“Customers will continue to question their consumption”: Interview with Vestiaire Collective’s CEO Max Bittner

With growing consciousness of sustainability, it looks like fast fashion might not be so on trend anymore. Currently benefitting from that shift is Vestiaire Collective, a French fashion tech startup based in Paris. Founded over ten years ago, the company has raised €209 million, closing a recent funding round just weeks ago totalling €49 million.

We caught up with CEO Max Bittner, who took the helm of the startup in 2018. A former founder himself (of the e-commerce giant Lazada), we discussed tips for first-time entrepreneurs, as well as Vestiaire Collective’s unique value proposition, future trends in sustainable fashion, and how the company is faring during COVID-19.

Thanks for your time, Max! For our readers who don’t know, what is Vestiaire Collective and what problem is it trying to solve?

Vestiaire Collective is the leading global resale platform for desirable pre-owned fashion. Our community of 9 million fashion activists worldwide inspire one another whilst selling and buying unique pieces from each other’s wardrobe. An increased interest in sustainability and the rise of social media has driven consumer interest in the pre-owned market. Gen Z and Millenials want to access the fashion they desire in a more sustainable way whilst also feeling connected to a wider community, which is where Vestiaire offers a unique proposition that meets a growing demand driven by the younger generations.

Congratulations on closing the latest most recent funding round! You’ve stated that one use of the cash is to keep fuelling Vestiaire Collective’s international expansion. What have you found to be the key challenges of continued growth?

This is really the moment for resale. There are so many opportunities we could pursue, one of my personal biggest challenges has been to keep the team focused on the big topics that really make a difference. The biggest challenge overall for the business has predominantly been scaling internationally. Each market has its own cultural nuances, meaning you need to dedicate a lot of time to research each market, building a broad understanding of all the factors that can impact your ability to scale successfully. It’s important to build a strong local team that understands each market you want to reach.

This is the second time you’ve chosen to personally participate in a funding round during your time leading Vestiaire Collective. What motivated that decision?

The first thing that struck me when considering joining Vestiaire Collective was the huge potential for the business model. I strongly believe the platform answers a number of today’s growing consumer needs and this shift in the consumer landscape will continue to escalate over the coming years, this is why I wanted to invest in the business myself shortly after I joined in 2019. I’ve reinvested again in this round as I am personally convinced that this unprecedented period of disruption will not only challenge where we shop but how we shop which will further drive adoption of online resale platforms.

Vestiaire Collective was founded in 2009 – it’s already been over ten years! As the business has grown – and investor cash has flowed – how do you believe the company goals and objectives have changed?

I’ve been with the business for just over a year and a half, but I believe the fundamental goals of the company remain the same as they were in the founding years. Encouraging a sustainable approach to fashion consumption was a core founding pillar of the Vestiaire Collective model when it launched, and this remains key to the company’s future objectives.

When the founders launched the platform they spotted a shift in the way people were starting to think about and consume fashion. This evolution has continued to grow and we believe this will be further escalated by the impact of the current crisis. We want to encourage more people to join our circular fashion community and explore a more sustainable way to enjoy fashion.

In these ten years, more fashion startups with similar circular business models have arrived on the scene. What continues to make Vestiaire Collective unique?

The platform remains unique due to its highly engaged global community, its rare desirable inventory and the high level of trust we have developed in the company and the community. There are no other players in the market that offer this unique combination. I also believe that you should always be willing to self-disrupt so we are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and evolve to ensure we can continue to provide for the ever-changing needs of today’s customer.

What trends do you see taking off in the fashion e-commerce industry over the next five years – will sustainable alternatives really triumph over fast fashion?

We live in a world where consumers, especially younger generations, have really been changing the paradigm of the way things are done. There has been a shift of consumer behaviour towards a circular economy and digital landscape. I think customers will continue to question and change their approach to consumption. Where they are becoming more conscious of both sustainability and the impact of consumerism, this will be further escalated by the current crisis which will ultimately force brands to rethink their current model.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted business at Vestiaire Collective, if at all?

As a C2C platform we have been able to be quite agile in the way we operate during this period, and this has allowed the business to rebound from an initial impact quite quickly. We are seeing positive figures on both order and deposits right now. Central European orders are +20% on our pre-Covid-19 February average, and overall deposits are +33% for the same period. We’re also seeing our community continue to be strongly engaged on our app.

Finally, as a founder yourself, what advice do you have for those hoping to take the plunge and start their own company?

Follow your passion and your instincts – you need to start a company that will make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Always keep an entrepreneurial state of mind. Innovation is key to any business maintaining a competitive edge, so never miss the opportunity to drive change where you believe it’s needed.

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