For the RealReal founder Julie Wainwright, life hasn’t always been easy. Before she founded the dream platform for the fashion-obsessed, the erstwhile entrepreneur worked in a variety of different roles. She acknowledges that naming is not one of her strengths, which is perhaps one of the reasons why her online magazine for women over 35, which was called SmartNow, never really caught fire. And, at one point, it seemed as if The RealReal itself might not catch on with consumers—or would face too much competition from others who wanted to profit off the secondhand market. But like a phoenix rising up out of the startups that have gone before it, Wainwright’s website suddenly distinguished itself as the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
A lot of The RealReal’s success can be attributed to its diligence. Wainwright doesn’t take sellers’ words for it when it comes to item attributes such as gemstone and metal weight. While The RealReal’s competitors seemed to rely more upon a model similar to eBay—peer reviews—Wainwright realized right away that this wasn’t going to work with the luxury sector. Employing authenticators whose job it is to decide whether or not something is real, Wainwright ensures that her platform’s reputation remains impeccable. After all, there’s a reason why so many fashion fans flock to the website and app for trends they may have missed last season. In the past, if a fashionista forgot to pick up that great Gucci scarf right when it first came out, chances were that they’d never see it again.
Wainwright’s brainchild offers unique opportunities for buyers and sellers alike, opening up the fashion market in ways some never envisioned. However, the company has not been without its detractors. There have often been questions about the way The RealReal selects certain brands to be on the platform while spurning others. Tory Burch, widely considered an upscale designer brand, is one of these RealReal rejects. Before undergoing a revamp, Coach used to be one of them as well. Many brands want their fans to be able to resell their clothes and accessories, because they often come back and buy more designer items after unloading their old ones.
However, not all fashion brands believe in The RealReal’s methodology. The Chanel legal team has expressed its displeasure with items being sold on the platform. Claiming that only people who work for Chanel can verify whether or not a piece is authentic, they have challenged The RealReal’s right to put secondhand Chanel pieces up for sale. But if the designer brand is expecting Wainwright to crumble under pressure, they’re completely unfamiliar with her way of doing business. Stating that she believes Chanel is a victim of an antiquated business model, Wainwright appears to be completely unimpressed by their legal maneuverings.
If anything, it would appear that The RealReal’s public profile has been rising. From Gucci to Louis Vuitton, the multiple warehouses are stocked with some of the nicest designer threads on the planet. And if past success is any indicator, this company will continue to rise.