Second-hand should be 'first', believes Reluxable’s Marie-Hélène Stavelot
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Second-hand should be ‘first’, believes Reluxable’s Marie-Hélène Stavelot

Second-hand should be ‘first’, believes Reluxable’s Marie-Hélène Stavelot

The founder of the online aggregator for pre-loved luxury items encourages people to change their mindset about buying second-hand clothing

Gulf Business
Second-hand shopping with Marie-Hélène Stavelotsecond-hand shopping

What motivated you to start a business involving luxury second-hand clothing and accessories?
The difference between ‘vintage’  and ‘second-hand’  labels resides in our mindset. Vintage is automatically considered chic, cool and one-of-a-kind, while second-hand, on the contrary, throws up images of used, dirty and consumed items.

As the founder of Reluxable, which is an online aggregator, bringing together trusted luxury second-hand  shops and consumers, my mission is to remove the stigma around “second-hand clothing”. I believe that people’s perceptions need to evolve when it comes to buying pre-loved items.

People don’t want to wear someone’s used clothes, but trusted second-hand shops clean and sell quality reused clothes. The concern about quality is also unfounded. The older the clothes, the better the material used for its creation.

Changing these well-established mindsets and attitudes will take time and effort. But in today’s world, we have many marketing tools and means to help people change their biases. Influencers and celebrities can use social media to bring awareness against fast-fashion consumption and highlight the benefits of wearing second-hand. Platforms such as Bearly used Instagram to promote the latest trends with pre-loved clothes, and that’s what I do with Reluxable to showcase second-hand luxury fashion.

What did you do before starting the company?
I have a bachelor’s degree in business management from Brussels. After graduating, I worked in banking in the Democratic Republic of Congo for two years. I then decided to do my master’s degree in public relations and communication in London. Following that, I moved to Dubai and worked with a fintech startup. In December 2020, I founded Reluxable.

What were your key takeaways from starting the business?
I’ve been active on the luxury second-hand market since I was a teenager. I used to regularly resell my clothes and other  items. It enabled me to observe the business evolution, covering everything from the physical consignment stops to the online resellers. While searching for the right development team, my sister, Olivia, who is also the COO of the company, and I launched a blog with tips and advice on buying second-hand luxury goods. This led to the online launch of Reluxable in November 2021.

Our mission has been to encourage people to join the circular fashion movement and explore a more sustainable way to enjoy luxury fashion. We aggregate items and prices from various reseller partners, ensuring all the items available on one site, saving the customer time and trouble searching individually on different sites. The platform allows you to browse, compare prices and buy only from trusted resellers.

Is there a demand for second-hand clothes?
There definitely is. According  to a Financial Times report (2019), 74.9 per cent of adults polled in a survey bought at least one used item in the previous year. This translates to 196.6 million people who are involved in the reuse economy. Although this number might seem significant, it pales compared to those buying from fast-fashion retailers and clothing conglomerates.

The best way to change the stigma around second-hand items is to highlight the benefits of buying it. The environment is the number one victim of fast-fashion waste and pollution. Awareness campaigns against the clothing industry’s impact on the planet are rightfully bombarding us with urgent messages to stop. Buying pre-loved items diminish the precious resources and materials to create new garments. It also helps reduce unethical forced labour.

I’ve also tracked the second-hand luxury market for a decade and have seen those related businesses mushroom and grow. I believe that today, more than ever before, they are becoming socially more acceptable.

Thrifting is more than just a trendy sociocultural fad, it’s a practical consuming alternative for ourselves and the environment. As thrifting becomes more integrated into our daily lives, the positive effects of our actions will last longer. The next generations will thank us for our decisions.

Tell us about your business model.
Our business model, for now, is a matchmaking and affiliate business model that serves two sets of customers: resellers and customers. We connect trusted resellers with customers all over the world through affiliate marketing. We connect consumers with several resellers to reduce the number of online destinations required to browse different products. We enable users to browse products from several retailers all available in one place, search for specific products, compare products prices, save their favourites and be redirected to the retailer’s website to complete the purchase. We get a split of the sale price.

What are some of the challenges you faced when setting up the company?
As a tech venture, the first challenge is to find the right team to execute the plan and  understand the vision and add the needed inputs, especially when it’s not your area of expertise.  Also, as a self-funded startup, you have to spend your funds conscientiously, in addition to carefully allocating your resources. The most challenging part is raising funds, especially in a region where less than 2 per cent of the funding goes to companies either co-founded by a woman or those led by women. This, in my opinion, has to change.

What are your future plans?
We want to participate in the luxury resale industry transformation by facilitating secondary market connections and accelerating transactions. We want to make second-hand shopping easy and accessible and save customers time, as they browse multiple sites worldwide. We built an MVP (minimum viable product) website that is linked to a third-party affiliate management system, our mainstream of revenue. Our five key partners are globally trusted resellers, including The Luxury Closet based in Dubai, Lampoo based in Milan and What Goes Around Comes Around based in New York.
 This has laid a good foundation for more growth.

Any tips for those looking to buy second-hand clothing and accessories?
If you’re new to buying pre-loved, remember that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation. You can begin small and gradually increase your second-hand shopping experiences once you get used to the process. It’s also natural to continue to purchase new items, which is perfectly fine, but remember that every used item you buy is a step in the right direction.  Before you know it, you’ll be living a zero-waste lifestyle or just a normal lifestyle that prioritises reuse, which is also acceptable.

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