Preloved is the New Black

Stephanie Crespin keeps the circular economy rolling
Saturday 5 February 2022

Who doesn’t have a wardrobe filled with clothes and accessories that won’t make it to their daily uniform or red carpet anymore? For some items, it’s because you may have buyer’s remorse, while for others, you have moved on, style-wise speaking. And of course, you can’t wear a big event dress twice. Whatever it is, you probably wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. What to do with the other 80% of the wardrobe?

French-speaking Belgian Stephanie Crespin always had an interest in fashion and arts but never thought she would work in it until she realised that her master’s degree in Business Engineering and her business experience with fragrances at Proctor and Gamble would be perfect to explore new business models. She entered the world of fashion at the height of Fast Fashion, was disturbed by the sheer consumption of it all and hence decided to look for more sustainable models.

Born in Japan, educated in France and Belgium, Stephanie decided to move to Singapore to explore the market in Asia. After going through many start-up ideas, she launched her first solution, StyleTribute, a second-hand luxury marketplace. Her experience with StyleTribute led to her second venture, Reflaunt, a tech solution for brands to capture the second-hand market. Both companies collaborate closely with one of Southeast Asia’s online shopping platforms, ZALORA.

Here, Stephanie speaks to UNRESERVED about the challenges of changing people’s perception of second-hand clothes and how to make it accepted, sexy even.

What is your personal relationship with fashion? 

I did a down to earth, rational kind of study, which is business and engineering, but I’ve always been attracted to anything that is related to the arts and fashion. I was always passionate about the industry, but without ever thinking I would end up in it because I guess I perceived it too much as the little girl’s dream. Then I realised that with my strength, which is much more of a mathematical or rational kind of brain, I could actually bring something new to fashion; maybe not on the creative side but to rethink certain models, certain ways about how things are done in that industry.

And where does sustainability come into it? Nine years ago it wasn’t the buzzword that it is today and what made you go yeah, “I want to do something sustainable”?

At first I was looking at the retail space and how I could improve that, and it just made me sick to see how much stuff we were selling and how much products we were consuming. So going into one of those businesses where I add on top of that consumption just didn’t feel like it made sense or that I was adding value. I was trying to do the opposite; how do I take out, how do I simplify and how do I optimize what’s already existing to reduce space and this consumption and the fact that we are excessively producing?

Even nine years ago, there’s way too much stuff on the market. You had fast fashion that was in the middle of a height, in a boom, and I just felt that we were losing out on what made fashion special, something unique, something with heritage, something that maybe had craftsmanship. Everything that was vintage, that was second hand, that had a story kind of drew me in. And on top is the aspect that you are giving it a second life or third life and making the product live on beyond a just onetime consumption really attracted me.

preloved item

Can you describe in short what StyleTribute and Reflaunt do?

StyleTribute is a second-hand luxury marketplace where we gather and allow on one side individuals who would like to sell their high-end luxury pieces and on the other side we allow other individuals, buyers, to purchase luxury goods at a fraction of the price. So we combine human expertise and technology. We work with technology that is able to check the materials, fabrics of the goods, and that are originals are not counterfeits.

Reflaunt is a business-to-business technology that bridges the second-hand space with retailers and brands. We have a tech plugin that integrates into the backend of a brand’s ecosystem and allows their own customers to put back on sale their past purchases in a click.

For instance, you bought a luxury bag on Zalora, and six months later you are tired of that item, or you realise it’s sitting idle in your wardrobe. You go back to your account, and you can resell that item in a click. Meaning that we already sourced all the product information like the material, the size, the description, the pictures, all of that and we ask you to complement that listing. Once that’s done, basically the product gets published in 25 marketplaces with which we are integrated. We have integration with marketplaces globally. Together we have an aggregate audience of over 50 million shoppers.


What would you say were the biggest obstacles in getting these initiatives off the ground?

My first challenge is how do you put your hands on incredible bags and shoes and how do you get people to trust you while you are starting off a marketplace from scratch with no existing audience and customer base?

Then the second challenge related to my second company, Reflaunt. How do you convince brands and retailers that second hand is here to stay? And that it is going to be a part of how people consume and that they absolutely need to get on the train and be part of it. It’s challenging because historically second-hand for brand and retailers was seen as the ugly duckling, something dirty that they didn’t want to touch because they thought it would drive cannibalization because they thought it was the origin of their counterfeit issues and because it wasn’t very glamorous.

Times have changed, and it’s the consumer basically that is demanding, requesting this. If you look at data regarding generation Y and Z and the latest The Business of Fashion (BOF) report on second-hand, we are talking about consumers, especially the younger ones having 30% of their wardrobe made from second-hand pieces. And this is only going to grow. If you want to be part of the discussion and dialogue with this new consumer, you need to start interesting yourself in how they shop.

Francois Pinault set up the Fashion Pact. If you go to any luxury fashion brand now, you’ll see sustainability as a buzz word. As a consumer, you don’t know which one is greenwashing, which one is sincere. What’s your viewpoint?

I’m very optimistic and enthusiastic about what’s happening in the fashion industry. Of course, we can always criticize. There are still a lot of initiatives that are purely marketing, greenwashing, but overall I found there’s a huge shift in the industry and they realise that in order to survive, it’s much more than having it as a silo and a marketing initiative. They need to change the way their organisation is structured; from the way they source their materials to the way they produce to the way they distribute their products.

I have been sitting on one end of the supply chain, but I’ve been a part of many discussions, many accelerators, incubators with start-ups that tackle different steps of the supply chain, so much earlier and upstream for me. And brands and retailers are really actively investing, or at least the ones that have the necessary funds. I think one of the main issues is how do you change your business? It takes time, it takes money. It needs to be led by the biggest one, so Pinault, of course, is already in the leadership to do so. His survival is very much dependent on his investment into that space and innovation in more sustainable models.


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So, I think it’s great now, but the debate is more about are we doing sufficiently and are we doing it fast enough. If you look at what’s happened with Covid, I think things have accelerated tremendously. Keeping in mind, many of these brands were trying to survive and adapt to this new paradigm where brick and mortar were the essence for their business, and they had to transition to online. I think it was kind of blessing in disguise that has moved brands and retailers to rethink their existing business models and go into exploration mode to find new types of services.

Speaking of Covid, how has that impacted your businesses?

One of the interesting parts of Reflaunt is that we use our network of marketplaces to help the brands and retailers resell their inventory. As you can imagine, the last year and a half, most of these brands and retailers had a huge cut in their distribution channel since they were mostly selling offline and had to find ways of selling their inventory that hadn’t been sold through new channels. What we enabled them is to resell part of their inventory onto our network of second-hand marketplaces.

And the second is related to the eagerness to embrace second-hand, to innovate and to dare go into new business models. If you look at second-hand luxury online, we’ve been growing more than two digits, whereas the luxury first-hand has been declining over the past one year and a half. The contrast is quite stark.

Reflaunt App UI Design

How did the partnership come about with ZALORA?

We have been working with ZALORA for some time already now through my first company, StyleTribute. We sell second-hand pieces on Zalora. We have a very close relationship and I think they were very eager to actually transition into a more circular business model. They’ve shown a lot of effort and investment in sustainability and shifting their business model. That’s something we admire and appreciate.

And Reflaunt was just a natural solution for their customers who were already on Carousell, buying on StyleTribute and reselling their goods. I think they realised this was an important trend, and they wanted to be part of that and giving a service that allows their customers to put back on sale their past purchases is something that their clients value and appreciate.


What do you love most about your work and equally, what do you find the most frustrating?

What I love the most is being in an industry where there is so much change that is happening and being a part of that change. What’s the most frustrating is sometimes the feeling that it is going so slowly compared to all the bad news that we receive. But I’m remaining very positive when I think that things are going quite quickly and in a couple of years resell will be part of the way that we consume and be part of how brands and retailers have rethought the way that they produce and bring to market their goods.

What are some exciting new developments in the world that would shape your business in the future?

So first of all, I think the exciting development is that brands and retailers are completely embracing second hand and this will be pivotal. It will just be a big part and natural for any user to be aware, educated and have access to very easy services to resell their items. So it will completely shift and change the way that we consume.

The second thing is that once second hand is part of how we consume and how we consider our purchases, brands and retailers will be much more inclined to incentivise the quality and longevity of their products. Putting products on the market that don’t hold time doesn’t make sense anymore.

Another impact I believe is that brands and retailers will probably move onto a more extreme business model, but that’s not for the next five to 10 years. It’s not about producing as much as you can to increase your sales or revenue, but about services around the product that can increase your margin. For example, if a product can be sold three times and passed onto three different customers, how can you add services or value around that same product? It can be through personalisation, it can be through refurbishment. So I think business models are going to change.