Is The RealReal launching a fashion brand?
WWD has learned that the consignment website — best known for selling the fashions of other companies — is in the process of hiring a senior in-house designer, with the apparent goal of launching a “private label.”
Judging from a job posting on The RealReal’s own site, the designer position, which will be based in either New York or San Francisco, will set the “overall direction in the conceptual and final development of product lines within TRR (private label),” describes the listing.
The company says it is “Seeking a seasoned designer with end to end experience in the entire design process from market research to sketch, specs and fit. The senior designer will help launch a series of strategic initiatives around sustainable product development and upcycling. Deep knowledge of product development, construction and finishing techniques is essential. This role requires a strong track record of product design from well known luxury brands,” the listing reads.
A representative for The RealReal, however, wrote off the job as more of a special project-based position. “We’re always looking for opportunities to increase our impact when it comes to creating a more circular future for fashion. Adding design talent to our team will help us explore potential avenues for sustainable creation that keep existing products and materials out of landfills and in circulation, including expanding our new ReCollection upcycling program,” the spokesperson wrote to WWD in an email.
The RealReal declined further comment about the nature of an in-house design project. For the past few years the company has enlisted emerging brands to release capsule collections on its site using upcycled or sustainably sourced materials. But in those cases, it is understood that the brands were in control of the designs for each release, with The RealReal acting as a sales facilitator.
In March, The RealReal dropped the first edition of its ReCollection project, in which unsold goods from brands like Balenciaga, Simone Rocha and Jacquemus are upcycled by a Los Angeles-based creative repairs studio.
At the time, James Rogers, director of sustainability at The RealReal, told WWD: “This is just the beginning. What we think this will look like going forward, we will be planning to build out a library for other designers, so any of the scraps or leftovers from this initial collection will be held onto and turned into part of that library. As we make more ReCollections going forward, they can be used and kept out of the landfill — so really [we’re] thinking about building a repository that is specifically focused on upscaling initiatives.”
The collection, however, was all one-off designs. Much of it remains unsold on The RealReal’s site, where it has been posted since April 1.
The company’s design role opening seems tied to a more permanent initiative. It requires 10 years’ minimum experience at a “reputable luxury brand,” and deep knowledge of development, fit, patternmaking and delivery timetables.
The person would also oversee “selection of fabric and trim from The RealReal-owned inventory and authorized sustainable partners and brands.” For its ReCollection program, The RealReal requires that upcycled pieces must have no virgin fabrications, be zero waste and the labor behind it must be fair wage and sourced in the U.S.
There is also the matter of excess fabric churned out by the fashion industry each season. Traditionally, one could find bolts of custom textiles from brands like Marc Jacobs for sale at New York City Garment District fabric shops. But The RealReal could perhaps take this fabric on and recycle it in cut-and-sew shapes.
This model has long been popular at Urban Outfitters, which has been offering its “Urban Renewal” line of clothes made from upcycled thrift clothes and deadstock fabric for the better part of the last decade.
In August, The RealReal’s chief financial officer Matt Gustke said the pandemic has been a “catalyst” for the company’s direct relationship with brands, reporting a 46 percent increase in items consigned by brands during COVID-19 as they looked to drum up cash from whatever sources they could. In November 2019, Allison Sommer, the company’s director of strategic initiatives, said brands were rapidly coming around to working with resale partners like The RealReal.
The RealReal has become increasingly more choose-y with the pieces it takes on as a consignor — requiring nearly new condition of all the inventory it accepts. Many of the company’s online consignor competitors facilitate a consumer-to-consumer model of commerce — meaning that sites like Poshmark, Tradesy and Vestiaire Collective do not hold inventory and that sellers ship directly to buyers.
The RealReal holds inventory and also photographs, authenticates and ships product in-house — requiring a much higher degree of overhead that, at times, has rattled investors. The company has not yet turned a profit — with observers saying that The RealReal’s cost of business, which now includes a sizable retail imprint, is hindering its general success.
Analysts largely declined to comment on the prospect of a fashion line from The RealReal. On Friday, the company’s stock was trading at around $23 a share — about double the per-share price this time last year when The RealReal took a considerable beating from the pandemic as shoppers constricted their purchases of fashion goods.