Tokyo vintage boutique covets overseas market

Vintage Qoo
Vintage Chanel black lambskin mini 2.55 bag charm chain leather belt at Vintage Qoo in Tokyo

By Charlene Zhang
Medill Reports

Tokyo–Walking around Shibuya, the major commercial ward in Tokyo, one can never find too many trend-busters and street stylists. This is also a paradise for fanatic devotees of vintage fashions.

Tucked away in a backstreet sits the 5-year-old boutique Vintage Qoo. It has the most, 102,000, Instagram followers among similar shops in Tokyo and once dominated the local market for second-hand Chanel goods, though there’s competition now.

“With the three stores in Tokyo, Osaka and Hong Kong, we are the largest vintage boutique in Japan since 2009, and currently in discussion to open another store in Los Angeles this year,” said the store founder Junna Mori, translated by Yukino Sakai, a personal shopper on the staff.

Yukino Sakai, store employee, is explaining the vintage accessories collection.

The store’s public relations manager, Tiffany Gu, said Vintage Qoo has an annual revenue of roughly¬†1 billion yen ($9.4 million) on average.

Chinese tourists, inspired by influential WeChat fashion bloggers Becky’s Fantasy and Shiliupo, each having over 10,000 readers, and overseas shopping advice app Xiaohongshu, seem determined to splurge on designer bags during their trip to Japan, according to Gu.

“The Chinese New Year,” said Gu, “is always the peak season for the store, when red bags are top choices. But black calfskin Chanel bag is always the year-long hit. Our store has 50 customers [a day] on average and has a fast circulation. The same goods won’t stay here for more than three months.”

Red bag hits during the Chinese New Year
Customers try on bags in the store, with seasonal red favorites on display.

In the first two years of the store, Gu recalled, celebrities like Mizuhara Kiko, a Japanese model and actress with a big Chinese following, and Angelababy, who’s Chinese, loved treasure hunting at Qoo and shared “serendipities” with their fans on Twitter or Instagram, attracting Chinese shoppers in droves.

During the interview, Gu pointed out frequent visitor Shiba Saki, an icon of vintage fashion and one of the most popular magazine models in Japan, when she walked in.

Unlike the early days when Japanese shoppers were the main clientele, Vintage Qoo’s customer base is now half Japanese and half foreigners, Gu said.

With the exclusivity and intimacy of the shopping experience in a vintage wardrobe setting, Qoo becomes a popular go-to for Chanel aficionados with its comprehensive selection of apparels, Classic 2.55 and the best seller Diana bag all in near-mint condition.

Best Seller
Tiffany Gu shows the Chanel vintage bestseller, the Diana bag.

Luxury sales are expected to grow further in 2018, according to a market study by Bain and Co. The main growth engine of the luxury market showcases a generational shift, with 85 percent of the growth in 2017 fueled by millennials, whose state of mind is permeating the luxury industry, the study says.

Despite the warm comeback of luxury sales, the limited access to international millennial shoppers could be a major obstacle to the growth of the store’s business, according to Mori.

An annual resale report in 2017 from worldwide online thrift store ThredUp states that 30 percent of millennials have shopped for secondhand goods and 21 percent will shop in the future. In addition, high income shoppers are 35 percent more likely to try secondhand, according to the report.

Vintage Qoo has been making changes to meet the demand of more chic, young and savvy consumers globally, shoppers it deems to value the treasure troves of rare items and mix-and-match styles offered by the store.

In addition to providing easy access to online shopping and international shipping from its official website, Vintage Qoo is working with UK-based e-commerce luxury fashion retailer Farfetch, which has sold vintage goods online for nearly a decade, on a commission basis to boost its online sales.

With a growing digitization of the Japanese vintage market, Gu admitted that one of Qoo’s strong competitors, Tokyo’s Amore, which also stocks exclusive vintage Chanel goods and works with Farfetch, has eaten into Qoo’s market share.

Nevertheless, even facing the challenge of fake luxury sellers as well as emerging competitors, Gu declared, the good quality of vintage items double guaranteed by serial numbers and warranty certificates will assure shoppers and build loyal customers.

In-store sales still comprise most of the boutique’s revenue, according to Mori, and the future brick-and-mortar store in Los Angeles is expected to better reach overseas target customers by creating a “fantasy” shopping experience.

Photo at top: Vintage Chanel black lambskin mini “2.55” bag charm chain leather belt at Vintage Qoo in Tokyo. Feb. 15, 2018. (Charlene Zhang/MEDILL)