Close-Up: Secondhand Luxury – China’s Next Big, Bright, Shining Star? Pawnstar Shanghai. 特写:中国对二手时尚和奢侈产品的购置有什么看法呢?

Note to self: Do not give into Dirk Diggler temptation. Nevertheless, I do hold a highly bespoke soft spot for secondhand almighty funkadelic 70s fashion with some Burt Reynolds ghetto gold to boot. And I’m in luck. Today’s neon signs feature Pawnstar, aka the new place to go in Shanghai and get your fashion vintage boogie on. The leading question then becomes… Is secondhand (luxury) the next big, bright, shining China Fashion star?

Pawnstar Shanghai. Secondhand, streetstyle and sustainability rolled into one big Bogart-worthy hotter than a deuce fashion funk — I dig.

The Pawnstar shop at The Clement Apartments in Shanghai’s former French Concession breathes a cool air of prime and fine vintage. Designer items from the likes of Alexander McQueen, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Helmut Lang, Givenchy, Alexander Wang, accompanied by premium brands such as Max Azria, J. Crew and Ann Taylor. Louboutins and Nicholas Kirkwood Stilettos also mark their presence and the shop boasts quite the extensive collection of jewelry as well as men’s ties. Unlike many secondhand stores that specialize in women’s fashion, this is also a great one to find menswear. Moreover, Pawnstar has taken up collaborations with local designers on up-cycling projects, culminating in a fervid range of 100 per cent unique fashion items — available at the Clement shop, obviously. Secondhand, streetstyle and sustainability rolled into one big Bogart-worthy hotter than a deuce fashion funk — I dig.


Current economic conditions have brought about a slight turnaround in China’s craving for the luxury consumer culture. This is not to say that brands have become “bad” in the client lookbook, but a decline in luxury sales has occurred. Two big driving forces here are the fact that a) more Chinese consumers nowadays buy their products abroad rather than in China, and b) the presence of “hard-to-tell-apart” counterfeits on the Chinese market scares potential customers away. In other words, with yard sales somewhat beyond the ken of most Chinese consumers and the remaining China gusto for luxury consumer culture, how does “secondhand” play (let alone “fit”) into this ever-aspiring market without puzzling consumers?


Perhaps surprisingly so, the secondhand luxury industry in China over the past five years has experienced an unshaken upward movement. The process behind it is plain-‘n-real-dealing. Vintage retailers often get the clothing from their own fashion circles whose in-crowd has grown tired of their wardrobes. The buyers, on the other hand, are aspiring luxury consumers who make 2000 USD a month and still dream of nonchalantly holding that pale pink Dior Diorissimo bag in the crook of their arm. Online and physical stores selling second-hand (luxury) goods are now slowly beginning to grow both in quantity and popularity, boasting some awesome potential as the Chinese luxury clientele matures and more consumers opt to “trade up”.

The new explosive second-hand market doesn’t end with almighty Alibaba as we witness similar ventures popping up across China.

Expert in the field Fang Fang, owner of secondhand Beijing boutiques Trash ‘n Diamond and Psycho Recycle, told Jing Daily’s Jessica Rapp the following on the topic:

“Several secondhand e-commerce platforms have emerged in recent years as well, but maintaining quality control is still a battle. One of the most popular Alibaba Group-owned Taobao apps for second-hand, Xianyu [闲鱼淘宝], sells just about every category of secondhand goods eBay-style, but on Taobao, even luxury claiming it’s guaranteed to be real isn’t always so.”


Now, Alibaba says that office workers and students under 30 make up for Xianyu’s largest consumer pond. Its transaction volume has expanded by a whopping 15.6 times since 2014, with 170 million items sold, as dutifully noted by Fortune. Alibaba this year further stated that another 15 million USD would be invested in the platform. This new explosive online second-hand market doesn’t end with almighty Ali as we witness similar ventures popping up across China. Zhuan Zhuan, developed by New York-listed, has acquired three million users over the timespan of a mere year. Kong Kong Hu, a second-hand fashion app aimed at the 20-something China fashion feline, said it had raised 18 million USD last year. Speaking of online shopping sprees…

Take 26-year-old Jane Zhang who describes herself as an example of China’s so-called “hand-chopping mafia” (social media hashtag #剁手党#; rest assured, no Sweeney Todd visuals), Chinese slang referring to shopaholics who feel the urge to cut off their hands to arrest (or “handle”, if you will) their compulsive online shopping. Nevertheless, Zhang has found a cure: Secondhand e-commerce. “After seeing a dress I like on Taobao, I will searh for the same item on Xianyu. Usually, I am able to find a near-new one at a cheaper price,” she explains to the Financial Times.

China’s (second-hand) luxury client remains in search of better authenticity platform to verify the desired products.

The Chinese millennial is changing their shopping patterns, marking a strong taste for the new, yet a bleak attention-span for that same newly acquired view. In other words, these consumers are perpetually getting rid of their been-there-done-that boring booty and on the lookout for some fresh (fashion) tasty. However, despite the rapid growth of aforementioned digital “garage sales”, problems remain rife. The earlier-mentioned problematic reality of fake goods, that is. China’s (second-hand) luxury client remains in search of better authenticity platform to verify the desired products. Enter: Pawnstar Shanghai. The pieces of that secondhand luxury puzzle are coming together.

Taking the thrift shops, consignment stores and other second-hand undertakinga found across Western cities and Tokyo, Pawnstar seeks to create a business model suited to the Chinese consumer in an economy that has been hooked on luxury brands as well as cheap, disposable goods yet is at this very moment rapidly evolving in terms of “sustainable awareness”. The main characteristic that sets Pawnstar apart from any other second-hand business across China, is that the majority of its product-sourcing is local: Those who consign, live in Shanghai City. Through its China-based activities, this new conceptual collective seeks to broadcast the acceptance of both buying second-hand clothing and the various groovings in terms of re-use, up-cycling and sustainability. Nels Frye, one of the originators and founders of the Pawnstar concept and in command of its strategic direction and marketing, summarizes: “We hope to encourage Chinese fashion shoppers to make their contribution to limiting waste and pollution by wearing garments longer or shopping secondhand.”

Pawnstar is making sure that people understand that wearing second-hand is about getting a bargain and finding a unique personal style, but is also probably the very most sustainable way to look good. Quote, Nels Frye.

Frye, also the founding and editor-in-chief dude of China streetstyle haven, explains how there is currently a great deal of Chinese interest in the conceptualization of sustainability and all that mixes or matches with it on a practical level, rightfully deeming this evolution a “highly encouraging” one. “More and more young designers in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Shenzhen, are incorporating sustainability into their designs.  The general level of awareness is increasing rapidly,” he continues. Pawnstar is the missing puzzle piece connecting the eyeopening sustainable secondhand dots. The founders for one are keen to keep those fashion goodies off the hook:

“On the one hand, the shop is making sure that people understand that wearing secondhand is about getting a bargain and finding a unique personal style, but is also probably the very most sustainable way to look good. Of course, buying high-quality and classic pieces also helps. The other thing that we have set in motion is our up-cycling program. We work with young designers who use old pieces of clothing and fabric to create unique and new items. For us, this whole undertaking is mostly about encouraging people to think about re-use and the ecological impact of their consumption.” Frye concludes.

After selling designer and premium fashion and accessories mostly through WeChat and Taobao for more than a year, Pawnstar decided it needed a physical home that would mesh with its overall mission as well as its aesthetic sense. And so The Clement Apartments — a historic complex in the center of the Former French Concession — have now become home to the physical space for what was formerly an online-only secondhand retail platform. The whole point was not just to set up shop; the concept demanded a site where people could conduct firsthand consumer research concerning a deeper understanding of attitudes towards secondhand shopping in China. Pawnstar has become a fashion fait accomplis.


Taking a cue from Diggler himself here, Pawnstar — and secondhand luxury in China for that matter — are coming in strong. If they both continue at this pace, they are bound to feature across China Fashion theaters in bright blue neon lights with a purple outline. Plus, remind yourselves, the right secondhand touch can take you from Frumpy Grandma to Foxy Mama in a heartbeat. Primo stuff, right?!



Photos: Pawnstar.

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