Wednesday, 24 September, 2014

Published May 24, 2014
Second-Hand, First Choice
That coveted designer piece is finally within reach with more platforms allowing people to access pre-owned luxury items at lower prices, BT Weekend finds out
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Ophelia Teo, owner of Designers Exchange Pte Ltd. - PHOTOS: YEN MENG JIIN

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MOST women know what it's like to lust after a luxury item. But what happens when that $8,000 Chanel classic flap handbag is just out of your financial reach? That's where the second-hand market comes in. With social media and technological advancements in recent years, more platforms have been popping up to give people access to pre-owned luxury items at lower prices.

Some of them have been so successful, that they have spawned physical shops, expanded their storage space, or even started developing their very own unique mobile application. One of the newest entrants is The Closet Raiders, run by Instagram-celebrity Jamie Chua and her business partner Sharon Tang. Though they only started last month, their Instagram account - on which they conduct most of their business - has already garnered over 13,000 followers.

"We have sellers telling us that their items are sold within minutes of us posting them on Instagram," says Ms Tang, 36.

Their success is testament of how far the market for second-hand goods has grown, especially since the days when more established resellers such as Designers Exchange used to face certain stigmas when they first started out.

Founder Ophelia Teo says: "When we first started, there were people who asked us every now and then 'You mean people will want to buy my used bags/wallets/shoes?' " But today, you hardly find anyone asking such questions."

When her business first started in 2003, one of her biggest challenges was overcoming the resistance of Asian culture, which came with a mindset that carrying second-hand goods was an embarrassment.

But over the years, Ms Teo has seen more people drawn to second-hand stores, partly because they tend to carry models or colours that boutiques may not stock.

That's a reason why one of Ms Teo's long-time customers, housewife Betty Loke, has no qualms whatsoever about buying second-hand items. "I am not particular as long as they are still very new and in very good condition," says the 57-year-old. Though she still does buy some bags first-hand, she adds that "sometimes I buy (the second-hand bags) to keep and use once in a while, just to add to my collection".

Stephanie Crespin, owner of 11-month-old StyleTribute, attributes this change in mindset to the way discounted prices are attracting a younger generation of shoppers. She says: "We have a generation of value seekers, educated shoppers who have a clear vision of the different purchase options. They know how to find a good deal - why pay full price when you can get it at 85 per cent off the retail price?"

But, of course, one universal concern that comes with dealing in second-hand luxury items is the issue of authenticity, and for this, Ms Teo believes that the onus is on providers to ensure her buyers feel safe when making their purchases.

"Lots of research goes into ensuring we do not make mistakes in authentication, as it is impossible for laymen to know what to look out for," she says.

But to increase your chances of getting the real thing, she advises: "I think people can, at least, do some homework. Go to a boutique, look at the real bags first. Take a look at the stamping, the font, the serial number, the hardware - just to get an idea before you buy the bag."

By Rachel Loi

Designers Exchange

150 Orchard Road, #03-58, Orchard Plaza

Tel 6734 5717

Hours: Mon to Fri, 12pm to 8pm; Sat, 12pm to 7pm; Sun, 2pm to 7pm by appointment

OPHELIA Teo chalks up one major reason for her 10-year-old business's success - being able to verify the authenticity of what she sells in her second-hand luxury goods store, Designers Exchange. After all, her business reputation is dependent on that, says the industry pioneer whose regular customers have since become friends.

"You have to give people confidence - that's what our customers get after buying their first piece from us. And over the years, they learn that we are in it for the long haul, thus the development of trust and comfort," she explains.

Ms Teo first started reselling branded handbags online in 2001, after leaving her corporate job. "I thought it was time to channel my energy into doing something I love, and be more in control of my own destiny," says the 45-year-old. Two years later, business was picking up, and she felt confident enough to officially set up the Designers Exchange website, as well as a shop front.

"The traditional brick-and-mortar shop is so important in this industry," she comments. "Unlike with direct sellers . . . (my shop) gives customers peace of mind because they know where to find us if anything crops up."

Her shop at Orchard Plaza carries pre-owned used and unused designer bags and accessories by brands such as Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada, to name a few. In general, she estimates that they are 20 to 60 per cent cheaper than those sold in boutiques. "People often sell or consign to us items they have never used, either because they bought it on impulse or they received it as a gift," she explains.

Business has so far been good enough to allow her to run it full-time, and earns her about as much as she did when she was working in the corporate world. While her cut of the displayed price tag often varies with each bag's brand and model, Ms Teo estimates that she takes between 10 and 30 per cent of the stated amount.

As for the future of second-hand luxury goods, she is positive, and reckons it will increasingly become part and parcel of a modern lifestyle, especially with the convenience technology brings.

"Buyers get cheaper deals, sellers get to dispose of unwanted things in exchange for cash. Also, it frees up storage space so they can buy new things. So it's really a win-win for all parties involved," she says.

By Rachel Loi

Madam Milan

Tel 6438 9766

5 Raffles Place, #B1-47,

Mon to Fri, 11am to 8pm; Sat, 11am to 3pm;

Closed on Sundays/Public Holidays

WHEN Fong Chi May started selling pre-owned luxury bags online nine years ago, she was lucky to get 10 customers a month. Now, with four physical stores and an online presence, she easily sees more than 100 each month.

The owner of Madam Milan always had a love of quality second-hand products, "I enjoy going second-hand shopping, and not just for bags." She originally started selling a range of used goods, but decided to focus on bags after noticing a growing trend in Hong Kong. Ms Fong says that she gets her bags from anyone. After verifying their authenticity, she resells them in her stores.

The bags range from $200 to $20,000 each, with brands such as Prada, Balenciaga and Christian Dior on offer.

Initially, when she first started her online store, Ms Fong admits that she faced barriers, such as people not being open to the idea of buying second-hand items online.

"People were not so willing to purchase items online back then," she explains, "but the trend caught on in Hong Kong, and then Singapore, so people weren't so surprised at seeing second-hand luxury stores anymore."

About 90 per cent of her customers are from Singapore, with 10 per cent coming from overseas. Most of them are working women, she says, or young women who have just started working, and can't afford a full-priced luxury bag yet.

Ms Fong attributes the increase in buyers to the affluence of Singaporeans. "People are buying more branded items, and they're also more online-savvy now," she says.

However, she adds, with more online stores comes stronger competition. "The prices of new items on some websites can even rival mine."

Although that has resulted in business becoming stagnant over the past few months, Ms Fong isn't too worried. "People still like to shop at my store also because my credibility gives them assurance." A physical shop also gives customers the chance to see the actual item for themselves.

Despite the competition, Ms Fong believes that second-hand luxury online shopping will keep growing.

"People will always buy bags - owners will be glad to get rid of their old items, and young working adults who cannot afford full-priced items will get the second-hand ones, so there is a continuous stream," she says.

By Georgine Verano


FOR Stephanie Crespin, owner of StyleTribute - an online business that sells second-hand designer goods - work is tough. But not in the way that you would imagine.

"My biggest challenge is stopping myself from buying all the stuff that we take on consignment!" she laughs.

The 29-year-old launched StyleTribute in October 2013 with an inventory of 450 second-hand designer goods. It has has since grown significantly - stocking more than 2,500 pieces to date, with prices ranging from $80 to over $5,000. "I used to sell my idle design pieces at brick-and-mortar stores in Europe but work life became increasingly demanding. I turned to eBay but buying and selling was a frustrating experience," she says, sharing her inspiration for starting the website several months after moving to Singapore. A hectic work life with barely any free time is undoubtedly one that many young working Singaporeans can relate to.

"Many of our loyal buyers are young, local corporates who are passionate about fashion," says Ms Crespin. She also explains that this generation of tech-savvy 30 to 40-year-olds are educated shoppers, using the Internet to compare prices and suss out good deals. The women who sell their designer pieces on the other hand, are slightly older. Ms Crespin, who has a double degree in Business Engineering and Creation of SMEs says that the business model for StyleTribute is simple.

First, the seller sends in a picture of an item she'd like to sell. Subsequently, Ms Crespin and her team price the item and post it on their website. Once purchased, it is picked up from the seller's home and put through quality checks. Finally, it is sent off to the buyer.

The seller receives 75 per cent of the sale and StyleTribute receives 25 per cent.

"We have items ranging from $80 to over $5,000. Our team has experience in pricing items, and we usually look at factors like brand, condition and original retail price," Ms Crespin explains. Since she started StyleTribute, Ms Crespin has witnessed an increase in the number of both sellers and buyers using the online platform. Sales for the month of April were more than four times that of October when their operations first began.

But while business continues to boom for the second-hand luxury goods economy, Ms Crespin warns that as more players enter the market, the industry will become saturated. She says, "I believe there's a limit to the amount of players that can co-exist in this industry. Today, there is no dominating player but it won't take more than two years for one to establish itself as a leader."

By Chew Hui-Yan

The Closet Raider

@theclosetraider on Instagram

LAST month, a lucky customer of Instagram account, The Closet Raider, won a brand new Dolce & Gabbana top from socialite Jamie Chua's enviable wardrobe. And this month, a Manolo Blahnik dinner clutch is up for grabs.

Holding monthly lucky draws is just one of the ways that Ms Chua and co-founder Sharon Tang are building up a loyal following on social media.

The Closet Raider is an account started by Ms Tang and Ms Chua which allows people to purchase advertising space in the form of an Instagram post to sell their designer pre-worn clothes, shoes, bags and accessories.

The seller submits a picture of the item they want to sell to The Closet Raider and is charged a fee for the listing depending on the price of the item.

Prices, determined by the seller, range from several hundred dollars to $80,000. Fees can range from $30 for items below $1,000 to $200 for items priced more than $14,000.

"We analysed other similar websites and devised a price plan we think is reasonable for the amount of exposure sellers receive," says Ms Tang.

And you can bet that a post on Instagram by The Closet Raider will get significant exposure.

Since the Instagram account was started last month, Ms Chua and Ms Tang have gained an impressive following of 13,000 on the social media site.

And according to Ms Tang, this is thanks to her business partner. "A huge part of our following comes from Jamie. She's such a big star on Instagram," says the 36-year-old. "So many people just want a piece of her wardrobe," she adds.

Ms Chua, who regularly posts pictures of outfits from her extensive closet, has to date more than 154,000 followers on Instagram.

According to Ms Tang, The Closet Raider has been hugely successful so far. She says, "We got the idea because we were looking to sell some of our own stuff. We then expanded to what it is now. The response has been overwhelming!"

So much so that the duo reveal they are in the process of creating a mobile app to conduct their business more effectively.

"We are still in the developmental stages but we hope to get it out before the iPhone 6 is released," she shares.

But the challenge of verifying authenticity remains a major obstacle for the pair; especially as the items for sale do not pass through Ms Chua and Ms Tang's hands.

"We can only rely on pictures of the items that sellers send us. We try to help with verification as much as we can but ultimately, the responsibility lies with the buyer," says Ms Tang.

By Chew Hui-Yan