It is no secret that resale means big business. According to the Business of Fashion Insights, the market is worth $130 million globally. Much of the success of resale is attributable to the some hundreds of thousands of young people who dominate websites like Depop, Grailed, Vestiaire Collective, StockX, and more.
In June, Etsy bought secondhand fashion resale app Depop for $1.6bn. In September, French luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective was valued at $1.7 billion following the latest fundraising round. It’s led to an ever-growing cohort of entrepreneurial young people abandoning corporate positions and mainstream career pathways in pursuit of lucrative side-hustles buying and selling luxury fashion and streetwear to loyal audiences in search of hard-to-find designer clothing. These precocious stars of resale are growing rapidly.
With the same credibility as key arbiters of style, the phenomenal growth of resale is not only about dictating trends and giving people an opportunity to buy high-quality vintage and secondhand but fostering the livelihoods of savvy entrepreneurs from each corner of the globe.
We spoke to a number of resellers about brand building, success, sustainability, and the future of resale, as well as the challenges that they face from a consistently inconsistent market, the tremulous nature of trends, and the dogged schedule that dictates.
What started as a project for Joseph Lewis (@eluxive on Grailed) to build his own collection of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger pieces resulted in him becoming a top-100 Grailed seller, with nearly 3,000 transaction and a 5-star rating, stocking the likes of luxury titans Chanel and Louis Vuitton, alongside streetwear giants Supreme and Noah.
New Jersey native Tom DeCeglie (@tommymcbuckets on Depop) went from turning his dorm room into a functional shop for his peers to becoming the go-to for vaunted NBA players like Chris Paul, Montrezl Harrell, Taurean Prince, and more, with his unique taste in vintage t-shirts.
Based in rural Ireland, Daniel Walters (@sadsac on Depop) begins his process by spending time in thrift stores (or ‘charity shops’ as they are known in Ireland) and upcycling products with his bold cartoon designs. His devotion to upcycling propelled him to star seller status with Depop arranging collaborations between SAD SAC and adidas and Caterpillar.
With a background in business management, stints at high-end brands, and personal shopping, Eduardo de Palma (@eduardo_shopper on Vestiaire Collective) curates a luxurious offering across menswear and womenswear consisting of covetable items from Gucci and Hermes.
The below conversation has been edited and condensed.
How have you approached the notion of brand building?
TOM DECEGLIE: My brand is me. It’s stuff that I love like vintage T-shirts, sports, music - the things I grew up on; I just made it a part of my business. For a lot of people my age, we have the same nostalgia, or taste in pop culture, clothing, fit of clothing, the whole nine yards. I think that's why it works because it's so organic and natural. It’s something you can't fake.
DANIEL WALTERS: I would agree with Tom. You can't fake it with resell culture; there's a million vintage T-shirts, and it really does come down to the sort of curator you are and to the brand itself. It's really about the individual behind it.
EDUARDO DE PALMA: You cannot fake it, you have to be a pleasant person and have to be authentic to your clients so they know your true self and then they can judge whether they're interested in working with you or not.
JOSEPH LEWIS: The way I approach things is that I have bought so many things myself, from so many different people and I tried to gauge the positives and negatives from every experience and tried to put the positive ones back into my business.
Did you ever envision your brand growing in this direction?
LEWIS: This was never my plan. When you look towards the future and you kind of roll with it, taking inventory every day to see what performed well or what didn’t do well, and try to focus on the things you do well because that's what's gonna drive you forward.
DE PALMA: I never thought it would actually be a full-time job in the first place. I studied Business Management but I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, I just wanted to work for a large fashion company. I worked with a big Italian fashion company in the US and UK and it was an absolutely amazing experience. But at the same time, I wanted to be the owner of my own time and the owner of the future so becoming an entrepreneur was actually a really good decision. What surprised me was that I really thought I would be doing more personal shopping and actually resale is nowadays three-quarters of my business.
WALTERS: I didn’t plan on developing like this. When you're in an environment such as entrepreneurship, and especially resale, it's uncertainty times uncertainty. I think you need to accept that mentality going into it.
DECEGLIE: Right out of college, I had got a normal, nine to five job, and I absolutely hated it. I quit, and my parents were so upset with me at the time. I had this plan of running my own business and I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, and I definitely didn't think it would turn into this. But thankfully, things worked out every single time. That’s the name of the game. You have to trust in your work, your work ethic, punctuality, how you handle business and do things the right way. That’s all you can do. Everything else is up to the universe.
What do you think has contributed to your success as a reseller?
LEWIS: I think networking and talking to literally everyone because you never know who you might be working with or bumping elbows with at an event. Connections are everything, especially in this kind of business.
WALTERS: For me, it’s that you need to be really innovative with your current curation. I think that innovation is really what motivates me. You know, I can sell a collage of things, and people say “that is so trash” and it'll take one celebrity, one photoshoot or one post for people to see it. The beauty of this culture is you can literally see a culture change through one celebrity or in one picture of one item, and the one t-shirt that was worth $12 today, could be $1,200 the following year.
DECEGLIE: I don't think it's about how hard you can work but more how creative you can be because things change, styles change. It’s pushing yourself to see “how creative can I get?”
WALTERS: The market is consistently inconsistent, as well as the lifestyle that we chose, so you really do need to adapt. It sort of comes back to the first thing that we talked about: you can't really fake it, you just have to have a real passion for it, for that innovation and the creativity that goes into it.
What role does collaboration play in your work?
WALTERS: Collaboration is this beautiful thing. If it’s a sportswear brand, and I'm this awkward kid in my bedroom who's obsessed with cartoons and vintage - whenever you put those universes together, you're going to get an interesting outcome.
LEWIS: It’s great to have that mix of ideas. If resale is the new retail, and we’ve already seen brands collaborate with different retailers, maybe we’ll see a brand coming to someone smaller and asking ‘we know that you reach a certain audience that we might not be directly related to yet. Would you like to partner with us in “this way?” I think that'd be a great way for somebody smaller to get that backing from a big brand, and also a great way for a bigger brand to get in touch with people that they might have already met.
DE PALMA: I’m trying to establish partnerships with some retailers. I went to a private sale yesterday and they introduced me to the brand manager and she said, “If you come to the retail store and you buy tennis shoes at full price, you get a life discount of 50% or whatever you buy.” So that's the kind of thing I'm trying to look on my side trying to make partnerships with other sellers who might have this stock that you need, but also retailers.
How do you think retail is perceived widely?
WALTERS: I could say reselling has a bad reputation but I don't think that's fair to say entirely. I feel like it has a bad stigma but it's still getting off its legs. There's a lot of passionate people in it for the right reasons. But because of that you're going to get a lot of people hopping on the trend which depletes and contradicts that statement in itself if you get me. We’re getting an influx of all these new retailers, or sorry, resellers doing it for the wrong reasons, selling things on Depop for crazy amounts. I think we are treading the water right now.
DECEGLIE: Especially over quarantine, people had this new hobby and reselling seemed easy or a quick way to make money. I'm pretty sure I can speak for everybody here: we take it so seriously and hold ourselves to such a standard that it's more than just making a couple bucks and calling it a day. I'm trying to build way more than that. Making money is great. But I'm here for the long run. I'm trying to figure something else out.
LEWIS: We’ve all been doing this for a while and we know what it takes to make it what you need to do to stand apart. You probably have people who say, “Joseph can do this, I can also do this.” They'll hop on and buy a bunch of stuff and try to sell it, and then come back to you saying “How the fuck do you do this? We’re not moving anything.” Those people will fall by the wayside. We've been doing this long enough to see the cycles come and go and understand what you need to do to maintain a brand and not just be some dude selling stuff.
What role does sustainability play in your business?
DECEGLIE: Quality is the most important thing for me. You can't buy the quality, fade, fit, or hang, or whatever it may be, on the shirt that's 20-years-old, rather than something you can just go buy at the mall.
LEWIS: I have a focus on quality and things that have a lasting value. Something you could buy five years ago or five years from now. It’s about things like that rather than hopping on trends or what other people are selling. I’m trying to preserve garments or shoes. My niche is having this mix of things people might not have seen before and have it arrive to them as if they bought it from a luxury store.
DE PALMA: I agree and I think it's important to have not only a sustainable product, but also a sustainable business model because in the end. We’re selling clothing and, of course, we want to make money at the end of the day and I want to sell as much as possible but it has to be in a sustainable way. So instead of selling hundreds and hundreds of T-shirts to people they don't need, it’s nicer to sell something more creative, something that's going to last much longer, something that has a higher quality to the consumer.
WALTERS: Resale is just something I love. I love being in charity shops, and thrifting it's just something that fuels my creativity. I live in rural Ireland and that's not great for thrifting so thrifting is just whatever I get. I might not thrift anything for a week, and I might get loads of items for a month. It's very unpredictable. I'm content with that because when people buy my stuff they know they’re buying into the artist and the individual.
What’s something people should know about being a full-time reseller?
WALTERS: The first thing that comes to mind is when people say they want to take up thrifting and they go to charity shops for a month or two and they don’t find anything good. I think what people really don't understand is if you keep doing it will make sense eventually.
DECEGLIE: Touching on that, I think consistency in this kind of space is key. You can't just check your sales or your page one day and take a couple days off. This is a 24/7 job.
LEWIS: People think this is a lot easier than it is - “Buy something for $100, sell it for $200. You made $100,” like great, but that's not really how it works. You have to always be on your toes. You never know when an opportunity is going to be there. We don’t steady suppliers where we get a shipment of something every month, sell it, buy a new shipment. We always have to be looking for something new because that’s what sets us apart from all the people who just saw what everybody else is selling. You have to have that motivation to explore and see what's new and how we can work that into the brands that we've built.
WALTERS: It's very survival based. We sometimes work for a month, and we invest all of the money that we don't have to have stock in a room that we can't keep to keep going. You know, it's a really difficult lifestyle, but it does work. I think the best way you can sort of say it is, “you're either in it, or you're not in it.”
DE PALMA: It’s definitely a 24/7 job. I was going to take December 1 off but I had clients who needed things so I couldn’t. But it’s extremely inconsistent. People think that because you're selling very expensive things, you're making a fortune. That’s not true. You might be setting a bag for $2000 pounds, but you pay $1800. So we actually made $200. But maybe on a T-shirt for $20, you can sell it for $150. You can actually make more money on the t-shirt than the super expensive bag. I see a lot of people trying to enter straight into luxury because they think you're gonna make more money, but that's actually not always true.
WALTERS: What people as well don't consider is the time spent so if you made $100, as you said on that bag, you could have spent 20 hours sourcing that bag, whether it's thinking of a supplier talking with three other suppliers who didn't pull through. I think the return is really in the branding, it ties back to that. We may not make a lot of money per hour, we may make a lot of money in one specific day. But really the investment we're putting into this is for the future, it's the 20-years-from-now-brand.
What do you think the future of resale will look like?
DECEGLIE: I don't even know if I want to call it a trend but just this ‘style’ of vintage is not even at its peak yet. I think it's just starting.
WALTERS: It really is just starting. If you think about YouTube, a few years ago or a decade ago, nobody thought people talking to the camera would be a thing, but now content creators are powerful influencers. I think vintage vendors will become a staple part of influence. It's already happening.
DE PALMA: I think people are more and more creative with the way they consume, whether it's what consuming, or the channel it's coming from. I think resale has an amazing future.
LEWIS: People are looking for something that’s more sustainable, more creative, and has a strong identity. So long as we keep doing that and trusting our gut, I think that’s how the industry will grow organically and authentically.