The IMAGE Boutique Awards: An entry into luxury fashion without full retail prices
Forget what you think you know about second-hand or vintage shops. The designer consignment is a new breed of second-hand that’s a far cry from funky smells and rummaging through bins of musty T-shirts and dresses. They are, in essence, an entry into the world of luxury fashion without paying full retail prices.
Nearly all ‘consignment’ (not necessarily vintage or second-hand) shops in Ireland will stock an impressive array of designer fodder; from 20-year-old handbags to more-recent pieces. These shops, like Siopaella, Designer Exchange and Jenny Vander, all nominated in the Best Pre-Loved Offering category, are so popular right now that experts are predicting resale to be bigger than fast fashion by 2028. Even e-commerce is bending under the growing weight of resale, so there’s no time like the present to get in on it (not to mention the increasingly sour taste that “fast fashion” leaves in our mouth because of low wages and working conditions, pollution and the amount of landfill waste it generates).
Consignments work by trading your pre-loved bag (or jewellery or clothing) in exchange for store credit or cash. “Every handbag kept in good condition is an investment piece because we will buy it back from you”, says Paddy Coughlan, owner at Designer Exchange. Paddy has been in business for six years and in that time has developed a niche community of regular buyers, all eager for the next ‘designer drop’ on the shop’s Instagram. “the Designer Exchange customer isn’t trend-driven: she’s a confident buyer and wants something that no one else has”, he says over the phone.
As with all fashion, there is a particular amount of trend-driven items on display – like the Instagram-popular Gucci Marmont bag – but most consignments take pride in their ability to source niche or special items that physically can’t be found anywhere else. This, on top of the marked-down retail price, is what attracts customers from all over the world. “An Italian lady from Milan came into the store recently and she scratched our floor with the heel of her shoe in shock of seeing a vintage 2005 byzantine Chanel cuff. She actually screamed! This lady had been looking for this piece of jewellery since 2005 and she comes to Ireland for a holiday and finds it in our shop”.
With that being said, not everyone goes to a consignment just to buy high-end luxury products like Chanel or Prada and, as Paddy points out, it’s important to not scare customers away from the idea of luxury. “Everyone’s budget is different: we have women who desire a DKNY bag right up to Hermes Birkin. Louis Vuitton is always one of our top sellers, but my top seller by volume is Michael Kors and then Prada and Gucci and so on. We have everything from the €20 piece to the €20,000 piece and that’s the crucial thing for a business like this. You’re not frightening people away from the stigma of luxury”
For Paddy, being a man in a predominantly woman’s world, it’s all about having his ear to the ground and listening to what women want: I could go to a warehouse and pick out 200 bags that I think would sell, but I’d be out of business. Our business is customer-driven. If my customers don’t trade with me, I’ve got no stock. If my customers don’t buy from me then I’ve got no business”.
I couldn’t hang up without knowing who he admires when it comes to Irish style: “I’m a huge fan of Yvonne Connolly. She’s very classy. I admire Holly Carpenter and Holly White: In a world of bloggers and influencers, I think they’re the people who’ve kept everything chic and genuine”.