For one fine weekend in July, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) became a fashion lover’s playground. A coterie of local fashionistas including actor Janice Koh, chef Petrina Loh, and content creator Charmaine Seah had Konmarie-d their wardrobes to resell their preloved togs, designer bags and accessories, drawing a steady stream of shoppers hoping to snag a good bargain or two.
“There were solo shoppers and families as well as people who ranged from serious thrifters to newbies who were interested in buying something affordable,” observes Singapore-based French public relations consultant Sandra Cameron, who is a vintage and preloved shopping enthusiast.
Sandra, who had a stall at the Fashion Insider’s Marketplace explained that the reason why she loves participating in these markets is because she loves to meet people from all walks of life and genders interested in pre-loved finds.
“I love the thrill of finding something special, to give it a second life – or more – and to wear it with contemporary pieces,” says Sandra. Some treasures she has uncovered over the years include a silver cuff from the Hermes Touareg collection which was hand carved by artisans from Niger for $600 and an auction house lot for $500 that included a vintage Saint Laurent Rive Gauche sarong, a vintage Hermes carre, a pair of Chanel slingbacks and a pair of vintage Dior sunglasses.
“I love the thrill of finding something special, to give it a second life – or more – and to wear it with contemporary pieces.”Sandra Cameron, Public Relations Consultant
The Fashion Insider’s Marketplace was organised by events and marketing agency Ppurpose, in collaboration with the ACM. Director Tracy Phillips says, “ACM wanted to do a fashion related weekender in support of the Andrew Gn exhibition which runs till 17 September 2023. Besides putting together various craft and styling activities, we felt a fashion insiders market featuring curated pre-loved items from Singapore’s fashionistas would be the best way to attract people who are interested in fashion while supporting the circular economy.”
Indeed, the Tiktok-driven Gen Z craze for ‘90s and Y2K fashion has in recent times led to a revived interest in apparel, bags and accessories from past eras – especially since pre-loved items often cost less than their brand new counterparts.
“Savvy shoppers know the value of luxury investments, with the most dramatic growth among Gen Z and millennial shoppers who are drawing inspiration from the past in pursuit of personal expression while seeking cost effective options to luxury products,” observes Stephanie Crespin, CEO of Singapore-based pre-loved luxury fashion marketplace Style Tribute and Reflaunt, which offers businesses the technology to build their own circular platforms.
“Savvy shoppers know the value of luxury investments, with the most dramatic growth among Gen- Z and millennial shoppers who are drawing inspiration from the past in pursuit of personal expression while seeking cost effective options to luxury products.”Stephanie Crespin, CEO of Style Tribute and Reflaunt
“The once-held taboo that purchasing vintage and preloved items has definitely transformed,” adds Stephanie on the perception common among older Asians that it is inauspicious to buy secondhand or “old” products that belonged to someone else. “Consumers are now more informed and empowered, understanding that these items often possess unique stories and exceptional craftsmanship. Buying vintage and pre-loved luxury items has evolved into a chic and eco-conscious choice.”
The appeal of pre-loved and vintage goods
One such fan of shopping for pre-loved fashion is senior events producer Nicolette Yim, 32. She got her first taste of thrift shopping at opt shops (also known as opportunity shops, which sell secondhand goods at bargain basement prices) in Australia while she was a student and has continued honing her magpie instincts ever since. Unlike vintage or pre-loved, thrift stores tend to offer a mixed bag of secondhand items that the shopper will have to sift through to unearth interesting finds.
These days, Nicolette makes it a habit to seek interesting secondhand buys whenever she travels. Some of her best designer finds include a Comme des Garcons tulle skirt for $180, a Missoni knit top for $35 and a vintage Celine leather bag for about $300. She says, “There is definitely a thrill in finding pieces from brands that are no longer in production and also knowing that there is a level of craftsmanship and work that went into creating this piece that cannot be found elsewhere.”
While the vintage and pre-loved shopping scene in Singapore has traditionally catered to the style conscious seeking unique fashion items – pioneers in this niche in Singapore include secondhand designer handbag retailer Madam Milan and vintage clothing store Dustbunny Vintage – it is only in recent years that this conscious practice has gained more popularity. Newer tech-enabled platforms like Vestiaire Collective, Style Tribute, The Fifth Collection and Carousell with a wider range of luxury products have helped to democratise preloved shopping among a wider range of shoppers.
Observers say these marketplaces also provided a platform for individuals to set their own prices when selling their items. Some platforms like Carousell also allow buyers and sellers to negotiate directly with each other, hence making this concept more accessible among the general population. More recently, retailers like Nee Vintage, My Grandfather’s Things and Le Salon by Ling are gaining attention for their carefully curated selection of vintage products.
Stephanie Tan, founder of My Grandfather’s Things, an e-boutique specialising in vintage Chanel and Hermes bags, noted Singaporean shoppers’ affinity for rare styles. “Singaporean customers seem to
view vintage as its own unique category. Many are drawn to the discontinued colourways and styles that we offer. They love the idea of owning a one-of-a-kind piece of luxury history,” she says.
“Singaporean customers seem to view vintage as its own unique category. Many are drawn to the discontinued colourways and styles that we offer. They love the idea of owning a one-of-a-kind piece of luxury history.”Stephanie Tan, Founder of My Grandfather’s Things
Among the younger crowd, there is also a sense of nostalgia attached to buying vintage. Stephanie observes, “There is a widely accepted narrative that ‘they don’t make them like they used to anymore’. As a result, our younger customers often prefer the quality and feel of vintage Hermes and Chanel compared to what they can get in store today.
”Yet, despite the evident growth of the preloved retail industry, questions linger about its permanence within local culture. The Fifth Collection, a prominent digital marketplace in Singapore, recently announced a “sabbatical”, underscoring the industry’s challenges. A supply glut has emerged, driven in part by economic instability, leading to an influx of sellers in search of value during uncertain times.
One of the key reasons behind this unprecedented step, reveals Nejla Matam-Finn, CEO and founder of The Fifth Collection, is that the stock was not just not moving at a pace that could keep the business going. “Everybody thought that people emptied their closets during Covid, but this actually happened this year, probably because people are trying to make an extra dollar here and there to cushion the ongoing inflation,” says Nejla.
Even when shoppers buy, they are not spending as much as they previously would during the heady post-pandemic days of revenge spending. Stephanie of Style Tribute and Reflaunt observes that there has been a “dip in high value items including Hermes Birkins and Chanel bags” – although there has been a slight uptick in “deep discount pieces” ranging from $250 to $500. Sera Murphy, founder of The Reoutfitter which offers personal fashion styling, wardrobe consultation and has an online resale platform for its clients, notes that consumers in other countries may try to “save” by buying into new trends at a lower price via secondhand shopping. But that is not the case in Singapore. She says, “Currently in Singapore, there is a bigger demand to sell in hopes of earning value back, instead of purchasing second hand going forward.”
“Currently in Singapore, there is a bigger demand to sell in hopes of earning value back, instead of purchasing second hand going forward.”– SERA MURPHY, FOUNDER OF THE REOUTFITTER
Not just about making a quick buck
The changing appetite for “quiet luxury” and dressing less formally has also shifted consumer preferences, influencing product demand. Nejla notes that products with prominent logos or high heels, for example, are no longer as popular as they used to be. She says, “As a result, things that we have been sourcing do not fit the mindset of current customers. So we took a gutsy decision to have a reboot to redesign our business. The market has changed and we need to as well if we want to continue growing.”
This ongoing tug-of-war between sellers and buyers hints at the challenge of finding equilibrium as the fashion landscape evolves. Still, there is consensus among experts that both buyers and sellers must adopt a new perspective. Accepting that wear and tear is part of the pre-loved equation, buyers should temper their expectations of always enjoying rock bottom prices while acknowledging that backend efforts demand time, resources, and energy.
“We find that our clients are happy to receive any amount of money back as long as the item can be reused by someone else. I believe this is a great way to think about resale,” says Sera. It is also worth remembering that the value of a pre-loved or vintage fashion item goes well beyond its price and that the item can also be appreciated for its history and design.
Yet, ultimately, to be a truly circular industry, buyers will have to learn to make better purchase decisions instead of making impulse buys whenever the whim strikes. Says Sera, “In the long run, making those kinds of buying decisions will save you a lot more money than selling a few pieces here or there.