Refashioner, the Couture Swap Site, Pivots to Virtual Consignment

By Erin Griffith , written on June 25, 2012

From The News Desk

What users ask for, users shall receive. Refashioner started as a clothing swap for voracious consumers of luxury clothing. Thanks to many requests from its users, the site has today switched gears to offer them consignment.

The company's mission won't change – the goal is to encourage "collaborative consumption" of luxury goods at a price point that doesn't include markups from expensive consignment shops. That was the high-minded point of Refashioner's initial iteration as a sharing machine. The problem is that swapping clothes can't scale. "People eventually want to sell their stuff," founder Kate Sekules says.

The company's target audience won't change either – Refashioner will continue to focus on highly engaged lovers of high end goods. "It's kinda snobby, but it's also really friendly," Sekules says. To become a member and shop is not difficult, but to upload one's things and sell them, the bar is higher. Users must go through an application process. "We don't want to pollute the field with stuff that's fine, but not for our site," Sekules says. The site isn't looking for Forever21 or H&M pieces, unless perhaps they're from special designer collections.

Refashioner is in some ways like a luxury version of Threadflip, a site that (to quote myself, sorry) eliminates the crappy parts of selling your clothes online. Threadflip solves a simple pain point: that it's too much of a hassle to get rid of clothing online. The site also takes a bigger cut than, say, eBay. Threadflip charges users 20 percent to sell clothing on its site, a fee that covers shipping and a conveniently delivered box. Refashioner will charge 22 percent, which Sekules says is still a deal, if you compare it to the 50 percent to 60 percent charged by bricks and mortar consignment shops.

Refashioner's differentiator from Threadflip will go beyond its focus on high end clothing – it will be in its community. "Not only do we want there to be a viable secondary marketplace for these valuable pre-owned clothes, but also a space where women who love their stuff can play and discuss," she says. "It's such an overused term, 'community.' But it really will be a community now." Social functions like the ability to follow someone's closet and tell the story behind a certain item help in building engagement.

The site's ethos is different from Threadflip's as well. Threadflip is founded by two men, Sekules points out, and reflects more of a top-down approach to ecommerce, as opposed to Refashioner's user-centric approach. Still "there is a lot of room for pre-owned to grow online," she adds.

Refashioner's re-launch features items from celebrity closets including Courtney Love and editors at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

Luxury apparel brands (and the magazines that write about them) have not always welcomed social media with open arms. Only recently have brands like Oscar de la Renta embraced digital, a scarily democratizing force for companies whose bread and butter is elitism. Sekules says she wants to work with luxury brands to create a viable secondary market. "(Secondary sales) increase the value of the original product," she notes. The site will promote brand quality and the idea that, if one buys quality, items can have a second, third, or fourth life. "It seems antithetical to the way the luxury market is structured, but it can be very much in their favor," she says.

Refashioner has been kept somewhat under the radar thus far, and Sekules says she's planned many iterations on what's available today. She has raised $100,000 in seed money from angel investors and has a host of advisors from New York's media and tech worlds.

Most New York founders have past lives, and Sekules' is cooler than average -- she was a boxer, as well as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet and an editor at Food and Wine magazine. Alongside the relaunch of Refashioner, she celebrated the release of her memoir "The Boxer's Heart" with a party that featured live boxing and a runway at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.