The currency in your closet: why second-hand bags are a valuable investment
With fast fashion now a dirty word, the pre-owned market is booming. From playing the handbag stock exchange to securing a vintage bargain, Bairbre Power looks at how upmarket retailers have embraced circular fashion
"How much? It cost how much?" I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I used to hide my retail purchases down the back of the couch, only to unveil later as "this old thing".
Nothing ostentatious or outrageous, mind, but yes, there were lots of emotional buys along the way. My favourites in recent years were the three handbags that came home with me from the John Rocha retirement sale. When my favourite designer was retiring, I wasn't looking at an 'investment value' down the road: I was buying purely on emotion, fuelled by a sadness that I wouldn't be able to buy him again.
But of course I was able to buy John Rocha pieces in pre-loved stores for a number of years. Sadly, that supply has effectively dried up and his pieces are as rare as hen's teeth, so fans like myself have moved their affections over to his daughter, Simone - a happy segue.
People often say to me, "Oh, I'd love to get inside your wardrobe, you must have amazing pieces," and I just blush. I do and I don't. I've given so many pieces away over the years for a string of reasons - from change of lifestyle and body shape to more practical concerns, such as not being really able to wear heels much anymore.
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My cast-offs ended up in charity stores and are now part of the all-important sustainable clothing chain, hopefully being loved second or third time around. Did I ever buy strategically for investment? The answer is no. I've always bought for practical purposes, to feel and look good. I've rewarded myself with clothes, marked milestones with clothes, but I've never made money out of them. Even my careless, spontaneous 'mistakes' only ever earned me a quarter of what I originally paid when sold in a second- hand store.
Clearly, I should have been buying more cleverly if I wanted to liquidate my closet for future shopping sprees. I've watched savvy shoppers buying up designer collaborations with high-street stores and then flog them online for four times the price, with the profit reinvested in their own wardrobes.
H&M's collaborations with designers such Marni, Maison Martin Margiela and especially the 2015 one with Balmain's Olivier Rousteing delivered a cash cow for those lucky enough to have bagged pieces early and then sold them on at a profit. It's the fashion world's equivalent of selling on coveted concert tickets, but there are also savvy investors who zone in on new fashion graduates, who often sell on their graduate collections in order to invest in taking their career onto the next stage.
In the world of designer fashion, handbags are increasingly becoming less of an emotional purchase and more of a rational one, and even financial whiz kids acknowledge that the right Hermès bag can make a better investment than gold these days.
Colin Saunders, CEO of Open for Vintage, worked in retail property and e-commerce before launching his online marketplace for vintage and pre-loved designer fashion, accessories and jewellery with his Dublin-based business partner, James Loftus . The business found its feet very fast and one of its early A-list fans was Kim Kardashian, who set her sights on a long, black 1980s velvet skirt by Escada.
"Vintage fashion, watches and jewellery by certain designers have proven to be exceptional investment pieces that challenge value increases in industries such as property, art and cars," Colin tells me.
One of his favourite fashion-designer examples is an Hermès resale that took place in America. In 1989, an Hermès Lizard Mini Kelly 20 bag sold for $2,595, and in 2015 the same bag was sold on to a new buyer for $45,363. Similarly, investing in vintage watches can also be extremely lucrative, with brands like Rolex selling for thousands and sometimes millions at vintage auctions.
"For those that want to buy better, vintage really is the ideal solution. For the financially savvy shopper, buying vintage from luxury designers, jewellers and watchmakers is a no-brainer. For those looking to invest with the aim of selling on, vintage goods that become rarer over time from well-known collectable brands will likely increase in value," Colin says.
This year, he says, Chanel and Louis Vuitton have been the strongest-performing brands, with bags and jewellery having sold the best.
"Looking at why these are working from a broader sense, we have learnt that shoppers are becoming more savvy to the fact that buying pre-owned often makes luxury brands more price-accessible. Customers seek these top-tier designer goods that are often unattainable, and use buying vintage as a way of acquiring the same brilliant design and quality as if they bought new, but for a fraction of the cost."
There was a time that the 'passion investments' were regarded as wine, classic cars and fine art but you can add handbags to this list now. They have been a hotly traded commodity since Christie's sold its first one back in 1978. It was a rare beauty that belonged to Coco Chanel and now resides in the Smithsonian. A report in the Financial Times last October claimed that the investment handbag market is where the watch market was 30 years ago.
In an interesting retail development this year, Brown Thomas introduced three pre-loved pop-ups into their Christmas gifting 'Marvel Room' in Dublin's Grafton Street.
There were pre-loved handbags from Ella de Guzman of second-hand store Siopaella who did 'bring back' days in BTs in November where customers had an opportunity to bring in items to be appraised and, where bought, the vendor received gift vouchers to spend in store, which continued the whole concept of circular fashion.
There were also pop-ups of antique jewellery from Adam's Fine Art Auctioneers & Valuers and watches and pieces from Vestiaire Collective, the online marketplace founded in Paris in 2009 which specialises in pre-owned designer clothing and accessories.
The idea of pre-loved sitting beside brand-new items in-store might have surprised some shoppers but the luxury resale market continues to grow. Working towards circular fashion is crucially important and has a role to play in the future of fashion according to Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas' group fashion director.
"What people are thinking about now is buying better. They want what they want; they want new luxury goods but, at the same time, there's another customer who might want to buy something that's been reused, to give it a second life, and that's fabulous. That's what we need to be looking at, going forward. That's the way the world is changing. People call it the 'disappearing planet'; they are very concerned about pulling back, saving the planet, and everybody is thinking about what businesses can do to lead the way."
When it comes to handbags, it's all about supply and demand but then, not every style will hold its value. At the top end of the market, stories about luxury Birkin bags going for record prices continue to make the headlines. In Ireland, one of the safest investments appears to be the Chanel Classic Flap with the iconic double 'C', according to Ella de Guzman. In second place, she nominates the more affordable Louis Vuitton Neverfull and Dior's Saddle bag.
The latter is a surprise for Ella, who opened her first shop in 2011 and now has four pre-loved stores - two on Dublin's Wicklow Street and two in Temple Bar.
Eight years ago, Ella couldn't sell Dior bags. In fact, she says she gave them away to charity shops. However, the brand's visibility rose like a rocket during 2018. There was considerable activity with influencers on Instagram, and on day one of the Marvel Room pop-up, a black Dior Saddle bag, with its distinctive 'D' dangling from the flap, sold priced at €2,000.
A Chanel Classic Flap bag with the double 'C' in black caviar leather bought for €2,000 in 2011 would sell for double that now. "If history repeats itself, in eight years' time, that Chanel bag will sell for €9,000," says Ella.
However, not every bag will stand the test of time. The Chloé Paddington was an 'It' bag in the past and partners and boyfriends were pulling their hair out trying to 'bag' the beauty costing around €1,000 when Christmas rolled around. Nowadays, according to Ella, these bags change hands for around €200.
Sometimes, it's the mid-priced bags that perform really well. Currently, there is considerable interest in Marc Jacobs bags from around eight to 10 years ago, and Ella says if she could get her hands on 10 of the black leather zip style with the distinctive logo plaque, she could sell them all in a day.
"At the moment, pretty much anything Louis Vuitton will have a resale value - the brand is on fire," says Ella, pointing out a 2019 limited-edition 'on the go' shopper which, currently on sale in her shop for €2,300, is already exceeding its original price when it launched earlier this year.
In the last eight years, Ella has sold 140,000 pre-owned items and, interestingly, her records show that 3,000 transactions were for products from Zara, so it does seem that on the clothes front, resale is not all about designer labels. Affordable brands like Topshop and River Island also hold their own in the recycling fashion equation along with COS, which appeals to a wide demographic. And currently, Ella tells me, there is big interest in vintage shirts from the 1990s. She only accepts clothes into her stores on her 'swap days' for which she offers store credit, while for the coveted designer handbags, Ella pays in cash.
"I always recommend that people buy with a view to selling on and if they want to know what brands to invest in, just come and ask me," says Ella, who predicts that the pre-loved sector will overtake fast fashion in the next few years .
This sector has moved on from the early adopters and the thrill of the vintage chase to the present situation, where pre-loved pieces are regarded as a 'tradable asset'.
According to Forbes, Gen Y's and Gen Z's are fuelling the growth but the Boomers are not sitting it out.
When it comes to investing in a diamond ring, the advice at John Farrington Antiques on Dublin's Drury Street is: "Go for the best quality in the price point you have, not the biggest. Rather than buying big and showy, buy smaller and finer-quality. Quality never goes out of fashion." John also points out that classic, round, brilliant-cut diamond rings have never gone out of style and the same applies to classics like the emerald-cut and pear-shape diamond.
* Catherine and Bernadette Butler of Rhinestones on Dublin's St Andrew's Street are acknowledged experts on collectable costume jewellery. Scandinavian enamel is popular, with prices from €100. If your budget and ambitions are bigger, it's hard to pass on Miriam Haskell, the American designer whose vintage, handcrafted, floral-themed costume jewellery is collected worldwide. If you like Anna Wintour's signature look of wearing coloured glass necklaces layered up in different hues (above right), prices start from €500. When it comes to investing in a diamond ring, the advice at John Farrington Antiques on Dublin's Drury Street is: "Go for the best quality in the price point you have, not the biggest. Rather than buying big and showy, buy smaller and finer-quality. Quality never goes out of fashion."