Purse Paradise Found: How Fashionphile is Revolutionizing Luxury Resale with TechOctober 14, 2020
If Willy Wonka loved handbags, he would’ve created something like Fashionphile.
At the surface, it’s an online marketplace for pre-owned, ultra-luxury handbags. But peek inside its Carlsbad headquarters and you’ll discover a 30,000-square-foot purse paradise, brimming with 20,000 selections. “We’re not aware of any other place in the world like this,” said Sarah Davis, Founder and President of Fashionphile.
Locals lucky enough to live nearby can shop the showroom. Whatever your heart’s desire—a classic Chanel clutch to the newest Tom Ford tote—it’s here. In true Wonka fashion, it travels down a little chute to you.
While it feels magical, sophisticated technology is at work here. Fashionphile has a team of 12 dedicated to technical innovation, and it’s apparent from the moment a handbag arrives at its warehouse.
The first stop is the ‘Authentication Station,’ where handbags go through a rigorous vetting. There are devices that can spot the Pantone shades used to authenticate Hermès pieces, for example. And an X-ray machine to reveal the hardware inside a handbag, often a giveaway for well-done fakes.
Fashionphile is even developing its own software, using microframes to detect counterfeits in three popular classes of handbags. So far, it has 100 percent accuracy. They’ve also developed a pricing algorithm that can detect fashion trends based on how fast inventory is selling.
And then there is, of course, the well-trained eye. Before employees can authenticate their first handbag, they must complete at least 5,200 hours of training in just seven designer brands. After 6,100 hours, they can authenticate up to 21 brands; and after 6,460 hours, they can graduate to 32 or more brands.
“We call this Fashionphile University,” she said. “There’s tremendous education that must happen before they’re ready to authenticate.”
And she should know. She wrote the book on it, literally. Davis has authored dozens of authentication guides that painstakingly outline what separates the real-deal from knock-offs. This is reflective of her immense experience, which started in 1999 when she started reselling luxury handbags on eBay.
“Back then it was the Wild West and you often didn’t know what you were getting,” she said. “That was a shame because these luxury items are investment pieces.”
Seeing a major need, Davis partnered with current CEO and co-founder Ben Hemminger to launch Fashionphile in 2006. They moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Carlsbad in 2012 and have never looked back. “We each have four kids, so we wanted a community where we could throw a rock and hit a good school,” she said. “We fell in love with everything Carlsbad has to offer.”
That’s perhaps best evidenced by the giant, pink Hermès Birkin handbag made of 58,000 Legos inside Fashionphile’s headquarters. Just a mile from Legoland California, it’s a nod to the Carlsbad culture.
“But beyond an exceptional quality of life, Carlsbad has given my business everything it needs to grow,” Davis said.
And that growth has been striking. Today there are 243 employees, and the company’s gross merchandise value just topped $200 million.
Neiman Marcus has invested in the company, adding Fashionphile resell studios to its stores in Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Dallas —with plans for more over the next year. At these in-store counters, Neiman Marcus shoppers can sell their luxury handbags, which are vetted by Fashionphile, for cash or store credit. “You can sell last year’s handbag, and use that money or credit to buy this year’s handbag,” Davis said. “Again, we’re not aware of any other company providing this.”
No doubt, Fashionphile has cracked the code on luxury resale. It has masterfully scaled by combining human expertise with cutting-edge technology. Even the best authenticators could only vet about 20 handbags per hour. But armed with Fashionphile’s tech tools, Davis estimates they could authenticate upwards of 50 per hour.
That innovation is largely fueling its expansion-mode, which is still going strong despite COVID-19. The lion’s share of sales already happen online, so Fashionphile’s natural business model was already quarantine-friendly. Yet the company has wasted no time pivoting in a few areas , relying on technology yet again. There are virtual consultations for customers who want to sell their handbags. They can then book their UPS pick-ups, and once their handbag is authenticated, Fashionphile will wire them money — making for a completely contact-free sales process.
“COVID-19 has challenged us to improve through technology, which we’re always committed to doing,” she said. Due to the state’s social-distancing guidelines, an appointment is required to shop the showroom, located at 6359 Paseo Del Lago. You can book one by calling 844.619.8902, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.