In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
Vestiare Collective is where fashion's fickle elite go to cleanse their closets of seasons past. Started nearly a decade ago by Fanny Moizant, Sophie Hersan, Alexandre Cognard, Christian Jorge, Henrique Fernandes and Sebastien Fabre in France, the luxury resale site has become a leading player in the secondhand fashion world thanks to its commitment to authenticity and community component, which allows members to interact with each other to ask questions and negotiate prices.
The idea to start the site came to Moizant during the 2009 recession, when she noticed an uptick in cash-strapped fashion bloggers selling last season's goods. At the time, there wasn't a trusted online site that could guarantee a shopper that the Hermès or Chanel handbag in her shopping cart was real and give a fair price for the piece depending on its condition. So, to save those at risk of purchasing a Firkin (a fake Birkin), Moizant launched the online resale site out of her apartment in Paris.
In just a few months, Moizant and five other co-founders gathered over 2,000 luxury pieces to sell by simply reaching out to friends. That community has since grown to count more than eight million members across 48 countries. Now, the company operates six offices worldwide and has a staff of over 340 employees — 100 new hires were made in 2018 alone. The luxury resale site also received a fresh influx of funds in 2017, which it put towards international expansion, mainly in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.
Behind it all is a powerhouse blonde who grew up learning about the ready-to-wear retail industry at her mother's boutique in the South of France. She later mastered the language of luxury at John Galliano and earned a degree in fashion marketing from the Institut de la Mode in Paris. Before launching Vestiaire, she worked as a marketing executive at French lingerie labels for seven years, and had two babies.
At present, Moizant has two big roles at the high-end consignment shop: The first is co-leading the business with CEO Maximilian Bittner, who joined last November; the second is leading Vestiaire's expansion in APAC, which means living in Hong Kong and managing a team of around 20 people.
We chatted with Moizant to learn how Vestiaire Collective stands out in the crowded resale market and how to start a fashion business during difficult economic times. She also talked expansion goals and the possibility of a brick-and-mortar store. Read on for the highlights.
What first interested you in fashion?
My interest in fashion was first sparked when I started helping my mom in her boutique in the South of France. As a teenager, it was my first experience of fashion and business. I loved every minute and knew then I wanted to build a career in fashion.
What were some of your first jobs in fashion?
I started out interning with John Galliano's commercial team. I then moved on to work as a marketing manager first at the lingerie company, Dim, then Mexx. I eventually settled at Venilia, a French interiors company, for six years. I missed fashion so much, so I decided to do a marketing degree at the Institut de la Mode in Paris. I came up with the idea for Vestiaire Collective shortly after.
What did you learn in your early days interning for John Galliano and working at the lingerie company?
To follow my passion and that would lead me to the right career path. I really enjoyed the high energy and dedication of the team at Galliano. You could tell everyone loved what they were doing. I realized that was the type of environment I wanted to work in and now foster at Vestiaire.
What interested you in the resale market?
Resale gives fashion lovers the opportunity to extend the lifespan of their items while also being able to access rare or sold-out items they missed out on. It's an exciting, dynamic market that is disrupting the way consumers shop while offering a more sustainable approach to fashion.
How did you come up with the idea for Vestiaire Collective?
After giving birth to my daughters, I really wanted to start my own business. In 2009, I noticed that fashion girls were selling previous season products on their blogs during the recession, but I was concerned that there wasn't a trusted online site that would guarantee authenticity and give a fair price for the piece depending on its condition. That gave me the idea to launch Vestiaire Collective; I teamed up with five other co-founders and we launched the site in a matter of months from our Paris apartments. That was nine years ago; it's incredible to see the business grow into a global community of eight million members worldwide in that time.
What were some of your first steps and how did you get the idea off the ground?
With my fellow co-founders, we took two key steps at the start. Firstly, we focused on inventing the customer journey, combining our key pillars of curation and authentication to bring inspiration and trust to the site. We then focused on building an inspiring inventory by gathering pieces from all of our friends. We managed to build an initial inventory of over 2,000 pieces just by reaching out to our friends.
What were some of the challenges that you faced while developing the site?
The main challenge we faced was working on building the business while trying to manage incredible growth. The site took off at a much faster rate than we initially anticipated. We had to move fast to scale up core foundations such as logistics, tech and bringing the right talent into the business.
How did you build a team and grow the site to what it is today?
It happened quite organically. Firstly, we built up the Paris headquarters, which continues to grow today. We then expanded into markets [where] we spotted strong organic interest starting with offices in London, Berlin and Milan. Once we built a strong business in Europe, we expanded into the U.S., opening an office in New York and more recently the APAC region where we have an office in Hong Kong.
What have you learned about the Asian market, having recently moved to Hong Kong?
That consumers have a huge appetite for luxury; the women in Asia are very feminine; they like to dress up and invest in luxury products. However, they are still very smart shoppers; they like to find unique treasures at great prices.
The resale market is becoming more crowded, how do you set yourself apart from other sites?
The unique combination of our three core pillars of curation, authenticity and community along with our French DNA has always set us apart from our competitors. We are constantly looking at new ways to celebrate and amplify our uniqueness in the market. It keeps me energized and ensures we can keep propelling the company forward.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a fashion business from the ground up?
Believe in yourself, follow your intuition and work hard. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and then surround yourself with talented people who balance those elements. There is nothing you can't achieve with the right team around you.
What is something you wish you'd known before starting out?
How much of a rollercoaster starting your own business can be. You have the most incredible highs, but also lows. You learn something every day. It's about enjoying the highs, but knowing that you can and will overcome the challenges.
What has been the proudest moment in your career thus far?
I think it has to be right now. Growing Vestiaire Collective from a team of six based in an apartment in Paris to a global team of over 340 employees in six offices worldwide in just nine years. It's been an incredible journey, and now I have the opportunity to drive the next step of our growth from the Hong Kong office.
Would you ever consider opening a permanent brick-and-mortar store?
It's something we have considered, but it needs to be the right opportunity at the right time. If we make the move to open a brick-and-mortar store, we want to do something really special for the customer, something that gives them added experience and value above the standard retail concept.
What's next for Vestiaire Collective?
Global expansion remains a key focus for Vestiaire, we will continue to cement our position as the leading global resale site for desirable fashion whilst expanding further into the APAC territory. We're working on a number of innovative global and local projects right now while also working to improve the customer site experience. There are a lot of exciting changes taking place in the company that will set us up to tackle the next 10 years and beyond.