PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 11: A passerby wears a gray jacket and holds a white Chanel shopping bag, in the streets of Paris, on May 11, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

While luxury spending plummeted when the pandemic first took hold, the desire for designer goods never went away. Which might help explain the curious rise of the fashion packaging market. Over the last year-plus, a certain subset of ingenious COVID-era sellers not only listed their designer bags, shoes, and garments for cash, but also the boxes, dust bags, and tote bags that their treasures arrived in. 

According to Money, a credit broker in the U.K., the practice is not only common but head-scratchingly lucrative. In April, Money ran an analysis of empty luxury brand packaging for sale on eBay. What they found will have you pulling any burnt-out Diptyque candles or Tiffany-blue jewelry boxes out of the recycling bin. According to the company’s report, watch boxes from brands like Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer, and Seiko fetch an average resale price of £126 (roughly $178). Of course, a Tag Heuer watch could set you back $1,300, but $200 — Tag Heuer watch boxes have an average value of £149 — is hardly chump change. 

Shopping bags and shoeboxes from fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, and Chanel, also command top dollar on sites like eBay and Poshmark. Say you recently bought a pair of Sophie Turner’s slipper boots from Louis Vuitton, which cost $1,170, you could sell the box they came in for an average price of £74, or $104, according to Money. Since you get a fancy shoebox no matter the shoe model, you could, instead, purchase a lower-priced pair, say Louis Vuitton’s $535 pool slides, and get back a good chunk of your investment by reselling the box. Nike, Christian Louboutin, Saint Laurent, Fendi, Breitling, and Cartier, too, made Money’s list of the top 20 most valuable luxury brand packages. 

According to a Danish Mathematical Economics student named Christian Bendsten — who is currently listing a Rick Owens tote bag, which comes free with any purchase from the brand, for $97 on Grailed — this phenomenon isn’t new to the pandemic era. “[Resold packaging] really started with things like Chanel coathangers, [and evolved from there],” he tells Refinery29. On Grailed and other sites, he often sees listings for Dior and Louis Vuitton chains that come attached to duffles, as well as Carol Christian Poell garment bags and Supreme stickers. Some of the items being sold are useful, like his Rick Owens tote bag, while others are strictly marketing add-ons, like the stickers or bag chains that brands typically give away for free with purchases. 

“You attain some of the clout that you would have from wearing the actual brand, without having to spend excessive amounts of money.”

– Christian Bendsten, Grailed seller

What gives them value on the secondhand market, according to Bendsten, is the brand name: “You attain some of the clout that you would have from wearing the actual brand, without having to spend excessive amounts of money.” Carrying around a Rick Owens tote bag, or having a big Chanel shopping bag in the background of your Instagram photos, automatically gives off the perception that you purchased items from the fashion houses.

Poshmark seller Stephanie C. agrees with Bendsten, attributing the demand for designer packages to the rise of influencers. “It’s become quite trendy for them to have [designer boxes and shopping bags] in the background of their photos,” she tells Refinery29, “even if they’ve never shopped at those places.” According to her, these items are all just social media window dressing. 

Bendsten sees luxury packaging as an introduction to high fashion, likening a designer dust bag or shopping tote to diffusion lines, like MM6 Maison Margiela or the now-defunct Marc by Marc Jacobs. These brands are easily recognizable, he says, but can cost a fraction of the price of a mainline designer item. With a Chanel shopping bag, you get the clout without the hefty price tag. It’s not dissimilar to the way lesser-priced beauty products can function as gateways to a brand. Maybe you start with a Gucci perfume before you work up the courage (and the funds) to invest in a Jackie bag or a pair of loafers. An $85 expenditure is a lot easier to justify than $850. Plus, according to Money, you can make £16, or $22, by selling the bottle once the perfume runs out. 

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