HONG KONG — Pre-owned luxury is having a moment here. Long weighed down by negative cultural connotations that secondhand means second-best — or worse, a fake copy — a number of companies in Hong Kong are growing the selection of used high-end shopping options by offering a mix of physical retail, butler services and charitable causes.
The most obvious sign of a shift was the arrival of Vestiaire Collective, the Parisian secondhand designer goods platform in August when cofounder Fanny Moizant relocated to the city to set up the business’ Asian headquarters.
Despite its position as a leading platform in its sector, with 4,000 to 6,000 items on the site on any given day, Moizant said brand awareness was low and the company has had to navigate its way around the preference among Asian consumers for brand new items — common to markets with newly created wealth — and beliefs that a used product can pass on bad energy from a previous owner.
“I think it’s very true for the older generation, my age and above [to think those things here],” she said. “I think the new generation, Millennials and Generation Z, are way more open and they are very savvy regarding price.
“There’s a very big appetite and Hong Kong is all about luxury purchases — they are very luxury-driven consumers, after the big brands,” Moizant observed. By the end of the year, the company hopes to have a team of 15 to 20 people set up in Hong Kong.
“I would say that over the last 10 to 12 years, there’s been an almost seismic change in the amount of awareness we’re seeing in greater China,” said Christina Dean, founder of Redress Asia, a local nongovernmental organization that promotes sustainable fashion.
“This sort of old cultural superstition about being dirty or being linked to ghosts and all of that, that’s kind of being blasted out now. [It’s] very appealing, very luxurious, gorgeous secondhand clothes that don’t come with negative stigma and because of that high styling,” Dean said.
“I don’t know that Chinese consumers are screaming, ‘Hey, I’m dripping in secondhand clothes!’ But we’re seeing a much more sophisticated secondhand market.”
One of the biggest benefits, Moizant said, is the company’s relationship with brands, which is integral to the authentication process and all the more crucial in a geography where counterfeits abound.
“We are potentially going to discover new challenges that we didn’t discover before because of the region,” Moizant said.
“We can go to the brands with a specific case,” she explained. “We have made the effort since the early days with them. That makes the whole team very credible. That’s the heart of the business. The last thing you want is to be fooled on the authenticity of the products.”
There are a number of start-ups tackling a similar concept. Lane Crawford veteran Sarah Fung founded the web site The Hula in 2016. Fung tapped into her network of fashion insiders — buyers, stylists and KOLs — for inventory, donating 5 percent of each sale to charity, though she has found the conversion to online can be tough. Customers requested to come in to see the items in person at her showroom before purchasing, she said, which she ended up accommodating.
“That’s the whole thing about Hong Kong that I’m discovering right now: It’s very brick-and-mortar,” Moizant said. “Because it’s small in a way, it’s convenient. You can walk down the street and have everything so the digital behavior is less mature.”
The preference among Hong Kong shoppers to see things in-person is something Heloise Mendes, who began consignment business Label Chic, picked up on as well. After four years of running private pre-owned designer sales and pop-up shops, she settled into a permanent physical showroom this month on Gough Street in Central.
“It is quite new for people in Hong Kong,” Mendes said. “They need to see physically the quality of the pieces, the selection, the brands.”
Mendes’ focus is more on designer apparel, leaving luxury bags, which are more prone to counterfeiting, to the likes of more established secondhand chains like Milan Station and Brand Off, which trade solely in the category. “I think it’s a real problem in Hong Kong because you can find a lot of fake products,” she said.
Convenience trumps everything, according to Retykle owner Sarah Garner, whose platform deals in high-end kids’ wear. Children’s clothes are especially suited to resale, Garner said, and while businesses like Vestiaire Collective host user-generated listings, Garner’s business, as does Hula, does all the heavy lifting, holding inventory and arranging pickup from sellers. The reason? Weary parents would never get around to clearing out closets if required to do it themselves, Garner said.
Luxarity, a social venture started by Cristina Ventura Serra, chief catalyst officer at Lane Crawford Joyce Group, combines a hassle-free selling process with a charitable angle that makes secondhand more palatable. Luxarity seeks out donations from Lane Crawford’s top clients to sell at its annual pop-up sale, where proceeds go to support emerging designers, while also giving sellers points in return to spend at the department store. The arrangement is similar to what Neiman Marcus did several seasons ago with The RealReal in the U.S.
“We have a lot of customers that come every month to buy from Lane Crawford. They don’t do it for the money, they do it for a good cause. At the same time, they don’t want to give their Chanel to Salvation Army,” said Ventura Serra. “If they give it to other resellers, there’s a lot of work to do. Do you have time to go package the things and do consignment? If it’s sold, they give you what — $400? I prefer points. We have a limousine service that does everything for them. What is luxury we keep, what is not luxury, we donate to Redress for clothing recycling.”
The $100,000 raised at Luxarity’s most recent sale, which ended in December, will go to two alumni of Parsons School of Design. Luxarity also has plans to partner with Marie Kondo for the first time to train 20 of Lane Crawford’s top stylists help reorganize customers’ wardrobes.
“I think many locals are not ready yet to buy secondhand, but they are happy to start selling,” Label Chic’s Mendes said. “The second step is to try to make them buy secondhand clothes. I think it will come. I can feel that they are more and more aware about that.”