An­other Bag, Not My Own

The last­ing lure of sec­ond­hand lux­ury pieces in the mar­ket


“Lux­ury” and “sec­ond­hand” make strange bed­fel­lows when it comes to fash­ion. Be­fore the sec­ond­hand mar­ket ex­ploded, used cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories were di­vided into two cat­e­gories: hand-me-down Sal­va­tion Army cast offs and vin­tage items.

In 2005, I was sent to Kenya by WWD to in­ves­ti­gate the sec­ond­hand trade. Ever won­der what hap­pens to all those old clothes you gave away to char­ity? The ones that didn’t end up in or­phan­ages or thrift stores ac­tu­ally did make it to Africa, where they were ar­guably needed the most, con­sid­er­ing the high rates of poverty pre­vail­ing on the con­ti­nent.

How­ever, in­stead of be­ing dis­trib­uted for free, the cap­i­tal­is­tic in­stinct took over. The clothes were pack­aged in bales and of­fered whole­sale through en­ter­pris­ing (and un­scrupu­lous) mid­dle­men to ven­dors who then flogged the clothes in mar­kets to cus­tomers des­per­ate for im­ported, branded, al­beit used, cloth­ing.

The trade be­came known as mi­tumba, af­ter the Swahili word for “bale.”

Across Kenya, scor­ing a used Nike shirt, or in­deed Nike kicks, gave a young boy in­stant street cred. A new­born baby swad­dled in Fruit of the Loom one­sies would be the envy of all moth­ers, while a denim jacket straight out of Tar­get made any­one seem fly.

De­spite some of the trendy la­bels I spot­ted— Miss Sixty, 7 For All Mankind, and be­lieve it or not, Banana Repub­lic and Ann Tay­lor—the open-air mar­kets, with stalls mounted like ba­hay

kubo on raw earth, were long on lo­cal color but de­cid­edly short on am­bi­ence. That is, if you ex­pect your shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence to come with a store at­mos­phere, which bou­tiques spe­cial­iz­ing in vin­tage cloth­ing have in spades.

Back in the day, the savvy shop­per knew where to go in Paris to score im­mac­u­late preloved Chanel suits, Valentino jack­ets, and Dior tops. The stores were called dépôt-ventes, quite lit­er­ally places where you could con­sign your de­signer wares and sell them. In­side, the dé­cor ranged from no-frills to ec­cen­tric to in­tim­i­dat­ingly chic, and the trea­sures that awaited dis­cov­ery were in­com­pa­ra­ble. And ev­ery smart neigh­bor­hood had a dépôt-vente; the 16th ar­rondisse­ment brimmed with some of the best. My fa­vorites then were Ré­ciproque in Rue de la Pompe, where I found a Mani blouse (re­mem­ber that line by Gior­gio Ar­mani?), and Dépôt-Vente de Passy in Rue de la Tour, where I chanced upon a shim­mer­ing green silk shan­tung Inès de la Fres­sange top that still looks amaz­ingly soignée 20 years later—though the but­tons could do with an up­date.

To­day, the sec­ond­hand— oops, pre-loved—land­scape has changed quite dra­mat­i­cally. The grand­daddy of vin­tage high fash­ion in Los An­ge­les, Cameron Sil­ver of Decades, faces com­pe­ti­tion from es­tab­lished bou­tiques like Scream­ing Mimis in New York and rel­a­tive up­starts such as Mi­lan Sta­tion in Hong Kong, not to men­tion new on­line play­ers such as Guilt­less, a lux­ury con­sign­ment e-com­merce ven­ture based in Hong Kong re­cently launched by Yen Kuok, the Stan­ford-ed­u­cated youngest daugh­ter of bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Robert Kuok. What sets Guilt­less apart from the com­pe­ti­tion is the com­bi­na­tion of sec­ond­hand cloth­ing with first-class ser­vice, which in­cludes free in­ter­na­tional con­sign­ment pick-ups and lux­u­ri­ous pack­ag­ing.

Ukay-ukay meets Net-a-Porter, in other words. Sign me up, please.

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