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Vintage-gear boom jolts luxury labels

Luxe brands find it hard ignore a second-hand business worth US$25b in annual revenue - and still growing

(Above) Consigner Fan Tu (left) has items inspected and appraised by Jeremy Hernandez, NYC client manager, at The RealReal shop.

(Above) Mr Hernandez carries items to be sold on consignment at The RealReal shop, a seven-year- old online reseller of luxury items in the Soho section of Manhattan, in New York City.

Paris/New York

SECOND-HAND fashion, once consigned only to thrift stores, is outstripping sales growth in the primary luxury goods sector, helping market leader The RealReal expand its business and prompting international labels to look at tie-ups.

Sales of second-hand, or vintage, luxury goods - from Chanel handbags and Gucci dresses to Rolex watches - are thriving on dedicated Web platforms that are drawing a younger clientele seeking bargains and championing recycling.

The RealReal could be ready to list on the stock market within two years, when it expects the value of goods sold on the site to have roughly doubled to US$1 billion annually, its founder and CEO told Reuters.

The seven-year-old US company is also in talks with high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton parent LVMH and Gucci owner Kering over potential partnerships, Julie Wainwright said.

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Luxury labels have hitherto shunned the second-hand trade, fearing diluting their exclusivity and cannibalising their sales. But they are now finding it hard to ignore a second-hand luxury business that is worth US$25 billion in annual revenue and is expected to grow by up to 10 percent annually in coming years, according to Berenberg analysts.

That is more than twice the projected pace of growth of the much larger primary market.

While there are few indications so far that they are planning in-house ventures, brands including LVMH and Kering are now talking to vintage sites as they try to figure out how they might extract some value from the burgeoning sector, The RealReal and executives from other resellers said.

LVMH did not return requests to comment. Kering has said it is "testing things with The RealReal", without elaborating.Second-hand platforms make their money by taking a cut of the resale price of an item, anything from 10 per cent to 50 per cent depending on the product and how much the seller has sold via the site.

The RealReal is facing growing competition from rival resellers looking to cash in on the booming market, including thredUP, which branched into luxury last year, and established players such as Vestiaire Collective. For The RealReal and its rivals, partnerships with big brands could raise their profile and give them an edge.

They declined to disclose details about the tie-ups they were discussing. But some executives, including Vestiaire CEO Sebastien Fabre, said deals could include data-sharing that allow brands to track what kind of people were buying and selling their products, and how the items' value was holding up. Such information could inform their marketing campaigns and pricing. The RealReal's existing partnership with British label Stella McCartney could also serve as a model.

The brand actively encourages shoppers to recycle its clothes by offering US$100 vouchers, half paid for by The RealReal, to spend on new products in stores for every old Stella McCartney item they sell on the site.

Resellers said labels were also increasingly convinced by their argument that rather than threaten luxury sales, they may help funnel money back to brands. The RealReal's Ms Wainwright said about a fifth of the money that sellers made was spent on buying items on the site, suggesting a significant proportion might go back into the broader apparel market. REUTERS

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