Stores selling gently used designer handbags are seeing a thriving business during this economic downturn.
The consignment business booms with second-hand luxury
While most retailers have yet to recover from the recession, used luxury handbag businesses are thriving.
Reema Al Khomeiri, founder of Toujours Chic, launched her second-hand purse business in 2009 - in the midst of the global downturn - but she isn't complaining.
"Business picked up quite fast and within a few months we were selling and renting [handbags] in good volumes," she says.
Almost three years later, her venture has flourished, with hundreds of loyal customers. "The recession has definitely whipped us into being disciplined and responsible buyers," she adds.
In the past few years, the used luxury handbag business has grown in the UAE, with second-hand bags from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Gucci selling the same day they hit stores.
The Closet (www.theclosetonlineshop.com), another website focusing on used designer bags, went online in 2010; their Jumeirah Road location opened last month. MyBagSpa Dubai, a franchise of Singapore-based MyBagSpa, opened a Jumeirah Centre location in 2010.
"In Dubai, a lot of people were more into reselling their stuff to cover their job losses or salary deductions," says Hadeer Soliman, founder of The Closet.
The stores allow buyers to get serious arm candy for deep discounts - as much as 70 per cent off full price can mean thousands of dirhams in savings. Many women want to be able to carry a bag that shows elite status but can't afford - or don't want - to pay full price, says Al Khomeiri.
"No one buys an expensive handbag just because they need a handbag - if you really need a handbag, then any handbag from Aldo or Nine West will do," she says.
Discounts on new bags are almost impossible to find since brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton rarely have advertised sales and classic styles are never sold at a discount.
Selling second-hand purses requires a sense of discretion - not always top priority for flashy luxury retailers, says Al Khomeiri.
If she's not careful, her customers can feel alienated or embarrassed when friends find that they've purchased previously worn bags, which is still unacceptable in many social circles.
"One of my main core things is super confidentiality because the subject is sensitive," says Al Khomeiri, who runs the online shop from her Abu Dhabi office. "I come from the same background; I understand [women] who cannot buy a second-hand bag and let the world know about it because of social pressure."
Some customers decide to purchase second-hand bags after realising that there is a cheaper option without turning to counterfeit, which can look gaudy, Soliman says.
"From a distance, you can't tell it's fake but when you get up close, [the bag] is not as good", with cheap leather or missing details, she says.
At The Closet, one recently listed used classic Chanel with caviar leather costs Dh9,000 - 45 per cent less than the regular selling price of Dh16,000. While most bags are gently used, many are shipped with original packaging and authenticity cards.
The stores work on a consignment basis, which means they get their purses from customers eager to sell expensive handbags that they no longer need or use. Soliman says customers who consign their bags are often surprised once their first bag sells and then call her to sell others. On average, each handbag sells for Dh1,000 to Dh50,000 (for high end Hermès or exotic leathers such as crocodile) - once the bag sells, the purse's original owner receives the bulk of the cash.
Shops keep 15 to 25 per cent of each transaction and return the bag if it doesn't sell. While MyBagSpa and The Closet work on consignment, Toujours pays for bags right away.
Eager to sell your own designer rejects? It's not as simple as cleaning out the back of your wardrobe. Only luxury designer brands make the cut: mostly high-end bags such as Hermès, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo are in demand. Shops rarely accept brands like Michael Kors or Guess.
Soliman says she tries to stick with classic pieces that can match a multitude of clothing rather than overstated versions. "Most of my clients are not into artistic handbags or colours that are too strange," she says. With so many counterfeit versions available, the shop owners are most particular about authenticity. They'll look at the style, stitching, leather quality, hardware and serial numbers to establish authenticity before accepting the bag for the store.
"If I have even one per cent doubt that it's not original, I won't accept," Soliman says. Customers can always return an inauthentic handbag, she adds.
MyBagSpa gets most of its bags through customers who originally walk in to fix prized purses, says managing director Sarah Ziyaeen. The store does anything from colour restoration to getting out stains and can also dye a bag to a darker colour. For example, a red leather purse can be dyed to a more wearable black shade for about Dh2,000.
Shopper Maryam Abdullah says even though she was hesitant, she first bought a second-hand bag when she realised that a vintage Chanel bag she wanted was unavailable elsewhere. Abdullah, founder of Make-Up Overdose, a Dubai-based beauty blog, has since bought two additional "like new" bags and sold three of her old castoffs to Toujours Chic.
"One woman's trash is another woman's treasure," she says, "and in this case it can be a vintage Chanel or Hermès."