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Interview: Stephanie Crespin on setting up fabulous secondhand designer store StyleTribute

By: Susannah Jaffer

Building a successful business from scratch is what makes a true entrepreneur. Working with beautiful, designer accessories and clothing is many women’s dream job. Through StyleTribute, an online marketplace for pre-loved and vintage luxury items, its founder Stephanie Crespin has found the best of both worlds, and made us just a teensy bit jealous in the process. We visit her warehouse full of treasures to find out how she got started.

Stephanie wears shorts by Chloe and a beaded jacket by Birger and Mikkelsen
Stephanie wears shorts by Chloe and a beaded jacket by Birger and Mikkelsen

 

What were you doing before your move to Singapore?
I’m Belgo-French and lived my first 25 years between Japan, Bangkok, Paris, Brussels, Vienna and Alabama. I studied a double masters degree in business engineering and the creation of SMEs.

Following that, I grounded my sense of business and luxury products at Procter & Gamble, where I led the marketing strategies and operations for the fine fragrance division, managing brands like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss and Lacoste. Before deciding to become an online fashion entrepreneur, I was working in Romania as brand manager of Pantene shampoos.

Before I moved to Singapore, my husband Denis was living in Brussels while I was constantly travelling for work, and it was a struggle to live apart. We decided to take a map of the world and make a shortlist of our favourite cities to live in, as we wanted to put a stop to the endless travelling back and forth to see each other on weekends. I’d always planned on starting my own business, and the moment felt right to take the leap. A few months later, I quit the corporate world, Denis found a job to cover our daily needs, and we headed to Asia with our backpacks.

How has the company progressed since the launch in 2013?
I started work on StyleTribute’s business plan in January 2013, in my apartment, on my own and without a penny in my pocket. A couple of months later, in July 2013, the brand was created, the financials were closed and the website was ready to be launched.

I was still about to face the most challenging step of the whole process: building up an inventory of beautiful fashion pieces for sale, on consignment from as-yet unknown women who would trust my company with their items.

In October 2013, we finally started operations and our first shipments came in. Before long, the company was rapidly gaining traction, and I could no longer work from my kitchen. The one-woman show was also no longer possible, and I was joined by my best friend, and students eager to be part of the adventure.

We sub-rented a space from Lime House, and then from another e-commerce company that had too much space on its hands. Within a few months, our inventory had reached over a thousand pieces, and we were having consistent sales. In May 2014, we raised our first round of funding and finally moved to our own warehouse.

This first round of investment allowed us to build a strong team, improve our digital presence and expand our reach to other countries in Southeast Asia. The team grew to seven people. The second version of our website went live in June 2014, and a solid supply chain and processes were put into place. Our inventory today consists of over 5,000 pieces, and we receive 1,000 new pieces on consignment each month.

We’re also continuing to work on new projects, and still have some surprises up our sleeve! We’re currently rolling out The Mag, our StyleTribute blog full of curated collections, special interviews, trend alerts, fashion styles, tips and authentication advice. We also plan for our mobile-optimised site to be ready for February this year.

 

Stephanie wears a colour block jumpsuit by Mason, available at StyleTribute
Stephanie wears a colour block jumpsuit by Mason, available at StyleTribute

 

Apart from buying, how have the women in Singapore responded to the call to clear out their wardrobes and sell their pre-loved designer items on your site?
Some of the most exciting moments in our business are when we discover amazing wardrobes in Singapore and Europe. When we’re asked to help out socialites and other affluent individuals who have enviable lifestyles, homes and closets, we get an insider peek into their lives.

One of our first clients was moving to a black-and-white house and was concerned that the humidity would damage her Alexander McQueen, Vera Wang and Dior gowns. Another had accumulated beautiful vintage Louis Vuitton pieces, but had lost her passion for the French label and wanted to sell them on for a decent price. One of our recent clients had been invited to an event that had changed in nature, and the $4,000 dress she’d bought specifically for the occasion was no longer appropriate.

I feel StyleTribute answers the needs of women who have a wardrobe full of unworn pieces but are too busy to sell them, or simply don’t know where they can get a good price for them. If you’re a stylish dresser but for some reason aren’t getting any wear out of a great designer piece, we can take it off your hands and sell it on your behalf. Once sold, we package it and send it to its new home, then transfer the proceeds to you within 15 days.

There is quite a lot of concern regarding fakes and replica goods in Asia. How have you addressed this?
When creating StyleTribute, one of my priorities was to confront this issue. The traditional e-resale solutions, such as eBay, are not really secure places for the average buyer to purchase luxury items, and I saw a need for a platform that had the expertise to check and authenticate each item. So I put in place a pool of industry experts to check a piece in-house before it’s put up for sale.

We share our knowledge through bi-weekly videos on authenticating bags and shoes. We also request invoices or receipts from the seller in every case. If they are unable to provide proof, the sale is not taken forward.

Leading our authentication process is our fashion director, Camilla Testori; she’s a Milanese fashion expert who spent several years styling Italian celebrities for magazines in the RCS media group, before joining Louis Vuitton Milan. Her experience with luxury brands has taught her the utmost attention to detail, and she expertly identifies pieces that both stand out and are authentic.

Stephanie wears a jacket by Prada, available at StyleTribute
Stephanie wears a jacket by Prada, available at StyleTribute

 

In an industry driven by the latest trends and new fads, where does vintage and pre-loved fashion have its place?
We’re grateful to have the opportunity to educate shoppers that secondhand does not always mean musty and dusty, and to be part of a slowly but surely evolving shopping culture in Singapore, where people are becoming more aware of the quality of their goods.

There is a definite level of care involved in the appreciation of luxury and high-end products, and through our “white-glove service” we are able to meet our sellers and buyers to share pointers on how high-end fashion can be a worthy investment.

Also, by bringing the concept of pre-loved fashion to Singapore, we’ve provided a platform for local shoppers here to access the wardrobes of like-minded fashionistas in a reliable, safe environment.

What’s your hot tip for buying vintage and other pre-loved items?
Buying luxury goods online has many advantages; these include the ability to scroll through hundreds of items in a few minutes, to consider and carefully choose what you are ordering, and to compare prices on other internet sites.

When you come across flashy promotional deals on a website, however, it can be hard to tell if you’re landing a great bargain or a dodgy one. You’ll often hear about the importance of checking a company’s policies, terms and conditions, and reading the fine print – but honestly, the average shopper doesn’t have the time, and that can be where they get caught out. There are some very sophisticated-looking scam sites out there now, which can easily fool even the most experienced online user.

From my experience, there are a few ways to make sure you’re dealing with a serious partner.

1. Reach out to the company behind the website.
Give them a ring during business hours. Strange answering machines can mean something is up. If you’re onto a scam, there is a 99 percent chance you won’t be able to get through and speak to someone. If you do get someone on the line, things are looking up, and you can proceed to ask them about the item you’re considering.

2. Look for a cash-on-delivery option.
Many e-commerce sites are offering this now. If they do, I’d say go for it. After all, it’s always safer to see your product before paying. The worst-case scenario is that the item doesn’t arrive; then you don’t have to waste time on that site anymore.

3. Do your research.
Does the company have any social media pages? Are there any articles talking about the company online? With a few minutes of browsing, you’ll be able to find out what type of site you’re looking at.

4. Finally, if you trust the website in question but are worried about buying an item that won’t fit, check the return policy.
At StyleTribute, we find it important to give our customers the option of returning whatever they buy if they’re not satisfied. In this case, shopping online becomes a worry-free, comfortable experience.

 

Stephanie wears a white dress from Zimmerman, jacket by Birger and Mikkelson and Dior Haute Couture shoes, available at StyleTribute
Stephanie wears a white dress from Zimmerman, jacket by Birger and Mikkelson and Dior Haute Couture shoes, available at StyleTribute

 

What advice would you give to people on a tight budget?
Very few of us have the budget for splurging on designer goods regularly. If you’re a luxury shopaholic, I’d definitely advise buying pre-loved items. Discounts fluctuate between 50 and 90 percent off the retail price, and you can find many items in almost-new condition. There are some amazing deals to be found, like a Vera Wang dress at $150, or a pair of Louboutin heels at $180. After all, nobody will know you bought them secondhand.

What’s your key piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Shoot for the stars! If you don’t dedicate all your efforts towards being the best, you immediately settle for being second-best – it doesn’t matter if someone has come before you. Only by aiming for bigger and better things can we challenge ourselves.

Also, too many start-ups focus solely on how to market, scale and grow a business rather than on the quality of their product. In a world where you can buy the same item in multiple places, our primary objective has always been to grow a brand that customers truly trust to bring them good deals week after week.

Any upcoming plans for StyleTribute.com?
I will have the immense joy of giving birth to my first baby, a boy, in April. This has really been a life-changing experience for me – and it’s also made me think about product needs for current or future mummies! When on the hunt for children’s clothes, I was quite appalled at the prices for such small pieces of fabric. I also realised there is no platform for pre-loved stylish kids’ items that are guaranteed to be in good condition.

So, I’m very excited to announce that in the new year we’ll be launching our new company KidzStyle, the little brother (or sister!) of StyleTribute. Selling pre-loved luxury fashion and essentials for kids, the range will include anything from clothes and shoes to strollers in pristine condition.

We’ve started to take in clothing and other essentials for KidzStyle, so I invite all mummies to get in touch with us through kidzstyle.com if they have any luxury items for kids or babies in good condition that they’d like to sell on to a new home.

 

 

Spotting A Fake
• Ask for an invoice, authenticity card or serial number. (Note, however, that not all bags have serial numbers – e.g., some Prada bags and vintage Gucci bags.)
• Ask for pictures of the hardware. Each brand usually has one or more distinguishable hardware suppliers, and a bit of online searching will tell you more.
• Request pictures of the stitching and details. Check the quality of the leather, the lining and the craftsmanship – it should be impeccable. If there are many flaws, and you feel the work lacks quality, go with your gut instinct and don’t make the purchase.
• Question the history of the bag and owner. Where did the owner buy it? Have they sold other goods or do they have any feedback?
• Triple-check any guarantees or return policies before you make a final decision.

Want more? See our style & beauty section!

 

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