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March 12, 2018

Anvita Mehra Of Confidential Couture On What Makes Pre-Owned Luxury A Millennial Favourite

Text by Ranjabati Das

No longer a dirty word, ‘pre-owned’ has democratised luxury and come to embody the brand-new face of modern retail, one that’s responsible, sustainable, and valuable, says this 27-year-old

Buying a piece of art that has passed through many a collection or purchasing a property, collectibles or an antique from the previous owner has never been regarded as a cause célèbre. But when it comes to luxury lifestyle products — clothing, jewellery, accessories, cars, electronics — societal constructs and stigmas around ‘second-hand’ and ‘rentals’ have through time, and right up to the noughties, wearied buyers. Notions like snob value — regarded as one of the premium takeaways of items labelled luxurious — successfully stymied the rise of these categories. And it became a truth universally acknowledged that the power of luxury lay, in fact, in the exclusivity of access — and this is where parameters like newness, limited production, ownership, rareness of occurrence or indeed stiffness of pricing came into play.

So when Anvita Mehra launched Confidential Couture, reportedly the country’s first online pre-owned portal, in mid-2014, the then-24-year-old had a mammoth job on her hands: eradicating age-old biases and educating the consumer about the virtues of pre-owned. At the time, the second-hand luxury market was virtually non-existent in India but, luckily for Mehra, the evolution of retail was well underway. Luxury, like art, has traditionally been the preserve of the privileged, a closed circle, but all that had been changing with the advent of the internet and the smartphone. These technologies paved the way for the global online shopping frenzy, the explosion of social media, the rise of the sharing economy and the shift in emphasis from object to experience. And ultimately coaxed even the most old-school and elite luxury brands, art platforms and auction houses online in the last decade. The time was ripe alright but few could have predicted what was to come. Namely that within a short span of three and a half years, Mehra’s pet project would go on to rack up more than 2 million views, significantly flipping long-harboured mindsets in what was practically no time at all. No one apart from Mehra, that is.

Leading the way for those tired of hyper-consumerism and especially those wired towards a resource-saving model often geared towards sharing, swapping, trading or renting and identified as ‘recommerce’, the venture offers buyers a wide range of coveted and exclusive brands — including the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Prada and Hermés — from those seeking to offload them. The protocol is pretty simple. Before a product is listed, it must undergo stringent authenticity checks, as well as rounds of sanitisation and professional shoots. Once these procedures are complete, the item goes live on the website along with a detailed description of its condition. All the curated products come with a condition guide that spans four categories — Never Been Used, Pristine, Gently Used and Fairly Used. Buyers are offered easy returns, confidentiality and private viewing facilities (which is where the company derives its name from), cleansing services (such as dry cleaning and polishing; for handbags, wallets, clutches, shoes, ties, scarfs, shawls, belts and sunglasses) as also a selling platform. Additionally, the platform takes the personalisation game up a notch by making its patrons privy to a range of monogramming options.

With over 10,000 new visitors every month, it’s safe to say that Confidential Couture has carved a special niche for itself in the hearts of its consumers, adding a robust new dimension to the Indian luxury segment along the way. The Delhi-born-and-based entrepreneur talks to Verve about simplifying the concept of luxury and doing the impossible — making luxury “affordable”!

How did the idea of Confidential Couture take seed?
From the very beginning, I always fancied designer bags and have been an avid follower of trends. I was also conscious of the fact that many people aspire for luxury but cannot afford it. This inspired me to create a platform where they can experience the thrill of buying luxury.

While pursuing a degree in business management at the University of Nottingham in the late noughties, I remember wanting to buy a rare Louis Vuitton handbag on a trip to Sloane Street in London. That bag cost 1,000 pounds and I knew that I could not afford it. Three months later, I spotted the same bag on — a pre-owned luxury portal in the UK — at half the price. With Instantluxe vouching for its authenticity, nothing stood in the way. It had sown the seed for Confidential Couture.

The concept was quite popular in the UK and it really intrigued me. So I began doing my groundwork. When we started back in 2014, we were a very small team of four people only. Before we ventured into this field, there was no other dedicated portal to handle this type of transaction in the Indian market. Getting the concept accepted was our biggest hurdle. India did not understand that there could be a curated marketplace for buyers and sellers in the pre-owned designer segment.

What is the site’s USP?
Confidential Couture’s USP is that we are the first to introduce the segment in India. The mushrooming of start-ups in the pre-owned luxury space are validating the presence of a market. Pre-owned luxury is here to stay. It is now considered an alternate form of luxury. The website is well curated and filtered, keeping the luxury aspect in mind, with defined subcategories such as vintage jewellery and watches. We do not do apparel and are very particular about it. I feel that customers are especially sceptical about second-hand clothing due to the hygiene factor.

‘Second-hand’ was once a big taboo in India…how did you tackle this hurdle and where do you stand now?
When I started back in June 2014, second-hand luxury came armed with a stigma. Consumers came armed with a barrier; pre-owned products were considered “uncool” and they could not understand that luxury can also be second-hand. We were pioneers in the field. Hence the onus was on us to change the perception of the consumers. Our goal has been to make luxury brands accessible to a larger spectrum of people by giving them the best deals. Today, we do get requests from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Indians have understood that luxury can be recycled. Our target audience is everyone who aspires to own a luxury brand and we welcome all sellers who want to sell their luxury items.

Why has pre-owned become such a hot trend at the moment?
Our aim is to simplify luxury. There are many who aspire to have their fashion fix at a bargain and Confidential Couture gives them the thrill of luxury with the assurance of complete confidentiality and the authentication that is so important to our customer base. The portal serves both as a moneymaker if you want to sell your unwanted fashion treasures and a money saver if you are a careful spender and want the taste of designer luxury at a lesser price. Not only has Confidential Couture facilitated a paradigm shift in the consumer’s thought process about pre-owned luxury goods, but it has also provided a platform for many to sell their pre-loved accessories, which hitherto did not exist in this market. It has also opened up the luxury market to a whole new set of people, those who are aspirational, and who perhaps could not afford them earlier.

Confidential Couture also allows users to sell their own items from their closets…do tell us more about this and various other features offered by your portal.
The business is bifurcated into buyers and sellers. As a seller, you can just log on to our website and fill a form with the details of the products you wish to sell through our portal and then answer some easy questions about them (about their authenticity cards and original packaging, date and place of purchase, for example) in order to help us determine the value. We require our customers to upload a minimum of four images of the item they wish to sell or consign. Within three to five business days after sending us the item information, they receive a custom price range in which their product fits in. This is the price range given by us to the consignors according to the category or condition of their product, keeping in mind the estimated retail prices, year of manufacturing, whether or not the product is movable (high-selling or movable items are those that get sold as soon as they are listed on the website), the physical state of the item, if it comes with its original belongings (including authenticity, warranty and care cards, tags, stuffing, butter paper, dust and shopping bags, box and shoulder strap), and so on. We can get their products picked up from their desired location (via our nationwide pick-up service). The final price determination and product analysis along with the first round of authenticity checks are done in person by our experts after which a consignment contract is signed between Confidential Couture and the customer for a period of three months. If the product fails any of the quality checks, it is returned to the customer, terminating the contract.

Before the product can be listed on the website, it is examined by our authenticating partners in the US, bio-cleansed (if necessary) and photographed. This usually takes up to two weeks. Bio-cleansing or Spa is a rigorous cleaning process that each product that gets consigned to us goes through. This is a mandatory process, for hygiene reasons. According to each product’s material and need, it can be sent for buffering, polishing or patchwork. Mostly, we advise clients to get a personalised design done on top of any major tear. With the permission of the consignor, we patch up torn bags to give them a second life in a way that the authenticity does not get affected. The sellers get paid once their items are sold, earning up to 70 per cent of the value of the item.  We also do instant cash buyouts based on the demand for certain items.

All our products are broadly categorised under Never Been Used, Pristine, Gently Used and Fairly Used, which we call the conditions guide. Each category is well defined and differentiated from the other. This, along with the detailed description of usage, makes the process very transparent. We also try to provide a unique customer experience to keep in line with the feel-good factor of the luxury segment.

In one sentence, what is the vision behind Confidential Couture?
To make luxury accessible to the discerning customer.

How do you guarantee authenticity and quality?
We have our in-house experts who, upon the arrival of a product, review it and its accompaniments (receipts and authenticity cards, hologram codes and heat stamps, for instance). In most cases, items are identified to be authentic or not at an early stage. We acquire about 40 images of every detail, stitch and stamp of the product. All of it is submitted to our authentication partners, Authenticate First and Real Authentication, both based out of the US. Upon the final approval of our partners, the product is made available for sale on the website. We offer a verified authentication certificate with the product once it is purchased along with a money-back guarantee if the product is proven to be a counterfeit.

Democratisation of luxury and recyclable luxury have led to a considerable amount of debate in recent years…what is the role of social media in this context?
Social media, I believe, has a major role in this context as it helps us reach a wider audience that comprises those who want to know more about what we have to offer and as for those who don’t get the concept — they get to see how the items actually look.

 How do you intend to ‘simplify’ luxury?
We intend to make luxury ‘simple’ by making the overall experience guilt-free, and by offering authentic pre-loved designer accessories at great prices.

What’s next on the cards for Confidential Couture?
I plan on taking the brand global and making processes automated so that the consignor can track the status of their products in real time; from the time it is picked up to when it is sold and all of what is in between: whether or not it has cleared the authentication process, whether it is at the Spa or the professional photography stage, whether it has gone for a private-viewing session et al. I aim to provide a faster turnaround time, i.e. the time period from when the item is picked up from the seller to when it is uploaded on the website. I’m also working on providing an instant quote to the seller. For buyers, we are planning to incorporate better payment methods, more options for EMI, complete accessibility to tier-2 and tier-3 cities and reduced delivery time. We want to deliver about 200 to 300 products on a weekly basis, enhance the personalisation services and make the platform more gender-neutral by adding more options for men as well.

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