LONDON — More and more Brits are prioritizing sustainability and are keen to buy secondhand fashion, but Brexit woes and the need for complicated customs declarations when shipping product around Europe have dampened some of their efforts in the last year.
That’s why Vestiaire Collective is opening the doors to a new authentication and logistics center in the U.K. today, to keep up with increased consumer demand for circular fashion — one-third of U.K. fashion buyers started selling pre-loved items in 2021 or planned to buy secondhand during the festive period, according to the company — and cut lead times or higher delivery fees.
A “Brexit-proof experience” was much needed, as like many fashion businesses the resale platform has had to face many cost hikes throughout 2021 as a result of Brexit, and slowing down of its lead times when items had to be shipped to its French headquarters for authentication. Things would have worsened as of this month, said the company, as full customs declarations and controls have been introduced at the U.K. border.
“The focus of Brexit negotiations had been on import tariffs, but what people didn’t talk about was the introduction of VAT [value-added tax] on secondhand goods. For English buyers purchasing secondhand items from Europe or sellers shipping their items to European buyers, prices became 20 percent more expensive in a matter of days,” said Max Bittner, Vestiaire’s chief executive officer.
This meant that at a time when Vestiaire’s business was experiencing strong growth across the globe, its U.K. business “completely flatlined,” with the U.K. going from being the second biggest market in the reseller’s business to the fifth. But according to Bittner, the U.K. is still a luxury market to be reckoned with so it was important for the business to reinvest in transforming it into a local-to-local, from a local-to-European business.
“Before Brexit, a quarter of our U.K. sales were taking place locally from U.K. buyers to sellers, and in the last year this jumped to three-quarters. There was already a massive transformation happening within peer-to-peer sales, but the authentication still needed to happen in France, which meant extra costs and a higher carbon footprint,” added Bittner.
With a local hub, the business will now be able to authenticate items being sold in the U.K. locally, cutting their carbon footprint by up to 10 times. Up to 50 specialist jobs will also be created to facilitate the process, meaning more than 1,000 items per day can be diverted from being shipped to France for authentication.
It’s a worthwhile investment as far as Bittner is concerned, who is optimistic that the increased demand U.K. shoppers have been showing in secondhand fashion is only bound to grow.
“We are still early on in our journey. If you look at the automotive industry, secondhand cars represent up to 60 to 70 percent of the total cars being sold, while in fashion secondhand still has a tiny share,” he added.
This is the business’ fourth center, with additional locations including France, the U.S. and Hong Kong. It allows Vestiaire, which received a $216 million minority investment from Kering last year, to stay ahead of the game in an increasingly crowded resale market.
“We see ourselves as fairly unique compared to the existing resale universe. We have a more luxurious assortment and there’s also a big trust component, developed through our brand partnerships both with luxury brands, retailers like Mytheresa, and Kering,” added Bittner. “We see ourselves as a differentiated player and also the only truly global player. The overall attention around resale is exciting, we don’t see it as competition. Our competitors aren’t Depop or The Real Real, but firsthand fashion purchases. We want to move people from quantity to quality and (encourage them) to buy secondhand Sézane instead of firsthand Asos, or secondhand Isabel Marant instead of firsthand Sezane.”
The opening of the new U.K. warehouse is only the first in a series of heavy growth investment for Vestiaire Collective, which according to Bittner will vary from geographical expansion, to technology and customer service.