HONG KONG — “At the moment, it’s a fashion company, and it needs to be a fashion tech company,” said Maximilian Bittner, Vestiaire Collective’s new chief executive officer. Three months into the role, the 40-year-old was sitting in the company’s office here, explaining his vision for the pre-owned luxury platform.
Coming as little surprise to anybody familiar with Bittner’s background, the plans are ambitious. Bittner most recently served as the head of Lazada, the Southeast Asian e-commerce operator, which was eventually sold to Alibaba Group, and most recently valued at $3.1 billion. Turning his attention now to a smaller, niche company, he wants to shape Vestiaire Collective into a data-centric, mobile-driven, and Gen Z-focused business.
“Vestiaire has been absolutely fantastic over the last 10 years to have that fashion DNA,” said Bittner, who took over from the company’s cofounder Sébastien Fabre. “They bring that across in the styles, editorials, curation, authentication and that’s why fashion insiders are buying Vestiaire. But I really bring the tech background.”
Among the items at the top of his agenda: changes to the commission structure which will roll out in the next four to six weeks. Right now, for its C2C business, Vestiaire takes a 25 percent cut, and with its VIP consignment program an average of 35 percent, which he believes is too high.
There’d been an over reliance on vouchers, he said, especially in the U.S. market and “instead of charging high commissions and paying it back in vouchers, I’d rather have it be less expensive in the first place.”
The commission is evolving to a more flexible structure, too. If demand for Fendi or Chanel is exploding, as it has in the last few weeks since Karl Lagerfeld’s death, Bittner said, “We want the ability, for certain brand x, [to] drop the commission to zero.” The idea is to encourage sellers to replicate demand peaks and troughs and make the marketplace more efficient.
To do that, the company has plans to triple the tech product and data team over the next 12 to 18 months, “getting north of 100 people,” a substantial jump on employee numbers overall, which currently stand at 340. Expect head count to increase in other areas as well, as Vestiaire Collective focuses on building local teams in Asia and the U.S.
Another friction point he hopes to resolve is the authentication process and the relationship with brands. The default stance of luxury houses is to strictly control their image and they can be ambivalent, and even adversarial toward resellers. Last year, Chanel began legal battles with both The Real Real, and vintage operator What Goes Around Comes Around, charging them with selling fake products.
Vestiaire Collective insists on physically inspecting items which appear on their platform, but Bittner acknowledges that authentication can mean anything, depending on who is promising it.
“There are different service levels. Everyone calls something authentication. Most people do some visible check, where they don’t check it physically,” he said.
“We can’t sit here and claim that the brands have said this is authenticated. But we have experts that we believe this is the right thing, it’s our opinion. We can’t misrepresent that but we are doing the best possible to fulfill the need by consumers,” Bittner added.
While he admits he is new to the fashion industry, he is optimistic. “The brands that I have interacted with are becoming much more open to start a dialogue to how we can improve in the future.”
Bittner has a bigger picture in mind— what he calls “‘reinventing authentication 2.0” and using technologies like blockchain or RFID to know what happens post primary purchase, and to use data to its full potential.
“There’s a lot that we bring to the table to the brands that they don’t currently have,” he said. “CRM management that we can do jointly, the frequency of which they purchase, and what they do with that purchase afterward; we sit on that information that is very, very interesting for brands.”
He added: “I want to be able to tell you the current balance of your wardrobe. I want to be able to tell you: ‘By the way, now is an interesting time to sell.’ ‘Fendi is hot and our Fendi bags have grown 500 percent since the announcement of the Fendi baguette bag.'”
However, when it comes to measuring his team’s progress, Bittner said he won’t, at least, for now, put the pressure on driving profit.
“This year is not about optimizing revenue now. It’s about growing market,” he said.
Vestiaire Collective ships to buyers in over 50 countries, and is working on opening up new markets to sellers as well.
France, where the firm was founded, still represents roughly 30 percent of the business, performing well as both a buyer and seller market. In contrast, a country like Italy is disproportionately a supply market, which Bittner pins on it being the origin of many fashion houses but a weak economy with weak consumer purchasing power. The U.S., with a large population of consumers but fewer luxury brands, is more of a buyers’ market.
Asia is early days yet. Vestiaire Collective opened up to Asian buyers in 2017, and sellers only last year. But since then, Hong Kong has grown more than 100 percent. Bittner has his eyes on the middle class in China, Southeast Asia and, of course, Japan.
Bittner declined to share any financial figures, though he quickly batted down the idea of fundraising. He has bought into the company but is reluctant to divulge any details. “How much money did I put in or how much did I loan? I’m not going to share that,” he said.
“I really want to focus on the engagement topic,” he underscored. “To make absolutely sure that we are adopting the model and bringing best practices from Lazada, from Alibaba, to really drive engagement, driving discoverability.
“I don’t want people to open the app to search something. I want them to look at the app every day. I really don’t care about revenue or GMV right now.”