THE REAL DEAL

Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive’s FANNY MOIZANT tells zaneta cheng how she and five other fash­ion en­thu­si­asts founded a lux­ury re­sale web­site with its own au­then­ti­ca­tion academy – and also con­vinced lux­ury brands to give them a seat at the ta­ble

Prestige Hong Kong - - FASHION -

Eas­ily said but less eas­ily done, one of the old­est – and pos­si­bly most an­noy­ing – pieces of ad­vice is to be true to your­self. The prob­lem with this cliché is that those who lack self-knowl­edge will have a dif­fi­cult time fig­ur­ing them­selves out, while those who do won’t need to be told. Clearly be­long­ing to the lat­ter cat­e­gory is Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive, an online lux­ury-goods re­sale business that had its start in Paris in 2009 when six women dis­cov­ered they each had a pile of old and un­wanted cloth­ing that needed new homes. And so they formed a business plan.

Fanny Moizant, a co-founder of the plat­form who now over­sees its Asian op­er­a­tions from Hong Kong, ex­plains. “The ini­tial vi­sion was to fight waste, be­cause 10 years ago, what we all had in com­mon was that we all love fash­ion. We all had nice wardrobes and each of us had a pile of clothes that was just ly­ing there. We thought it was com­pletely un­sus­tain­able and we wanted to breathe new life into those items. It was that feel­ing that our things were trea­sures for us once and they could be trea­sures some­where else and start anew.”

The con­cept of vin­tage cloth­ing wasn’t new to the six Parisians, who all had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence care­fully comb­ing through musty stores for hid­den gems. “We said OK, we’re leav­ing the stig­mas of all sec­ond-hand stores in Paris,” says Moizant. “Those places are amaz­ing but also dusty and old-school. You have to go through ev­ery­thing and deal with the smell.”

Their so­lu­tion was to set up Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive, an online plat­form that al­lows fash­ion-lov­ing fe­males to sell and buy a vast as­sort­ment of cloth­ing with­out the tra­di­tional hunt­ing on hands and knees as­so­ci­ated with vin­tage shop­ping. “Ini­tially we just thought, let’s not waste what we

have and let’s make sure these go to an­other fash­ion lover and let’s ac­tu­ally cre­ate that com­mu­nity of fash­ion peo­ple,” says Moizant.

She ex­plains that in or­der to en­able mem­bers of this com­mu­nity to swap, sell and buy each other’s wardrobes, the team needed to fig­ure out a way to stand out to sea­soned vin­tage shop­pers while also at­tract­ing fash­ion mavens. “We wanted to make the ex­pe­ri­ence cool and in­spir­ing and new, and very cre­ative, be­cause among sec­ond-hand stores you can find any­thing and ev­ery­thing, but we want ours to be cu­rated from ac­ces­si­ble prices to very ex­pen­sive ones. And we re­ally wanted real pho­tog­ra­phy of the fash­ion.”

The site went live af­ter the co-founders had ri­fled through their own wardrobes and asked their friends to do the same with theirs, even­tu­ally com­ing up with 3,000 items for sale. Their ac­tive com­mu­nity was cre­ated al­most overnight but as the business grew, so did the is­sue of au­then­tic­ity.

“We dis­rupted the sec­ond-hand mar­ket by bring­ing trust,” says Moizant, re­call­ing her own ex­pe­ri­ence. “In real life, I know who you are and I feel con­fi­dent buy­ing from you, but there’s none of that on this type of plat­form. I wouldn’t know the girl I would buy from so I had to make sure. There’s a trust com­po­nent be­tween me, the buyer and the cen­tre and we needed to fig­ure out how to build some­thing that pre­vents that kind of fear that we’d ex­pe­ri­ence as con­sumers on eBay 10 to 15 years ago. This is why we feel that the phys­i­cal check – where the prod­uct goes from their home to our cen­tres to be au­then­ti­cated be­fore be­ing sent to its new home – is so nec­es­sary.”

True to its name, the site has built a strong so­cial com­po­nent. “When we thought it up, we imag­ined it as swap­ping closet con­tents among a group of friends. We wanted to keep that so­cial el­e­ment very strong on the plat­form,” says Moizant. “So we wanted to build a so­cial net­work, rather than pure and tra­di­tional e-com­merce. That’s why there’s pro­file-to-pro­file in­ter­ac­tion. Cus­tomers can speak to the seller and ex­change in­for­ma­tion. They can fol­low each other. There are many so­cial as­pects.”

It’s an el­e­ment that’s cru­cial to the buy­ing and ver­i­fi­ca­tion process, Moizant ex­plains, be­cause what of­ten hap­pens is that if an item is a fake, the seller doesn’t know it – “be­cause it’s so beau­ti­ful, they were us­ing it them­selves. The qual­ity of fakes is be­com­ing more ac­cu­rate and many are very good.”

Now ev­ery item of sec­ond-hand mer­chan­dise sold through the Ves­ti­aire web­site is ex­am­ined by one of the team’s 20 ex­perts, each of whom has in-depth ex­pe­ri­ence gained ei­ther work­ing at one of the fash­ion houses or with an auc­tion­eer, and in ar­eas such as watches, jew­ellery and leather goods.

When the com­pany ex­panded to Asia, it brought ex­perts with it “who are now work­ing here and who have been trained for years at Ves­ti­aire. We’ve even built an academy within the com­pany so that ev­ery new ‘ex­pert’ we hire en­ters the school and has pro­grammes they must go through. Then they’ll be coached by a se­nior ex­pert for a few months, so we’re re­ally build­ing up a sys­tem to have our ex­perts up to speed with our re­quire­ments,” says Moizant.

Each step of the pur­chas­ing process on the web­site is also fil­tered for fakes. “We cross cu­rate,” she says, “so we have peo­ple se­lect­ing the prod­ucts on the data­base. At that step we al­ready have a lot of mech­a­nisms in place to de­tect weird be­hav­iour, new sell­ers who come and drop a tonne of weird things.” (On which sub­ject, Moizant re­calls a man who once tried to sell his car on the plat­form and an­other a wig. Some bags of gar­ments also con­tained years of un­paid

Ev­ery item of sec­ond-hand mer­chan­dise sold through the web­site is ex­am­ined by one of Ves­ti­aire’s 20 ex­perts

park­ing tick­ets and oth­ers wads of cash. And, of course, she’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the flu­o­res­cent pink croc­o­dile Birkin cost­ing more than €200,000, its hard­ware en­tirely paved with di­a­monds, which was driven to the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in a Brinks ar­moured truck be­fore the seller ex­pe­ri­enced re­morse and had it re­turned.)

It makes the form, which each new seller must com­plete along with pro­vid­ing proof of pur­chase, a key fac­tor in the process. “Imag­ine that a fake prod­uct has passed through this ini­tial step – which is un­likely – and goes on to the site,” says Moizant. “But we also have the com­mu­nity, which is a huge help for us to iden­tify sus­pi­cious prod­ucts. We re­ceive com­ments telling us we might have a fake bag on the site and so we have a sec­ond check, we go back to the seller to ask more ques­tions and so on. Of course, if it re­ally is a fake, we take the prod­uct out. And if there’s more doubt, we even go to the lux­ury brands.”

Get­ting lux­ury brands on board has been a no­table achieve­ment for Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive and demon­strates how far the com­pany and its ef­forts to ed­u­cate con­sumers and the in­dus­try about the online lux­ury re­sale mar­ket have come. Lux­ury brands were once wary of the Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive business model – “They were a bit cu­ri­ous, sus­pi­cious – not in a bad way, but won­der­ing where we were go­ing – and 10 years ago they weren’t re­ally will­ing to con­sider us or even sit to­gether,” says Moizant.

That’s a far cry from to­day. Lux­ury houses have signed an an­ti­coun­ter­feit char­ter with Ves­ti­aire Col­lec­tive and now send brand rep­re­sen­ta­tives to train the site’s au­then­ti­ca­tion ex­perts. “They fi­nally un­der­stood that we’re work­ing on the same page,” says Moizant. “They un­der­stood that we want to pro­tect them, their im­age and their prod­uct, and so they jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether. That’s been amaz­ing.”

And even though Moizant’s eyes have now grown ac­cus­tomed to the di­a­monds, the ex­otics and al­most all the vari­a­tions of Birkins, the business still touches her. “I think it’s a car­ing business,” she says. “On a personal level, this is all about re­spect­ing crafts­man­ship, qual­ity and scarcity. This in­dus­try is one that adds value.”

OLD TREA­SURES MADE NEW: VES­TI­AIRE COL­LEC­TIVE PRO­VIDES A PLAT­FORM FOR THE RE­JU­VE­NA­TION OF OLD BUT EX­QUIS­ITE CLOTH­ING AND AC­CES­SORIES

CLOCK­WISE FROM OP­PO­SITE PAGE: VES­TI­AIRE’S FANNY MOIZANT; EX­AM­IN­ING GOODS FOR SALE; “WE SELL WHAT WE LOVE”

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