Discover more from It's Not Sustainable with Tiffanie Darke
Rental and Resale need an Editor
Curation is everything. It's the only way through the sea of overproduced stock.
Let me introduce you to Coco. An impressively chic and somewhat exotic fashion creature, she first came up in a Whatsapp group of high flying City women, (why I’m on there is another story). There was a secret soirée at her home later that week - ‘champagne, great people, couture dresses, edgy leather trousers and some very special trousers’ promised the invite.
“Coco has a FABULOUS wardrobe,” the Whatsapp group agreed. “And she rents it out.” Coco, it seemed, was a thing.
Eventually, after some sleuthing, I discover Coco is Coco Barear Panazza, the founder of Cercle, where the fashion philosophy is: “We love the idea of living a minimalist life but with maximum access. Style sharing does this. It’s better for our souls and better for the earth. It is our belief that a well curated life deserves to be shared.” Obviously, I loved the sound of this, so I made an appointment for Cercle HQ the following day. The address was Maida Vale, West London, and when I arrived, I realised I was actually in Coco’s home.
If this is your first time here, hello! To receive regular It's Not Sustainable posts please sign up below.
Her apartment isn’t grand, but instead full of greenery, a life sized ceramic leopard, and some well chosen vintage furniture, which was pushed back to accommodate some hanging rails and various shoe boxes. On the side tables were eye catching accessories: a vintage Prada corset belt, a wooden clutch with a crystal buckle; straw hats and felt fedoras hanging on the wall.
Coco was dressed in jeans and her grandmother’s silk shirt, a pair of jewel encrusted Gucci loafers on her feet. A very beautiful girl with a Russian accent was trying on an asymmetric silk top over a pair of palazzo pants, a couple of other assistants were fetching drinks.
Coco was not fierce, as she should have been because she was French and in fashion. Instead she was warm, laughed easily, and pulled me onto the sofa where she dived into her life story, leaping up every now and then to unhook a piece of Roberto Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood or Dolce & Gabbana from the rails.
“It all started when I was in New York, in 2015. We were this group of six girlfriends, and we used to raid each other's clothes every night,” she said excitedly in her heavy French accent. “I had just started working in fashion, where you're not paid much money - you know, peanuts! - but still you have all these appointments with clients where you have to look amazing. So we were lending and borrowing from each other all the time, and I remember back then saying, We should do an AirBnB for fashion! And my friends were like, ‘Are you mad Coco?!’”
At this point the Russian lady appears in a pair of sequin embroidered “happy trousers,” as Coco calls them, leaping up and declaring them “instant dopamine!”
“Fast forward a few years, I was in business strategy, and I saw brands were constantly facing the same challenges: how do you engage your loyal client, how do you acquire new clients and more and more, how are you more sustainable? I felt that was a really nice gap in the market.” Coco’s sharing wardrobe began, but with a caveat: “The experience just needs to feel more luxury.”
So having spent time living in China, Coco began pulling together her network from Beijing, New York, Paris and London, and building her great sharing wardrobe. The service is high touch: Coco will come to your home, help you cleanse your collection, advise you what to keep and what to rent out.
“We ask, what doesn't feel like you anymore? What is it that doesn't suit you? And then we look at it. Are we going to get rid of it? Do we rent? Or something else? We do styling tips: I had a client near Cambridge recently and saw this beautiful, kimono-esque silk dress in her closet. I said, you actually need to keep that. We put some shoulder pads in to give it a shape, and it looked amazing. We do all the logistics, repairs, alterations - I’m always altering things. It's a proper concierge service.”
You can see the wardrobe Coco is collecting here where her gorgeous vintage fashion is mixed in with new brands she has discovered on her travels in Portugal, Australia or Hong Kong. “Luxury isn't necessarily a price point,” she says. “For me, luxury is something that feels really unique, authentic. It's as much this beautiful clutch made in India, shared by one of our community members who used to collect artisan pieces there,” she says picking up the wooden and crystal box in front of us. “Or it’s a basket handmade in Colombia. Or it’s this Chanel bag which feels like it should belong in a museum,” she says pulling a mini bag off the rail.
we've had so much now beautiful Chanel pieces. But there is also something more unique about this wooden clutch, don’t you think?” What is so infectious about Coco, is how much she values everything in her midst. She sees true beauty, treats each garment or accessory as if it was a piece of art, and is passionate about caring for them, or altering them to make them just right for the wearer. “I’m always altering everything for me,” she says. “Making dresses into tops. I love it!” She is also a style magpie, borrowing as much out of her fiancé’s wardrobe as her friends.
I’ve just written a piece about rental over on the Rule of 5 page, as there are some environmental considerations to take in. The Rule of 5 campaign encourages us to buy less - to buy only what our planet can afford. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun with fashion. Find out more here:
As these new circular platforms grow, they have a problem with stock. They need fabulous pieces that are well curated, like any great store. All too often though, brands looking to solve overproduction issues are dumping their unsold back catalogue on them, diluting the offering and flooding the site with pieces that didn’t sell the first time round for good reason. The sites take this stock because they are in the desperate pursuit of growth, as most of these businesses are not making a profit yet. In fact Rent the Runway, the market leader in the US, is still way off, and The Real Real CEO has only just announced a path to profitability after a decade of losses.
These sites need our support though, as they are paving the way for a more circular industry. What Coco shows, and also people like the stylist Clare Richardson over at resale site Reluxe Fashion, is that a genuine love of fashion, a deeply curatorial eye and a consideration of service make a more interesting model. Growth doesn’t have to come from ‘more’, it can come from a better relationship with your existing customers.
“We're very community driven,” says Coco. “The party last night was so fun - seeing women swapping numbers and connecting is a much more fun shopping experience, right? You come, you shop beautiful pre-loved pieces. You meet amazing women along the way. Drink one or two glass of champagne - that's a nice way to spend your evening versus going to the store.” She pauses. “In fact, I can't remember the last time I went to a store. I don't really shop anymore.”
Until next week,
For new subscribers, hello and welcome! This post is free to read and thank you for joining. If you would like to support my work, please consider subscribing, it’s only £1.50 a week. Let’s forward this fashion revolution!.