After Bittner left that company, as a father of three daughters, he felt compelled to join a business that would help create a sustainable future for them.
“It was an amazing opportunity to join a business…whose main goal was to drive the way people think and change the way they think about consumption and promote circular behaviour,” Bittner said.
During the panel, Bittner discussed circular fashion’s challenges and opportunities with Adrien Da Maia, CEO of luxury fashion brand Courrèges.
While some critics have labelled the resale marketplace a phenomenon that will hurt brand bottom lines, Da Maia feels that the negativity is overblown.
“Brands need to embrace this resale concept, as the young generation believes in sustainability, and they aspire to be inspired by brands that do things differently.”
Bittner chimed in by stating that it’s not just a responsibility, that in fact the expectations from society at large herald a much more regulated future in the fashion industry.
“I mean the car market is regulated, the oil and gas industry is regulated, so why should governments shy away from regulating brands and retail at some certain point?” he said.
He feels the pre-owned marketplace is the only real scalable solution to avoid the pollution that is occuring within the industry.
“Based on our estimates, there is probably close to a trillion dollars of luxury fashion that is just lying in people’s closets, not worn nor used. So we just need to make it easier for people to sell and digital IDs is a potential solution,” he noted.
In an ideal world, Bittner believes a user will just have to scan the ID, which will pre-fill all the details needed for an impending sale, and the listing process could happen in a matter of 30 seconds.
“This reduces a massive friction point, and for us, this will increase liquidity on our platform, so anything that supports that, from my point of view, is a must.”
The vintage and resale narrative
Da Maia said it was reported recently that searches for the Courrèges brand on the Vestiaire Collective had risen to around 81 per cent last year.
“We are doing a really good job of creating momentum on the heritage of the brand and also the new collections, but it’s also about staying true to what made this brand so special throughout the years,” he said.
Even before he joined the company in 2020, Da Maia was always surprised by customers’ love of Courrèges’ vintage products. It’s clear that its timeless designs have lasted decades and are still relevant today.
“What we are doing now, taking the codes of the brand, and offering new collections with a sustainable approach on the materials, is to create the vintage of tomorrow with the new collections, and this is quite in sync with a different way to buy fashion.”
In fact, Da Maia suggested that, where relevant, more brands should fully embrace the vintage and resale narrative in their campaigns and conversations with customers.
“I really respect this, and as a brand I think we need to inspire people with creativity and beautiful imagery so that we can make sure what we create today will last,” he added.
Leaning into physical retail
Da Maia explained that physical retail also has a role to play in this conversation about sustainability. He feels that bricks-and-mortar stores have an opportunity to maximise the emotional connection between brands and consumers.
“One of the first things I did as CEO was pay tribute to the brand’s heritage by creating a flagship store that celebrated the history of the brand in a modern way, but also emphasised the design codes of the brand with new energy and heritage,” he related.
Da Maia reached out to customers with vintage pieces from the brand, asking them to visit the store to find out what the business is doing. As a result, his staff gained insights into the services customers need, while some customers were so invested in Courrèges, they even gave their vintage products to the brand’s archive for display.
“The experience was a steep learning curve for us, but that’s how you can educate, make consumption smarter, do more than just give care instructions, but more importantly create a dialogue that will empower people to change the way they consume fashion,” Da Maia observed.
Meanwhile, Bittner said the Vestiaire Collective’s experience with offline retailers has been largely positive, from pop-up stores to ad-hoc partnerships. For example, to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2019, Vestiaire launched a secondhand concession store within Selfridges on Oxford Street in London.
“It’s a great way to physically show to people what happens behind the app or the website,” he said.
While the Vestiaire team does a lot of hard work authenticating products for sale and assuring a level of trust on the platform, physical retail is a way to showcase unique pieces and prolong their lifecycle.
“I think it’s a great way to create awareness. It’s not at the heart of what we do, we are a tech company, and we like that part, because it’s about scale. I’m not an expert in retail itself, [but] I think it’s a great way for people to experience it,” Bittner noted.
While Vestiaire Collective is focused on creating an ecosystem that promotes circularity between its sellers and buyers, over-consumerism looms large, Bittner said.
“We just [launched] an impact report analysing buyer and seller behaviour, and we found out 70 per cent of our buyers buy pre-owned goods, while 35 per cent of sellers use that money to buy brand new clothes afterwards,” he revealed.
Bittner believes, however, that the current trend of consumers treating fashion as assets and not just consumables is the way forward. Shoppers are now thinking in terms of every purchase decision they make, and they’re buying items that have a higher likelihood of resale down the line.
“Our products have brand value, brand equity, durability, and people take care of them. They may cost more money, but their resale value will appreciate over time,” he said. “It’s our job to find a buyer in the 70+ markets that we sell in, to find a new home for these products.”