Watch the full conversation between Samina Virk and our Deputy Editor, Ana Colón, on The Fashionista Network.
According to a 2022 report by Boston Consulting Group, the global secondhand fashion market worth over $100 billion. But for retail industry veteran Samina Virk, now the North American CEO of Vestiaire Collective, the interest in this sector sparked years before it gained global attention.
Virk's love of fashion goes as far back as her adolescent days, when her mother taught her how to make and sell clothes. By the time it was time to kickstart her career, she opted to take the e-commerce route.
"My career actually started in e-commerce and digital during all of the internet-bubble craziness," she shared during a live chat on The Fashionista Network. (Watch it here!) "And so for me, that was a really exciting place to be: technology, programming, creative teams, all working together. And then, after spending about seven to eight years in the industry, I went to get my MBA."
Straight out of business school, she joined Target's MBA merchandising program, followed by a move to the retailer's marketing team, where she worked on designer collaborations. It was that experience that awakened Virk's desire to bridge the worlds of e-commerce and luxury fashion.
"What really, I think, attracted me first was the idea of marketplaces," she said. "I became more and more interested in how can you really curate high-end and luxury fashion, which then moved into my interest in circular fashion."
Vestiaire Collective launched in 2009; Virk helped bring the platform to the U.S. before departing the company in 2017. This year, after many shifts in the market, she returned as North American CEO.
From conducting regular surveys with its consumers, Vestiaire Collective has found that purchasing trends have changed over the years: "Affordability" and "accessibility to luxury brands" were once the main reasons shoppers opted for secondhand, but now they're more motivated by the ability to have a broader selection and by sustainability, explained Virk.
Vestiaire Collective also works with a wide range of luxury brands directly, developing close partnerships with the likes of Burberry, Chloé, Alexander McQueen, Rabanne — the list goes on. "I think when we first kicked off resale-as-a-service, which is working with brands and retailers to help offer their customers resale, it really tied back to our mission: How do you transform the industry? You work with consumers, but you also work with brands," she said. "And because we had built this huge marketplace, because we had all the logistics and operations in place, the goal was really, 'Let's expand and offer it to brands and work closely with them.'"
While each partnership operates slightly differently, participating brands typically offer a buyback program that allows shoppers to send their item back and receive a credit. Vestiaire Collective developed a co-brand experience so the shopper can identify which products are being sold through brand partnerships versus what's being sold by other people in the community.
Being at the helm of one of the most widely-recognized luxury resale companies in fashion is no easy feat, but as Virk nears the one-year mark as North American CEO, she's learned an important lesson: "Act first, ask for forgiveness later," she said. "Sometimes it's better to pick a lane and go in that and pivot versus not picking a lane."
As for her 2024 luxury resale predictions, Virk emphasized that selection and technology will continue to be keys for success.
"We, as consumers, are going to have options. The way we have options when we buy firsthand: We buy it from the department store, we buy it from the online e-commerce and we buy direct from brand," she said. "I think in secondhand and pre-owned fashion, we're also going to have those options, so the resale industry will continue to grow. I think the reasons I mentioned earlier about it not just being about affordability, but selection, that's going to continue to grow. And technology — how does the larger AI and tech and blockchain trends infuse into resale and fashion and how we shop?"
This conversation was hosted on "The Fashionista Network" powered by interactive media platform Fireside, where viewers get the chance to participate and speak directly with industry figures. Learn more about "The Fashionista Network" here.