The Luxury Closet and others in the Middle East see growing demand for high-end clothing, accessories and other items that are gently used.
While working for Louis Vuitton in Dubai, Kunal Kapoor found customers asking the brand’s Mall of the Emirates store to verify the authenticity of pre-owned handbags. Kapoor saw an opportunity.
“Women were ready to upgrade their style quotient but stay value based,” he says. It was a surprise given the wealthy Gulf nation was known for its distaste over secondhand items.
In 2012, Kapoor founded The Luxury Closet in Dubai focusing on pre-owned fashion, watches and home decor. The retailer carries popular Middle East brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès.
A 2019 McKinsey report pegged annual fashion sales for the Gulf Cooperation Council region, which encompasses the United Arab Emirates and five other Persian Gulf countries, at $50 billion. Per capita spending for the group is among the world’s highest, making it a prime target for fashion brands and retailers. But the resale market has been largely overlooked, comprising less than one per cent of sales, believes Kapoor. Resale accounts for 7.1 per cent of fashion sales in the US, and Kapoor is confident that the Gulf region will reach a similar percentage “in the next three to four years”.
Sixty per cent of TLC clients come from the GCC, reflecting the Gulf region’s new openness to owning pre-owned luxury items. Dubai has a number of resale boutiques, and Kapoor TLC’s sales tripled over the last year, largely from repeat consumers.
Earlier this month, Huda Beauty Investments (HBI), the private investment arm of Dubai-based cosmetics juggernaut Huda Beauty teamed with local venture firm Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) on an $11 million round into TLC. It was HBI’s first investment. Separately, Huda Beauty founders Alya and Mona Kattan and Christopher Goncalo, invested an undisclosed amount in TLC.
Ounass, a key player in luxury e-commerce in the Middle East, has just added Rae Joseph’s three-year-old online vintage luxury platform 1954 by Rae Joseph. “Our sales continue to grow as our platform gains more exposure,” says Joseph, a lawyer by training who shuttles between New York and Riyadh. “Circular fashion is a trend that is here to stay.”
Joseph says that the region’s shoppers have had to overcome long-held biases about buying used. “There has been limited exposure to the subject here,” she says.
But she says that they are learning to appreciate the quality of luxury vintage, a result of items “being manufactured prior to the mass production era”.
Christie’s, which has been auctioning high value secondary market collectible handbags since 2014 in major fashion cities, says that the Gulf region’s appetite for collectible fashion is growing. The company’s head of sales for handbags and accessories, Rachel Koffsky, says that Qatar has ranked among the top five cities globally for most handbag auctions for two consecutive years.
Emirati tastemaker Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder of clean skincare brand Shiffa Beauty, says that buying pre-owned fashion has enabled regional consumers to indulge their luxury tastes and refresh their wardrobes frequently in a less costly way. “Before, you would buy one high fashion handbag and treasure it and use it all the time,” Hamdan says. “Now people get bored and want other colours and sizes. It is more economical to buy gently used. We are treating high fashion like fast fashion.”
TLC’s Kapoor says that the supply of luxury used fashion in near pristine condition is abundant. “When I first started, I remember a seller came to me with a full collection of every Dior saddle bag that had been issued,” he says. “It told me women here have amazing closets.”
Using social media
Kapoor’s biggest challenge was making pre-owned fashion seem like a prestige buy. His solution was teaming with major social media influencers in the region, including Kuwait’s Fouz Al Fahad and Paris-based Lebanese model Nour Arida, who combined have more than 10 million Instagram followers. They created a social media awareness campaign and educated the region’s consumers about resale. “It also added a cool factor,” Kapoor says.
The company also used the Kattan sisters’ popular social media channels to generate interest and opened a temporary pop-up store last year at Dubai Marina Mall. TLC also participated in exhibitions and other events in the region, including Riyadh’s Saudi Design Week.
Rae Joseph’s 1954 has staged its own pop-up stores, which she says “are more for educational needs than sales”. They [people] need to touch and feel the product and hear us talk about it.”
Covid-19 has sharpened consumers’ focus on value, even in the luxury market. Joseph noted that people are spending more on accessories than clothes in the secondary market, although she added that this may be changing as they “become more aware about conscious consumption”.
Yet the success of the pre-owned market in the region will depend partly on quality, says Yasmin Al Mulla, a well-known collector of collectible bags, watches and jewellery. “It is essential that the piece is nothing but rare, in excellent condition, or never worn,” says Al Mulla, who is the creative director of popular modest fashion label, YMN.
Kapoor and others hope that resale will engage sustainability minded millennials and Gen Zers who prefer to reuse items and limit waste.
“It is like fashion portfolio management, something that millennials and Gen Zers seem to appreciate,” Kapoor says.