Just six years ago, Rebelle.com was founded in Hamburg. Today, 90 employees work for the online platform that specialises in second-hand luxury fashion, offering more than 150.000 items sold around the world. Numerous cooperations with influencers who sell their designer pieces through Rebelle boost reach and demand. What is special about Rebelle.com is the innovative concept that the company uses to connect online with offline: Founder Cécile Wickmann organises shopping events with retail stores and brands where customers can buy new items and sell their vintage treasures. This creates wardrobe space and demonstrates a sustainable approach. We asked Cécile Wickmann how this works exactly.
Rebelle has been around since 2013. Has the perception of second hand fashion changed in the last few years?
At the beginning, we often asked ourselves what to call what we do. Second hand still had something outmoded at that time - just like how it often used to smell in second hand stores back then. So in the beginning, we had to fight enormous prejudice. We wanted to revolutionise the dusty second hand market, not only because second hand is more sustainable than new fashion, but also because we offered a trustworthy service that would make customers lose their fear of used goods and fakes. Today, six years later, that image has changed drastically. Not only stars and starlets are vintage lovers today; second hand has become absolutely socially acceptable as part of sustainable consumption. We already know a great deal about car sharing in Germany today or healthy food, but with fashion, many people often don't know yet which brands they can trust. Second hand is a great opportunity to express sustainability and individuality at the same time.
Sustainability is an important issue in fashion today. How did you come up with the business idea to sell second hand fashion from designer labels online?
Apart from sustainability, I was initially mainly interested in offering a service. The idea arose out of a private situation: I owned many fashion articles from previous jobs, which I couldn't take along when I moved abroad for my studies and later, when I started working in Hamburg. So I stored everything in my father’s basement until one day the call came to empty out everything! I didn't have time to take care of it then, and so I had the idea that it would be great if one had a super comfortable and trusted opportunity to sell such things.
How has Rebelle developed economically?
We have grown strongly in recent years. Today, we ship all over the world. Approximately 70 percent of our products are actually sold across borders, i.e. seller and buyer are located in different countries. Our online shop is available in five languages by now.
How does Rebelle.com work exactly?
There are two options: First, the do-it-yourself service, where customers can take pictures and describe the articles themselves and use our platform to sell them. These articles are sent to us after the sale, we check condition and authenticity and send the product to the buyer. The other option - which is already in place - is our so called concierge service. Here, a customer sends us the product and we take over the entire sales process: checking the condition, the product description, taking pictures, pricing, storage and shipping. If the product is sold, we receive a commission but we are never the owner of the goods. We only assure a smooth transaction. In doing so, the buyer not only has a great shopping experience but also the certainty that he or she is buying real products of very good quality. And the seller is happy with a great service.
You also cooperate with brands and retailers, what is the response?
These cooperations are very well received because they provide a win-win situation. Retailers and brands can contribute to extending the life cycle of their products and reduce their ecological footprint at the same time. And customers get the opportunity to make money with their vintage treasures and to invest the money in new pieces. We have conducted shopping events with many multi brand stores in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Great Britain - for example with Unger in Hamburg. But we also cooperate with brands, for example Dorothee Schumacher or Madeleine Thompson, and develop our own products.
How do these cooperations work?
Customers are invited to bring the designer pieces they want to sell to classic shop events, regardless of the brand. We check the articles and keep them so that we can prepare them for sale. The seller often also receives goodies or a voucher from the participating store. After the sale on rebelle.com, we transfer the proceeds to the seller. Sometimes there are also special sales cooperations, for example at Uzwei in Hamburg, where we sold vintage Hermès and Chanel bags that the store had selected.
How does the ability to connect online and offline help you?
It helps us a lot. We use this opportunity particularly to become well known in new markets. The advantage: The retailers are already in touch with the local target group and present us in a much more personal and trustworthy way. Through the launch of a website alone it would be much more difficult to convince customers that we sell only originals and are absolutely trustworthy. It takes away the digital inhibition, which especially the older generation sometimes still has.
Are there differences from country to country?
It was exciting for us to see that there are only small regional differences when it comes to the top 10 brands in the luxury segment! In most countries, brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Hermès etc. top the list. In Germany, for example, Gucci ranks fourth and first in Italy. The luxury market is very international. Back when we started with Rebelle.de, we thought the differences would be much bigger.
It is often said that the quality of clothing has decreased to such an extent that extending the product’s life cycle would not be possible at all. Is that true?
I can't confirm that. This is where the fashion industry is divided into two big halves: luxury fashion and fast fashion. With luxury fashion, the quality does definitely not deteriorate, no brand could get away with that.
There are more and more companies that jump on the second hand band wagon - from Momox to H&M. What is your take on that?
This development makes us very happy and affirms what we do. Momox has its target group in the medium price segment, and from brands like H&M, one would never have expected them to collect second hand clothes! A rethinking is taking place and barriers disappear - not only on the consumer side but also on the company side. They have to act because consumers are increasingly expecting this. The new generation in particular attaches importance to a sustainable concept of consumption.
What are your plans for the future?
We started in Germany in 2013 and focused our business model on the German-speaking market (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), where we are strongest today. This is closely followed by Italy, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium. Many of these markets are still quite young, but we can see that the concept is very well received. In addition, customers from 29 countries sell on rebelle.com and we ship products to over 40 countries. Our goal is to become even stronger there and to further increase our profile. Also an expansion in Europe and further East is one goal.
Are you thinking about opening your own second hand shops offline?
No, that's not on the agenda right now. In 2017, we had a very successful pop-up boutique in Hamburg for some months but our own shops would be a big challenge, in particular with regard to their real-time connection to the online store. Now we would like to focus on even more retail partnerships.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.