Indians To Embrace Preowned Luxury Goods
When the luxury pre-owned and thrift segment caught Anvita Mehra’s eye in the UK, it was something she wanted for India; her challenge lay in how to make a viable business of a concept that had so much stigma attached to it in her home country.
As a first year student at the University of Nottingham in 2008, Mehra encountered the small thrift and pre-owned stores of the university town, marveling at the fact that one could find one-off gems like Chanel jackets at prices that were affordable, far less than the full-cost price.
“I started doing the groundwork on getting it to India,” said Mehra, who started running tests in 2008 on whether her hypothesis that selling second-hand luxury online in the country could work.
Armed with a degree in business, Mehra, now 25, returned to India after graduation, and immediately began gaining experience in the luxury sector through working for a high-end jewelry firm. In 2014, she felt ready to officially launch the idea that had spurred her since university--an online luxury retail business she called Confidential Couture.
“I always wanted to do something in luxury, and there was not a better way of making it more affordable to a bigger segment of the market,” she said.
Confidential Couture took the buying and reselling of second-hand luxury bags and accessories onto a confidential online platform, where nobody needed to know who was behind the reselling – or the buying – of products.
The concept has since spurred a few other players in the market – ironic since starting out was not without it’s share of difficulties, says Mehra.
“Why do you want to fail as an entrepreneur,” was a question she was asked time and time again. “There was this initial stigma attached to used items,” she says.
Second-hand items long held a certain amount of shame associated with them for several reasons. One is the old cultural belief that owners attach their own spiritual vibrations to objects, and that transfers with possession. A second and more widespread belief is that twice-owned items are as good as trash, while a third believes that buying a used product means one’s wealth and status is in question.
Mehra says she’s worked hard to change these perceptions, but a greater understanding within the luxury market itself has also helped.
“Initially, brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Hermes, were restricted to a niche who understood them,” said Mehra. Those with the financial means to travel and purchase goods abroad, but “there is so much [more] awareness in the market today, social media has a lot to do with it,” she said.
Louis Vuitton products being prepared for sale on Confidential Couture's website. Photo courtesy of Confidential Couture.
The urban consumer who understands the brands now also knows that being able to own a luxury product means taking good care of it too, says Mehra.
“Anyone with a Chanel bag will take really good care of it,” she says. Her vetting process eliminates anything in a state of disrepair, but also puts products through a stringent authentication process, quickly eliminating fake products.
She even ran a campaign explaining how anyone can identify and reject fake branded products.
“Giving out information was key,” she said. “The product descriptions on the site are very detailed – if you’re transparent, especially in the online business in India, it only adds to your credibility.”
Each product on the site has been professionally dry-cleaned and is accompanied by detailed professional photographs.
While sellers are mostly from big Indian metros - New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore; Mehra says Confidential Couture attracts buyers from across India, including tier-two cities in the north -- Ludhiana, Chandigarh and Jaipur, as well as the southern cities Chennai and Coimbatore.
“The evolution of the market means that the price is now looked at as paying for an investment piece," said Mehra. “These products are assets – people, even when they come to sell they make more money than they spent when they bought the item.”
This market growth means that India is now also on the cusp of a great luxury experimentation revolution, embracing the likes New York niche clutch maker Edie Parker – a brand largely unheard of in India even a year ago.
“What’s changed is the idea of luxury,” said Mehra. “An airplane ticket was considered a great luxury for Indians at one point of time, but not anymore, the internet has changed the way people looked at things they thought were really far away from them.”
An Hermes Birkin bag being photographed for sale on Confidential Couture's website. Photo courtesy of Confidential Couture.
Crediting Net-A-Porter for helping shift the perception that luxury is affordable, Mehra says Confidential Couture aims to take that a step further by offering up the concept that luxury that may considered unaffordable at the full cost price of $1,500 is actually affordable at $400.
“India has a lot of aspirational youth, India itself is so fast,” she says, explaining that they’ve gone beyond simply demanding monogrammed designer products. This in itself is a sign that there’s a huge moving social class in the country, all doing well enough to be secure in their understanding and purchases in the luxury world.
Today, Confidential Couture sees a loyal customer buying at least two items a month, while most products listed on the site are sold within a month.
Although India’s latest demonetization crackdown means cash purchases have temporarily been restricted for many businesses, not least of all Confidential Couture, for whom 90% of business is cash-on-delivery. But Mehra says she’s been slowly seeing the evolution of those willing to swipe their card online to make a purchase, something she hopes will only increase.
“I want luxury to be perceived as if it is accessible, I want Confidential Couture to be a household name, I want people to understand the concept of recycled luxury,” said Mehra. “Reuse, recycle.”