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Long snubbed, secondhand luxury catches on in the Middle East

While working for Louis Vuitton in Dubai, Kunal Kapoor found customers asking the brand’s Mall of the Emirates store to verify the authenticity of pre-owned handbags. Kapoor saw an opportunity.

“Women were ready to upgrade their style quotient but stay value based,” he says. It was a surprise given the wealthy Gulf nation was known for its distaste over secondhand items.

In 2012, Kapoor founded The Luxury Closet in Dubai focusing on pre-owned fashion, watches and home decor. The retailer carries popular Middle East brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès.

A 2019 McKinsey report pegged annual fashion sales for the Gulf Cooperation Council region, which encompasses the United Arab Emirates and five other Persian Gulf countries, at $50 billion. Per capita spending for the group is among the world’s highest, making it a prime target for fashion brands and retailers. But the resale market has been largely overlooked, comprising less than one per cent of sales, believes Kapoor. Resale accounts for 7.1 per cent of fashion sales in the US, and Kapoor is confident that the Gulf region will reach a similar percentage “in the next three to four years”.

Sixty per cent of TLC clients come from the GCC, reflecting the Gulf region’s new openness to owning pre-owned luxury items. Dubai has a number of resale boutiques, and Kapoor TLC’s sales tripled over the last year, largely from repeat consumers.

Earlier this month, Huda Beauty Investments (HBI), the private investment arm of Dubai-based cosmetics juggernaut Huda Beauty teamed with local venture firm Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) on an $11 million round into TLC. It was HBI’s first investment. Separately, Huda Beauty founders Alya and Mona Kattan and Christopher Goncalo, invested an undisclosed amount in TLC.

Overcoming biases

Ounass, a key player in luxury e-commerce in the Middle East, has just added Rae Joseph’s three-year-old online vintage luxury platform 1954 by Rae Joseph. “Our sales continue to grow as our platform gains more exposure,” says Joseph, a lawyer by training who shuttles between New York and Riyadh. “Circular fashion is a trend that is here to stay.”

Joseph says that the region’s shoppers have had to overcome long-held biases about buying used. “There has been limited exposure to the subject here,” she says.

But she says that they are learning to appreciate the quality of luxury vintage, a result of items “being manufactured prior to the mass production era”.

The Luxury Closet carries popular Middle East brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès.

© The Luxury Closet

Christie’s, which has been auctioning high value secondary market collectible handbags since 2014 in major fashion cities, says that the Gulf region’s appetite for collectible fashion is growing. The company’s head of sales for handbags and accessories, Rachel Koffsky, says that Qatar has ranked among the top five cities globally for most handbag auctions for two consecutive years.

Emirati tastemaker Dr. Lamees Hamdan, founder of clean skincare brand Shiffa Beauty, says that buying pre-owned fashion has enabled regional consumers to indulge their luxury tastes and refresh their wardrobes frequently in a less costly way. “Before, you would buy one high fashion handbag and treasure it and use it all the time,” Hamdan says. “Now people get bored and want other colours and sizes. It is more economical to buy gently used. We are treating high fashion like fast fashion.”

TLC’s Kapoor says that the supply of luxury used fashion in near pristine condition is abundant. “When I first started, I remember a seller came to me with a full collection of every Dior saddle bag that had been issued,” he says. “It told me women here have amazing closets.”


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