Fanny is the co-founder of luxury resale platform, Vestiaire Collective. This interview is part of the LEGACY Summit 2019 Intent editorial partnership.
Tell us a little bit about your upbringing. How have your personal values and life experience shaped your work?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs—my grandparents, parents and my brother were all entrepreneurs. But why fashion? Well, when I was a teenager I started working with my mum and helping her at her shop where she was selling fashion. So at that point I was at the crossrail of business and fashion; I loved the creative side of buying, merchandising and so on, as well as the business side of running a shop. That doesn’t say much about my values (laughs), but I suppose working hard is one of my strongest values as this is what being raised by entrepreneurs taught me.
I used to be super super shy, and what I learned from this is the value in taking a step back and observing things, in listening.. I think I now have a pretty good understanding and capacity to analyse and look at what’s happening. I believe this has helped in the creation of my own business, Vestiaire Collective.
My mother raised my brother and I in a very conscious way, notably when it came to food and waste, or even simple things such as never walking out of a room without turning the light off.. She had very down to earth ethics. She has also always had a very edited way of buying fashion and I inherited this notion of an edited wardrobe from her. Our shared focus is on finding the right pieces, rather than on the volume of what we own.
“My wardrobe revolves around a one-in, one-out policy. Reselling allows me to enter a virtuous sustainable cycle, and most importantly I’m financing my next purchase.” – How strict is this rule?
Pretty strict actually. That’s what I’m doing right now, as there are some things I want to buy but I force myself to sell things first. I am in the process of selling these things on Vestiaire, like my Celine bag which I sold the other day, and once these are all sold I can look to buy some new pieces.
Tell us about Vestiaire Collective. How is the business model you have adopted a different, arguably healthier model to traditional retailers?
Vestiaire is an online C2C marketplace dedicated to secondhand fashion, with a very specific focus on quality and a level of service. Our catalogue is edited but still quite large—there are one million products on the site right now. Authenticity and quality control is paramount; every single piece that you shop on the site will be physically checked by our experts in-house. When it comes to luxury products, counterfeiting concerns can arise so it is important we provide a certificate to ensure the buyer is not fooled.
Two other core elements of our DNA are sustainability, obviously, as we extend the lifecycle of products and decrease impact on the planet, and then community. We are above and beyond an e-commerce platform—we are a community of fashion lovers and we all share the same values. We see members of Vestiaire coming to not just buy and sell, but also to connect with others, share learnings and simply enjoy looking at beautiful things.
“Not everyone wants to be a minimalist, so the sharing economy allows people to still have fun with their personal style. Vestiaire defines itself as the ‘Fashion Playground’—it is a fun place to trade and be smart with what you have.”
Can you talk us through the process of authenticating products? Does this process highlight the superior quality of luxury goods?
We partnered with most of the luxury brands back in 2012 to sign an anti-counterfeiting charter. Those of us working in this space recognise that there is a world between a fake handbag and a real one. Perhaps someone who is not trained won’t be able to see as much of a difference, but it is fascinating to see our experts work. The first thing they do is close their eyes, grab the item—let’s imagine it’s a bag—feel the leather, and then smell it immediately after. By having their eyes closed, they have extra sensitivity in their fingers and in absorbing scent. This process is when any warning signs arise, as they know what type of leather is used in genuine luxury goods.
You mentioned during the panel at LEGACY Summit, your collaboration with the industry. How has the wider industry responded to your approach to retail? Have their sentiments changed over the years as the industry has evolved and began to understand the issues with waste and the importance of product lifecycle?
Ten years ago, they did not understand what the business model of Vestiaire was all about. But we never had any arguments with any brands, because we have always been very respectful of what they have built and the level of craft they maintain. As I mentioned earlier, we are working together in fighting counterfeiting. Back then, we were on good terms but from a distance. Then as the years have passed and they’ve understood Vestiaire’s ethos more and more, they realise that we are not taking business away from them. In fact it is the opposite—because we exist, we enable that virtual circle to be closed. By letting people sell their old luxury goods, we enable them to then buy the new luxury brand collections. So brands are in the process of better understanding that virtue, and we are working together behind the scenes to become closer.
Given the luxury industry is exclusive and not for the ‘everyday’ customer, are you in a way democratising luxury?
It is similar to the perfume and beauty industries, which enable people to access luxury brands such as Chanel. Someone may never be able to buy a Chanel bag, but they can afford the perfume.. It is the same with secondhand, you can enable more people to access and enjoy a luxury brand. We also teach people about the value in craftsmanship and investing in better quality products versus fast fashion.
This false economy we have fallen into, where we feel richer for being able to buy cheaper clothes in larger volumes, has led to us focusing on the immediate price tag rather than the longer ‘cost per wear’. How do you think we can approach this reeducation and encourage people to engage in slower, more considered purchasing behaviour?
By telling the truth. It is not possible to buy a tee shirt for five euros; people need to understand that there are problems in the way that tee shirt has been made. This is obvious when it is losing shape after only a few times in the washing machine.
We don’t talk about the cost per wear at Vestiaire, we talk about the resale value. For us, by encouraging people to not buy the five euro tee shirt and instead opt for the better quality option, we are encouraging people to focus on the afterlife of that product once they decide to sell it. The new buyer will ultimately give money back into the original owner’s pocket.
“Give your wardrobe a second life, it’s the new luxury.” – The word luxury has become diluted over the years, as people continue to throw it about, but I love this sentiment of yours. Can you elaborate?
Luxury is a state of mind. Again, it is being savvy enough to understand the value in a rolling wardrobe and creating value for yourself and letting things go. It is a luxury in the sense that it is fun, valuable, sustainable.. I have my staples, which I will keep for a long time, but the rest of my wardrobe is where I really have fun and experiment. I can wear these items for a shorter time while they still bring joy.. Having the luxury to have that mentality, to be able to play with what you own, I love that.
“The problem is, once you have educated people to expect garments to cost so little, it is super difficult to go back. I’m always confused by the big marketing messages around sustainability and the reality of what fast fashion brands are driving into consumers’ minds. “
The concept of ‘access over ownership’ has grown significantly in other industries, i.e. the motor vehicle industry, and is now quickly growing in fashion. Why do you think many of us are shifting away from wanting to own something for a long time, and are instead wanting to experience a product?
This has been around way before Marie Kondo (laughs), but we are now drugged by newness and the acceleration of this whole industry continues to trigger more and more desire. Social media, and the fact that we are all overwhelmed by so much newness and information on a daily basis, has changed the world of fashion. People are wanting to be more ‘light’ in the way they live; they want to clear their minds, their thoughts, their house, their wardrobe…
In order to want to keep something forever, it really needs to be special. And given this is quite rare, we are now seeing an increased focus on the sharing economy. And not everyone wants to be a minimalist, so the sharing economy allows people to still have fun with their personal style. Vestiaire defines itself as the “Fashion Playground”—it is a fun place to trade and be smart with what you have.
The industry is undoubtedly at a time of transformation. Who do you see as leaders in responsible business (notably in the garment sector) and why? Are there any particular business models (other than your own!) that impress you?
There are a lot of things happening. What Dean from Glamcorner and Bryce from Nudie Jeans were sharing during our panel discussion was amazing. Those guys are bringing to the market some very fresh and cool ideas; I love in particular the repair kits that Nudie are giving to customers. Rental too is exploding and expected to eventually surpass fast fashion, so Glamcorner’s business model is very relevant.
Do you see scope for fast fashion businesses to drive positive change in the garment industry without reconsidering their overall business model?
They are trying huh, with their recycling bins and so on.. But when I enter one of those stores, I see the abundance of throwaway pieces that you can tell are poor quality simply by touching them. The problem is, once you have educated people to expect garments to cost so little, it is super difficult to go back. I’m always confused by the big marketing messages around sustainability and the reality of what fast fashion brands are driving into consumers’ minds. So to answer your question, I am not sure..
When looking to the future of the garment industry, are you optimistic? What excites and/or daunts you about the future of the garment industry?
Over the past year or two, we have seen this industry stepping back and really looking into the eyes of our problems. While I wouldn’t say we are saving the world, we are starting to figure out how to be a better industry, a more sustainable industry, which will take time. Again, it is the consumer who has the power to drive change so I believe the more education we can give them to demand change, the faster the industry will change.. But yes, I am very optimistic for sure.
What’s next for Vestiaire?
We are very good at producing many, many ideas but sometimes less good at making them happen! That said, there are a few exciting things happening in the Vestiaire kitchen, which we will share in the year ahead.
Asia is the next big thing for us. We are the only big resale platform that is truly global. We are leading Europe and very strong in the U.S., so are now taking baby steps in Asia. That’s something that really adds value to the whole ecosystem of Vestiaire, being able to shop and sell into each other’s wardrobe across the world.