back. In 2008, when I met the other founders, I thought that something was missing–we wanted to provide an alternative solution to consumption, something more mindful in a safe environment. An aspirational and inspirational platform that was somewhat of a curated catalogue. Our vision didn’t change. Our idea was to transform the fashion industry in a more sustainable way by empowering our community to drive that change.
Did you always want to work in fashion?
I started with Economic studies, but then I went to fashion school. In fact, I was invited to model for a runway for a fashion show and I remember I was 20 years old and seeing this show and thinking this is what I want to do. I didn’t have any idea of what exactly what that was–a model, a stylist but I knew I wanted to be around fashion. After fashion school, that’s when I started working in the traditional industry as a studio manager and creative director. The fact is, the biggest challenge for me was actually to move from the traditional fashion industry to this entrepreneurial adventure. I think I was born to work in fashion. But also to disrupt it.
How can we institutionalise the concept of the ‘repeat outfit’?
The pandemic was a difficult period for most and due to that, people really have become more conscious. My friends and I at Vestiaire in 2009 were a bit alone trying to drive change. Now, I think people are understanding that pre-loved is not an ‘alternative’ anymore, but it is mandatory. We did an impact report last year, proving that buying second-hand avoids using 90% of the resources that are typically used for producing fashion. We need to advocate for this.
“We wanted to provide an alternative solution to consumption, something more mindful in a safe environment. An aspirational and inspirational platform that was somewhat of a curated catalogue.”
If anything is in fashion right now, sustainability is it. Fast fashion has been banned from the platform–an intentional and assertive policy change. Is thrifting the antidote to trend-driven, low cost fashion?
We have to move away from fast fashion and the disaster of fast fashion. For the past three years we’ve partnered with the Or Foundation, which is a charity based in Ghana that works on environmental justice and fashion education. We went to Ghana and discovered that all our waste was arriving on their shores. Honestly, it’s a catastrophe of our consumption. Of fast fashion. If people could see what we saw, they would react. We had to do something on the platform–something that I wanted to do for a long time was move away from trendy to timeless. Investment pieces that maintain their value or even gain in value–items that last and can be used over and over again. I hope that advocating against fast fashion and banning it will help make a difference.
According to Singapore’s National Environment Agency, textile and leather account for roughly 182,000 tonnes of waste a year. If the resale of fast fashion is no longer an option on Vestiaire Collective, critics may say it will end up in landfills.
We are trying to figure out a solution for all the items that we refuse. There is not a singular answer to this and that is why we work with other circular businesses on how we can recycle all these textiles–maybe they can be transformed into something else, reinvented and recycled for different industries. We won’t take it on Vestiaire Collective, but we actively participate to try and find a remedy for this.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to the definition of fast fashion? Beyond the obvious giants like Zara and Shein, what about those that fall in the grey area—Uniqlo or COS?
It’s an interesting question. We decided to select the companies over a three year period, because we needed the advice and support of third parties–who noted certain social and environmental criteria to help delineate which ones were deemed fast fashion. We started by eliminating the worst and so on and so forth. We are still working on it.
How does the Singapore consumer’s spending habits compare to the rest of Asia or even Europe? What do the numbers say about us?
Singapore is close to average desirability for the luxury, classic pieces. We saw this market starting with buyers first, then we succeeded in converting the market to sellers as well. There is alignment to international brands, compared to say Korea, where we can see a lot of traction with local brands. There is also a higher cart amount here and this is due to the preference for luxury. We also see in terms of category, bags are number one, then it’s accessories, jewellery and watches. In Europe, we buy and sell more clothing and we have many premium, middle range designers compared to Singaporean demands.
What is your favourite thing to buy vintage or your go-to investment item that you could wear season after season?
I’m a big fan of Yves Saint Laurent. For jewellery, I love Cartier. For my next purchase, what I’m hunting for on Vestiaire is a Cartier watch. Overall, I feel I have an affinity to the seventies period–I’m fascinated, but just like what we were discussing earlier with Gen Z, this is a time that I didn’t know. I am 50 years old and I lived the eighties, but the seventies was my parents’ youth. Maybe there is an interest in an epoch that we don’t know–it’s a super interesting concept. Perhaps we have attentiveness and inquisitiveness to a period we don’t know but want to discover. I saw that era in how my mother dressed, so I must be inspired by her.
” I think I was born to work in fashion. But also to disrupt it.”
A cheeky follow-up question–what is one thing you would never buy pre-loved?
Something I would never buy would be fur. My conviction is to not buy any more fur, even pre-loved. I kept my vintage fur because it was my grandmother’s, or mother’s. This is something I don’t wear anymore, but I also don’t want to sell it.
Authenticity and trust are a cornerstone to Vestiaire Collective’s success—with more than 80 authentication experts on hand. Your buyer has the confidence to know that the items they select will be vetted before it lands at their doorstep. This, coupled with more conscious buyers is arguably helping to close the fashion loop as people have faith in second-hand.
I think our Vestiaire pillars continue to be our strength today. These are community, activism, transparency, dedication and greatness. Vestiaire exists in our daily life. Instead of going out and shopping as we used to do, now we go on the app and everything is accessible on the platform. I think this is the future–having more and more pre-loved in our closets, as opposed to new items. Through circularity and through Vestiaire, we continue to be the leader in terms of luxury positioning with brands. That’s how we’ve recently been able to partner with Gucci and Chloe and other new ones that are coming. This is how we build the future.