Consignment shops didn’t often evoke images of high fashion and luxury apparel until businesswoman Julie Wainright decided to flip the world of secondhand shopping on its head. A random shopping trip to Silicon Valley in 2010 had Wainright’s entrepreneurial mind buzzing. She watched as a friend purchased piece after luxurious piece. Gucci, Prada, Chanel; all the big names were there, used and affordable. Wainright’s background though was in web retail, as the past CEO of both Reel.com and Pets. Working with what she knew, and discovering there was a niche in the market waiting to be filled, The RealReal was born the following year.
The online luxury-consignment store, with a physical location now open in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, retains a staff of professionals–gemologists, horologists, art curators, and brand authenticators–to ensure shoppers are buying only authentic pieces of fashion. This, notes Wainright, is where The RealReal sets itself apart from other online merchandisers: a luxury service that is affordable and, unlike the big online sellers such as Amazon, personalized.
In the 7 years since its founding, The RealReal has proven Julie Wainright’s instincts were spot on. The company has a staff of 1500, bi-coastal offices, and more than $200 million in venture capital. The site now has 8 million members, with about half the buyers and sellers having never set foot in a consignment shop before.
The philosophy for Wainright and her staff is simple; they view themselves as curators of art, needing a home. Like any great collector, the company works hard to create a visual experience, both in-store and online, that honors and shares this appreciation with its customers. The RealReal hosts workshops, such as a recent class called How to Authenticate a Birkin, and place placards alongside merchandise, providing a history and background to their items, not unlike a museum. These touches even follow customers to the bathroom, where The RealReal’s Guide to Designer Pronunciation plays on a loop.
These touches show a genuine respect for the merchandise, and the customer, and clearly it’s working: The RealReal is on track to move over $500 million this year alone.