The Sharing Economy Tries On Prada

As the sharing economy expands, peer-to-peer exchange sites such as Refashioner have pushed the industry from power drills and waffle irons into communities trading in penthouses, Porsches, and Prada.

The average woman, according to QVC, has 22 garments sitting unworn in her closet. If those pieces are last year’s Old Navy, there’s a good chance they will eventually end up at Goodwill, or in a yard sale. If they are from Marc Jacobs or Balenciaga, however, they may soon be bound for Refashioner, a peer-to-peer exchange site for the totally fabulous.

Why though, would someone with the means to buy a Ferrari, a mansion, or a Prada bag bother with swapping? As with most things in life, the reasons come down to love and money.

Along with sites like HiGear (luxury car sharing) and Exclusive Exchanges (home exchange), Refashioner is bringing luxury goods into the often utilitarian collaborative consumption marketplace. Yes, the sharing economy is going posh. And with those goods come communities of people deeply engaged with a luxury product category, consumers with proven buying power and a receptiveness to new consumption and sharing models.

The Refashioner model has users posting photos of their unwanted couture in a "customizable Closet." The company's staff then prices the garments. When an item sells, the user it belonged to acquires Refashioner money to be spent only on the site. And Refashioner gets $8 per transaction. A social aspect allows users to "link closets"--kind of like friending a kindred stylish spirit--and to "tell your frock's story." Somewhere Proust is smiling--and kicking himself for never having launched ReMadeleine.

Like any enclave worth its (top-shelf Hawaiian sea) salt, there are barriers to enter these high-end virtual swap meets: You need to have an invitation and a suitably fab closet to join Refashioner, and an Architectural Digest-worthy home to join Exclusive Exchanges. While these obstacles pretty much guarantee smaller user bases than sites like Snapgoods or Airbnb, that intimacy--or exclusivity--is seen as part of the appeal. Users are offered (and expect) more personal service than one might find on a larger site, and the goods on offer, whether homes, clothes, or cars, are as closely vetted as the members. Even then, the occasional malcontent makes it through the gate. Refashioner warns that  "We have no patience nor mercy for knock-offs," and HiGear is in the process of fortifying their screening procedures after someone successfully registered for the site using a stolen identity, rented, and then stole a member's car.

Of course, size isn’t everything--these communities of people deeply engaged with a luxury product category, consumers with proven buying power and a receptiveness to new consumption and sharing models, are an enormous asset for a company to have. It is partially the desirability of this audience that brought Refashioner an advisory board that includes Gawker Media COO Gaby Darbyshire, and Angela Tribelli, VP Interactive Media for New York City, and HiGear $1.3 million in seed funding this past summer.

Now, about that aforementioned love: The people exchanging cars or clothes often do so out of an abiding love of the product category. The members of Refashioner are lovers of couture and vintage first and foremost. If their desire was just to liquidate the contents of their closets, they could have gone to eBay, mingling with the great--and sometimes unwashed--masses. What unites the Refashioner community is a desire for the luxury of access to other well-curated closets.

The money, meanwhile, comes from a much more pragmatic place. Margaret Carr of Exclusive Exchanges explains, “Luxury homeowners have a lot of equity tied up in their homes, and with the current state of the markets, many are house rich but cash poor.”

Ali Moiz, HiGear's founder, echoes that idea: "It turns out that people who are successful are also very rational...they understand that they have an asset which is lying unused."

Clothing is quite an unused asset. The QVC study that estimated those 22 unworn outfits? In the U.K. alone, those clothes have an estimated value of £1.6bn ($2.48 billion). In the U.S., the numbers could be five times that. Couple that with the rise of luxury clothing online flash sale sites like Gilt and Rue La La, and it is easy to see an enormous secondary market of quality clothing emerging. Refashioner is positioning itself to skim the creamy Botkier bags from that market, trading on the understanding that unworn does not necessarily equal unloved.

"We have stuff in the back of the closet that is perfectly great," says founder Kate Sekules, "maybe even magnificent and we don’t wear it because it wasn’t quite right, or it doesn’t quite fit, or because we think we’re going to lose weight before we wear it, or that it doesn’t fit into our lifestyles...millions of reasons." (When Sekules was the editor in chief of Gourmet Live I wrote three stories with her as the editor; I'm not involved in anyway in Refashioner.)

Ultimately, what these sites offer their members is experiential. They want a different dress every Saturday night, a different car every Sunday, a different villa every summer. Can you blame them?

[Images courtesy of Refashioner]

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1 Comments

  • Daniel Cole

    Forget the Prada and Porsche and rent something you really need: A chainsaw and a good pressure washer. Nothing says high end and fashionable like a Dewalt Mitre saw.

    Checkout ToolSpinner (http://www.Toolspinner.com) launching in 2012, they will change the power tool rental industry forever. Maybe this will help you build a garage for that fancy Porsche.