The race to become the best, biggest, most legitimate fashion resale site on the internet rages on with another major announcement by The RealReal. Well, two, actually. First, the luxury consignment site has signed on Stella McCartney as its first official brand partner. And second, the news comes on the first-ever National Consignment Day — a holiday that The RealReal's PR team made a reality. (It was approved by the National Day Calendar, so it's real.)
Both bits of news center around the sustainability-related benefits of consigning in a way that The RealReal hasn't really emphasized in its marketing to this degree before now. Per a press release, more than 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide each year, 75 percent of which will end up in landfills. Consigning obviously lengthens the lifecycle of clothing, reducing the amount that gets discarded. And for McCartney, sustainability and social responsibility have always been an integral part of her business; so it makes sense that, of all luxury brands, she would be the first to come out as an official proponent of "recommerce" with The RealReal.
The partnership will involve programming, the details of which are still being ironed out, in Stella McCartney's U.S. stores, as well as The RealReal's NYC concept store and website. "We're really working on a combination of education and referral and incentives for someone to consign," explains The RealReal CEO Julie Wainwright over a recent phone call. The real significance of this announcement is that of a luxury brand coming out in support of its customers reselling its goods. "It's a bold statement [for a brand] to say, 'Consigning is a really good thing, and you guys should consign because when you buy our products and you're ready to move on, you should consign those goods,'" adds Wainwright.
"We believe that consignment and recommerce can play a significant part in reducing the amount of raw materials that are required each year from our planet," said McCartney in a statement. "This is key in our commitment to becoming part of a more circular economy. By ensuring that our products are used for the entirety of their lifecycle, it is possible to begin to slow down the amount of natural resources currently being cultivated and extracted from the planet for the sake of fashion."
As genuine as McCartney's concerns may be, it took some convincing to get her on board. In general, explains Wainwright, brands have not all been immediately receptive to the idea of a partnership with The RealReal. "I have been talking to every luxury brand that would talk to me for about four years," she says. She feels that the site has only recently gotten big enough. "I've been trying to get [McCartney's] attention ever since I started, but the truth is I started talking more actively to all the big brands two years ago as we progressed and our business matured." Since McCartney's company is based in London, early discussions with her team involved education about what The RealReal does and how big it actually is in the U.S.
Now that McCartney is on board, Wainwright hope more luxury companies will follow suit; she hinted that other brands at Kering — sustainability is a cornerstone of the luxury conglomerate — could be next. LVMH has also expressed interest, she says. But aside from encouraging a circular economy, what's in it for these brands?
Wainwright argues that by encouraging reselling, a brand can inspire more consumer confidence because it's also saying its wares will hold up long enough to resell. "It's proven pretty clearly now that by us reselling brands, we establish a resale value for that brand, and it actually reinforces the primary sale, and if you buy something of value, it should circle back into the economy," she says. Best-case scenario, a Stella McCartney customer will take what they make from selling a Stella McCartney handbag and use it to buy a new one.
Wainwright says these brand partnerships benefit The RealReal by raising awareness of the retailer and the concept of online luxury consignment in general, hopefully resulting in an uptick in consignors. As Wainwright puts it, "It's good all the way around."
If these brand partnerships continue, it also has some significant implications for the reselling industry as a whole. It further encourages shoppers to think about resale value when shopping — something Gen-Zers (The RealReal's fastest-growing customer base) are already doing apparently. Add to this the proliferation of drop culture and the circular economy seems poised to become much more of a mainstream reality. Of course, then we get into the phenomenon of people buying things expressly to resell them; and whether that's especially good for the environment is certainly debatable.