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Closet to cash: a beginner’s guide to buying and selling secondhand fashion

·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

In January this year, I put myself on a no-new-clothes shopping ban. It was an attempt to curb my emotional spending; a self-imposed penance because getting what I wanted felt easy (how good is that Catholic guilt though?) and a move towards sustainability. I assumed it would be torture, but five months in and I seem to be thriving: high on my (evolving) ability to wait, haggle and be conscientious for the sake of both wallet and Earth.

“Buying preloved fashion used to be associated with op-shops and thrifty bargain hunters, but more and more people are coming to realise the impacts of fast fashion and the benefits of buying preloved,” says Hannon Comazzetto, who has been buying and selling preloved fashion since she was 15. She founded the circular fashion marketplace AirRobe.com, which integrates directly into online fashion stores and allows you to on-sell your purchases, because she understood “the financial realities of not being able to invest in slow and sustainable fashion all the time” but hated the idea of cheap and convenient clothing going to landfill.

Related: Meet Australia’s fashion fixers: ‘There’s no apprenticeship, it’s more Bruce Lee style’

Thanks to people like Comazzetto, circular economy shopping is getting much easier. Where we were once forced to lug garbage bags and trestle tables to markets at ungodly hours and only had eBay as an online alternative, we can now join Facebook groups catering to our favourite brands to sell and buy, follow Instagram pages selling curated capsules and resell our old items on trend-driven international websites such as Depop, which launched in Australia in November 2019, or Vestiaire Collective, which focuses on higher-end clothes, and covers the cost of a buyer’s shipping.

“Getting started with buying or selling preloved doesn’t have to be a daunting or overwhelming prospect,” Comazetto says. “You can start small by reselling one item or making your next fashion investment a preloved one.”

Research first

Familiarise yourself with the market. If you’re a seller, look at how much similar labels are being sold for and where. If you’re looking to buy, know your sizes as there’s little room (if any) for returns and exchanges. “Check the seller’s reviews and do a little research into the history of the brand you’re buying,” Comazzetto says, adding that it helps to know your measurements, especially for vintage clothing. “Times have changed, and so have industry sizing standards, so if you need to ask a seller for measurements, then do it,” she advises.

A model parades an outfit by Australian label Camilla and Marc at the Melbourne Fashion Festival. This brand&#x002019;s classic looks go well in the resale market.
A model parades an outfit by Australian label Camilla and Marc at the Melbourne fashion festival. This brand’s classic looks go well in the resale market. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

List your classics

Classic shapes and styles (think neutral blazers, basic shirts and straight-leg denim) are more likely to sell, with brands such as Camilla and Marc being excellent options for the preloved market thanks to the staying power of their pieces. It’s no different when it comes to high-end accessories, says Angela Leung, who opened online consignment store The Purse Affair five years ago and has since moved to a Westfield retail store and seen her business “double in staff and level of stock on a yearly basis” thanks to the hike in luxury shopping. She says it’s always easier to sell handbags such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull, Chanel’s Classic Flap, Dior’s Lady and Hermès’s Birkin because they “have been made nearly identical for over a decade”, meaning secondhand versions are readily available at slightly lower price points for buyers, but are also an in-demand item for sellers looking to offload their gear.

Factor in fees

The adage “you’ve got to spend money to make money” rings true, so remember to factor in postage costs, PayPal fees and final value fees to any items you’ve listed for sale on most platforms, or consider that buyers might ask these of you, especially if you’re buying outside a registered app.

Sell the trend, buy the trough

A oversize shiny black bag by Maison Margiela as a detail of Influencer Gitta Banko during a street style shooting on December 20, 2020 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Streetstyleshooters/Getty Images)
With more people working from home, it’s a good time to buy an oversized bag. Photograph: Streetstyleshooters/Getty Images

A keen eye on trends will help you make the most of your experience as a buyer or seller. Leung says nano and mini bags are currently having a moment because we’re carrying less than ever thanks to phones that do everything for us, so smaller bags are holding their value really well, while larger totes are saturating the market. “Bags that people used to use for work are no longer being used as most people work from home now,” she explains. “If you like a larger tote, now is the time to go out and get a bargain as the market has an excess of them.”

Consider consignment

“Buying from a trusted consignment is a faster and easier option for the average person who is searching for a limited edition or rare bag,” Leung explains, adding that they also work for sellers who want a stress-free offloading experience.

“Sites like eBay still have fees and you are still having to deal with answering questions and arranging postage,” she says. “At a consignment store all you need to do is drop the item off and leave all the hassle behind.”

Related: Vintage is the height of fashion, but for some it comes with added baggage | Sarah Ayoub

Some consigners, like her, offer a direct purchase service – customers receive less back, but don’t have to wait for payment. Swop, which has stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, also offers direct purchase – or you can exchange items for double the direct purchase price if you take payment in store credit. Have a wish list? You can track the Instagram pages of some of Australia’s most well-equipped consignment stores, including Secondo in Sydney and Melbourne, Revivre and Blue Spinach in Sydney. Brisbane’s Designer Archives will even record your wants in their book of customer wish lists, or you can sign up for Hawkeye Vintage’s exclusive access newsletter, which offers advanced previews of their Instagram sales.

Leung does warn that not all consignment stores are created equally. Sellers should be particularly wary of social media-only consignment stores, as some Instagram pages have been known to disappear overnight, leaving consigners with very little protection. She advises looking out for “good selling infrastructure”.

“Do they have a website with traffic to sell your item efficiently? Do they have a backup Instagram page? Most importantly, do they have a storefront? If the social media account disappears overnight, do you have an easy way to find them?”

Do the work

A woman steams a dress on a mannequin.
Steaming your clothes before you photograph them will help make the item presentable enough to sell. Photograph: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Whether it’s learning to haggle fairly as a buyer, or steaming your clothes as a seller, it’s important you put time into the experience to ensure more bang for your buck. “Your phone and great lighting are all you need,” Comazzetto advises sellers. “Use a plain background and take photos and at various distances to capture the detail, too. You know what else helps? Mirror selfies! People love to see how it fits on an actual human being.”

She also recommends documenting all flaws, setting a fair price and offering authenticity cards or certificates as security guarantees for your buyers. Don’t have the time? Services such as eBay valet and websites like sellforme.com.au and AirTasker will have someone do all the work, for a chunk of your profits.

Think ahead

Buyers should make lists of their wanted items and set up seller alerts on sites like eBay and Vestiaire Collective, or push notifications on Instagram for their favourite stores.

Sellers meanwhile, should see every item as an opportunity, and keep images and descriptions of the items they’re purchasing in a folder on their phone or cloud service, in case they want to resell. This is where services like AirRobe have an advantage: it’s a one-click process that allows users to skip manual listing entirely.

“When you shop to buy something new with brands that have AirRobe integrated, you can elect to add your purchase to the Circular Wardrobe, including images and product details,” Comazzetto explains. “You then decide when to resell, rent or recycle them at a later date – and in one click you can list them.”

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