Second-hand fashion: turning cast-offs into money bags

Looking too cool for school while saving the planet is fashion nirvana. Enter the flourishing world of second-hand handbags, which turns status symbols into badges of sustainability. Prada is the latest to see a moneymaking opportunity in this market.

Just don’t expect to bag a bargain. Hermès’ famed Birkin bag, named for stylish English actress Jane Birkin, illustrates the vagaries of bag economics.

The eponymous bags were born after Birkin griped that she was unable to find a bag able to hold that rather unglamorous accoutrement, the baby bottle. Today a brand new Birkin 35 in Togo leather costs £8,890 ($17449). But buying one of its predecessors second-hand — or, as it has been rebranded, “pre-owned” or “preloved” — could cost multiples of that. Depreciation, assuming no scratches or blemishes, barely features at the top end of this market.

These bags are available at a range of shops, online platforms and auction houses. Vestiaire, an online site that specialises in resale, currently has just shy of 100 Birkin 25 bags on its site. Vendors in the US, Japan, UK and Hong Kong are all looking to offload their bags from around £13,000 to four times that. Auctions command still higher prices, particularly when the vendor is famous: a Birkin-owned Birkin bag went under the gavel for £119,000, earlier this year.

Nor is it just a fad in the developed world. China’s Gen Z is combining a nostalgia for goods enjoyed by previous generations with a thoroughly modern eye attuned to the investment potential of statement pieces. Marketplaces are mushrooming. The nation that led the way on livestreaming as ecommerce now boasts start-ups like Lets Lux Now which deploys AI to appraise and provide a value on goods in a matter of seconds.

At the other end of the spectrum, charity shops continue to parlay used clothes and accessories into cash for worthy causes. Just don’t expect to find a Birkin bag lurking round the corner.

– Financial Times

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