Anvita Mehra, the founder of Confidential Couture in Delhi, was studying in England in 2009 when the idea of a revolving closet, complete with pre-owned luxury frills, piqued her curiosity. “I’ve always been a big fan of uber-luxe brands, so I started researching on how to make premium makes more accessible and affordable in India,” she says. Now, her online outlet, set up in June 2014, offers an extravagance of brands extravagant—Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Fendi, Moschino, Bottega Veneta or even Michael Kors—in the ‘Never Been Used’, ‘Gently Used’ and ‘Fairly Used’ categories. Before shipping, Confidential Couture ensures thorough product authentication and clearing. “The response has been phenomenal,” says Anvita. “Initially, we used to get five orders a week; now, there are about 12. And we get some 20 enquiries daily from people who want to put up items for selling.”
In an aspirational society, there are those who want to own the finest without cutting too big a hole in their pockets. And as long it’s an original, fashionistas are no longer queasy about brandishing used-and-worn ooh-worthies. There’s now a whole web of online shopping spaces, apps and start-ups giving an unusual spin to used premium luxury—using words like ‘pre-loved’ (‘pre-owned’ being passe).
Vijay K.G., founder and CEO of Luxepolis in Mumbai, says he stepped in to fill the void in the online luxury space. “There’s a problem with excess in the closets of value-conscious Indians, so a forum that allows you to circulate luxury is a great investment.” Luxepolis serves as a platform for top-of-the-heap brands in apparel, bags, jewellery, accessories, watches and automobiles. An average transaction, they claim, is around Rs 35,000, but it could go all the way up to Rs 9 lakh (a recent sale of an Audemars Piguet watch).
Also interesting is the growth of clientele from far-off towns and the smaller cities. Vidisha, a co-founder of Rekinza, believes high-end fashion has picked up in Tier II and III cities. At a year old, Rekinza processes some 250 items and 100 orders weekly, with many from smaller towns. Luxepolis gets 40 per cent of its orders from small towns.
In this vibrant retail space, buyer becomes seller, seller becomes buyer, e-commerce feeds into re-commerce. And the long longed-for Burberry shirt can be found at half the price or less. The transactional business model feeds on and also feeds community interactions. Abhilash, the founder of app-based Elanic in Bangalore, thinks that re-commerce is as much about people as the products. “We get customers acquainted with one another. They can have private chats, negotiate or make offers. Eventually, it becomes a trust-based forum,” he says. Though it’s women who dominate this marketplace, he says it isn’t uncommon to find men making functional shopping rounds.
The big issues, of course, are addressing customers’ apprehensions about fakes and conducting high-value transactions online. Anandita Singh, founder of Envoged, based in Mumbai, admits it’s a problem, but they’ve engaged a US-based luxury authentication firm for giving the final go-ahead. Then there’s an in-house authentication team to inspect stitch quality, monograms and so on. Anvita, of Confidential Couture, says some 10 per cent of products people try to put up for sale turn out to be fakes. There’s technological help at hand too: Rashi, founder of Zapyle, launched in January this year, speaks of algorithms that do the initial checks—straightaway rejecting those not matching certain parameters. But customers are nevertheless wary. “Though I’m a compulsory shopper,” says Nidhi Singh of Ludhiana, “I’d much rather spend more buying an original product at a shop rather than risk buying something dubious online.” Others believe online purchases should be restricted to inexpensive, everyday items.
But with all commerce taking on the great hyphenated ‘e’ prefix and making a range of choices available, hand-me-down Jimmy Choos and Christian Diors were bound to find place on the e-marketshelves.