Until 2013, Charlotte Staerck worked in pharmaceuticals for the NHS and her husband Ben ran a furniture restoration business. When customers started to come to Ben’s business with their dilapidated or damaged designer handbags, Charlotte had the idea to us the same skillsets to create The Handbag Clinic, now the leading luxury handbag restoration service.
The clinic has now fully adopted a sustainable fashion business model; buying, restoring and selling luxury handbags. It has a global clientele, three bricks and mortar stores and has seen a 500% growth in online sales over lockdown.
Here, Charlotte Staerck, its CEO, shares her advice for creating a fashion business in the circular economy and why restoration is the future of luxury goods.
Sustainability must be at the core of the business
“If you are determined to have a sustainable business then you need to ensure that every part of it is as sustainable as possible. We are always looking for as many solutions as we can. You have to think about how are you going to rid of waste? What products are you using? Are you making sure you’re reducing that waste all of the time, you’ve really got to think about everything from that sustainable point of view in order to keep the core value alive within the business.”
“One of the best things about our business is how much it celebrates craftsmanship. A lot goes into bag restoration and it is an impressive skillset. One of our main values is preserving the past, while mindfully reinventing the future and this is very much about preserving these techniques, keeping this craft alive. If you choose a business like this, you can engage passionate young people who are going to move forward and crucially- given our current political climate– create a very UK based unique skill. We have people send us items from all over the world. We are always developing and bolstering these techniques to deal with specialist bags. We have created new products and new dyes and colourants to do that. I think it’s a very amazing thing to see.”
The circular fashion economy is the future…
“I have always unknowingly kind of used this circular fashion ethos from when I was very young. When I was 16, I would save up to buy a handbag, then I would sell that handbag and buy what I thought was the next big handbag. I had just been doing that on Ebay! But now I see that this way of thinking is the future for luxury fashion.
We want to prolong the lifecycle of luxury handbags as a whole. We don’t want you to ruin your handbag and pop in and see us, we always say let’s try and avoid you from even getting to that point in the first place. It’s about protecting the investment that these expensive handbags offer, from the moment you buy it. We don’t just offer a resale platform, we offer a resale platform that also includes increasing the value of your bag. More and more people are thinking like this, it’s not about hoarding new things but about treasuring old things and keeping them for longer, or exchanging them for something else. It’s a great financial investment. You can play the handbag market like the stock market and it’s sustainable at the same time!”
…but pre-owned fashion needs the right marketing.
“Back when I would buy and sell pre-owned handbags, it wasn’t very glamourous. I think that is all changing now, with things like Vestiare collective and The Handbag Clinic. There is a real backlash against fast-fashion, and so now, good quality, pre-loved high fashion is starting to seem much more luxurious. We try and make shopping pre-loved feel that way, and we certainly did with our bricks and mortar stores too. We would have incredibly high-net worth individuals happily shop there when they could have bought new! Ethical, guilt-free fashion is definitely seen as more glamorous now.”
Make luxury accessible
“One of the great things about what we do is that we are often able to offer luxury handbags at a lower price, thus making them accessible to a whole new income bracket. This is a key factor of the circular fashion ethos- the rental and resale market– it really democratises fashion and that makes it a very appealing business model.”
Always do your research
“When it comes to dealing with luxury materials it is so, so vital that you do your research properly. You’ve really got to not jump in with both feet, but instead spend a lot of time doing research and making sure you know what you’re dealing with to start with. We’ve had horror stories of people going to ill-prepared companies. One girl took a £40,000 Birkin to someone who had just started in the industry, and they completely ruined it. You have to really know your stuff.”
Do one thing, do it well.
“For us, because we specialise in handbag restoration, we think it’s wise to not branch out. This is great advice for anyone looking to do something similar. The skills that are needed for this kind of work are very specific and customers need to be reassured that you are an expert in your field.”
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