High-end fashion may be very coveted but it has also always been very expensive, reserved for a niche affluent clientele.
But with the world economy in a crunch, budgets are running low even among the uber rich. It isn’t quite as easy to purchase luxury designer products every season, hot off the catwalk.
At the same time, social media has ensured that an ever-increasing audience is now aware of designer wear. There is a heightened demand for it — the wedding-bound entourage aspires to wear clothes by certain designers, the fashion week crowd has its own favourites. However, designer wear is expensive, far too expensive for a world burdened by a persistent economic crunch.
It’s a catch-22.
But where there is demand, there is supply — and sprouting all over local Instagram are pages offering ‘preloved’ designer goods at a fraction of their original prices.
The page’s administrator posts images of designer goods with relevant details that usually include the material used, brand name as well as the all-important assurance that the item is ‘gently used’.
Interested buyers can contact the admin via a private message and (usually) pay via online cash transfers. The page administrator gets a commission for the sale, while the remaining amount goes to the seller of the product.
It’s as simple as that and it’s all done online. This is why the business for preloved goods is a fast-growing and thriving one.
Preloved designer goods offered by a small selection of popular online businesses are hard to resist.
A seller of preloved products, who prefers to stay anonymous, tells me that of the many sales that she has made, one of the most expensive was a bridal by Bunto Kazmi. “I sold it for Rs850,000, which was a fraction of the original selling price,” she says. “It was very expensive but then again, it was a Bunto Kazmi original.”
Mona Raza — owner of Brands Basement, a fledgling Instagram business — describes the avid responses she got for a Judith Leiber bag that was available on her page.
“I had uploaded the bag’s image over the weekend and this one buyer from Dubai got very excited. She was worried that I would end up selling it by Monday which was when she could transfer the payment for it to me. I assured her that I would hold it for her. Judith Leiber is an extremely expensive brand and priced down, it cost about Rs400,000. She considered it a bargain,” said Mona.
Embellished wedding wear, evidently, is a hot-seller. Ramshay Sheikh, owner of the Instagram and web-page based business And Againn, describes how outfits by Farah Talib Aziz and Elan are always big hits.
“The clothes are usually heavily embellished which is why I inspect them myself to make sure that they are in good condition and are originals,” says Ramshay.
“I put up detailed pictures and videos so that potential buyers know exactly what they are getting. Once the purchase has been made, it is nonrefundable because I have already paid the seller. My business is now three years old and I have a large number of repeat customers who trust me even when they know that the product cannot be returned.”
Mona Raza, meanwhile, allows a return policy in some cases. “In the case of shoes, particularly, I refund the payment if the customer ships back them back within a day. I know, that way, that the shoes haven’t been worn and I do understand that shoes sometimes don’t fit the way we want them to, once we try them on.”
The Instagram page @prelovedstuffpakistan similarly offers a range of designer-wear and accessories and the owner, Ayesha Pervaiz, has made some interesting observations.
“Brands like Elan and Faraz Manan sell very well. Their selling prices may go as high as about Rs1.5 million, while the preloved outfit will cost the buyer around Rs300,000 or less. Most customers are very happy to pay this amount."
"There is a lower demand for a brand like Republic Womenswear. It’s a very popular label for wedding wear but it is a relatively affordable one, with brand new outfits sometimes available at about Rs300,000. Fewer people want to buy a Republic preloved design when they could get a new one for a low price.”
Another designer who has worked wonders for Ayesha’s sales is Ali Xeeshan.
“I have sold an Ali Xeeshan original, priced at Rs750,000, for Rs200,000. People are very happy to buy his designs because his embroidery isn’t very delicate. He uses a lot of block prints as well. Nothing really gets damaged and even a preloved outfit is as good as new.”
Furthermore, Ayesha has expanded her business so that she has an in-house tailor and fabric repairer available. She explains, “I get a lot of enquiries from international customers and often, they want a matching shalwar or a lehnga with a shirt that is being sold on my page. I discuss colourways and styles with them and get it stitched accordingly. Similarly, sizes can get altered and minor tears in the cloth or embroidery can get fixed.”
“Buying preloved designer-wear actually makes a lot of sense,” continues Ayesha. “A client can buy an outfit, wear it and then sell it back again. Sometimes, she is able to sell it for the same price for which she bought it and at other times, at slightly less. A lot of my customers buy an outfit and simultaneously ask me to upload an image of it. By the time they have worn it, there is a customer available for it already and they can just sell it off.”
But why do customers have a compulsion to buy preloved designer wear when they could just buy brand new clothes made by lesser-known workshops in local markets like Liberty in Lahore or Tariq Road in Karachi?
Apparently, with the economy going haywire, even embellished clothes from local markets don’t come cheap. “An embellished bridal dress from a normal store on Tariq Road usually costs about Rs200,000-300,000, sometimes more,” says Ayesha, “while a girl can pay the same amount and get unique preloved designer wear. I recently sold a design by Sara Rohale Asghar that was heavily worked with Swarovski crystals. It originally cost Rs750,000 and it sold for Rs400,000 via my page. The workmanship on the outfit was so beautiful that it could easily rival any random brand new dress.”
But while the preloved designer wear market is a great idea, allowing customers to cut back on spending while satisfying their sartorial needs, most buyers and sellers like to stay anonymous.
Mona Raza of Brands Basement describes how she once participated in an exhibition and no one came to her kiosk. “They contacted me later, asking me about certain items. Perhaps most women were too embarrassed to buy second-hand products while out in the open.”
She continues, “A lot of times, customers worry that they may be buying an outfit that once belonged to someone they know. I keep my sellers’ identities anonymous but I do tell them a designer makes dozens of every outfit and no one will be able to tell if they are wearing a preloved one. If the buyer is someone from my personal circle, she may ask me, ‘Yeh kis kay saamnay pehen saktay hain?’ (“Who can I wear this in front of?”), because she is worried about wearing someone’s old outfit in front of them.”
It is quite common for customers to ask for an outfit or accessory’s image to be removed once a purchase has been made so that there is no evidence that they are wearing a second-hand product. Anonymity is almost always a requirement — and one that is easily fulfilled given that all transactions take place over the Internet.
“I kept my own identity anonymous when I initially started this business,” admits And Againn’s Ramshay Sheikh. “I felt that people may look down upon it even though, internationally, the buying and selling of preloved products is considered quite normal.”
“Now, however, I have realised that there is nothing wrong with this format. I don’t sell substandard products. I am extremely ethical in the way that I conduct transactions. And even buyers don’t have anything to feel embarrassed about. Designer wear, even preloved, is quite pricey and they pay considerable sums for the products that they purchase.”
Who are the sellers? A lot of them are friends and family members of the owners of preloved designer retail businesses. “So many of my friends have designer wear that’s just languishing at the back of their wardrobes,” says Mona Raza. “They didn’t used to know what to do with it. Now, they just sell it off through me.”
A frequent seller of preloved designer wear tells me anonymously, “I often don’t wear my designer wear again after I have been photographed in it several times. It used to be lying around with me. I sell it off now through an Instagram-centric business owned by a friend.”
As businesses have grown, random sellers have also begun contacting page administrators, asking them to sell their designer clothes and accessories. “I am very particular in such cases, checking the item in detail before allowing it on my page,” says Ramshay.
It’s a great way to earn money, avoid hoarding and get fancy brands. But as is the case with all online shopping, customers have to make sure that what they are seeing is what they are getting.
But if what you’re getting is a bona fide Bunto Kazmi or an Elan, that’s an offer that many just can’t refuse.