The Interview: Hanushka Toni, Co-owner, Sellier Knightsbridge
Sellier Knightsbridge is the luxury consignment store and online platform for pre-loved luxury fashion founded by Dina Ibrahimova and her daughter, Hanushka Toni, bringing together trusted re-sellers with a discerning customer base.
When the pandemic struck, the need to change the business model from the bricks and mortar only store at 6 Cheval Place, Knightsbridge, led to Toni getting fully involved and the Sellier Knightsbridge website launch in April, 2020. The pivot to online shopping saw them increase their luxury sellers and buyers, granting them access to an affinity of “super brands” while increasing their monthly revenue by around £350,000.
Sellier Knightsbridge carefully curates the finest luxury pieces from around the world, from sought after Hermès bags, Yves Saint Laurent dresses and Alexander McQueen sunglasses to Stella McCartney tailored suits, sourcing product from trusted re-sellers including the likes of famous faces Millie Mackintosh, Georgia Toffolo and Nicola Hughes.
With the aim to offer luxury product at a more affordable price, and providing the best possible experience for both the buyer and seller, “Sellier Knightsbridge understands the impact fast fashion consumption is having on the planet,” and encourages its customers to invest in timeless pre-loved pieces that become part of their everyday wardrobe.
As Sellier continues to establish its online presence, the aim is to double in size and expand its US business which currently drives the largest portion of its online sales internationally, as Toni explains.
Will you be reopening your Knightsbridge store on 12 April?
We will indeed be reopening on Monday. Based on the number of messages we’ve received from our Instagram followers, we expect the first few weeks to be exceptionally busy with both buyers and sellers looking to take advantage of the service we offer in person. We are looking to grow our team in anticipation of a really busy few months.
When and how did you launch the business?
The small shop in Knightsbridge was opened by my mother in late 2019. It was something that she’d always wanted to do. She’d been doing the same thing but privately prior to opening the shop – sourcing really high-end bags and fashion and selling to a private network of contacts. It went really well as soon as she opened the shop, especially being in the heart of Knightsbridge with all the passing traffic from Harrods, but then Covid hit and that completely changed things. While the shop has been shut due to the restrictions, we’ve still been using it as a base to process stock and get things sent off every day.
When did you get involved in the business?
It was really when the pandemic struck in March, 2020, and the realisation that taking the business online was a necessity. I wasn’t involved in the business previously, as I was the Creative Director for a luxury digital marketing agency. My job entailed building websites, managing social media and advising people on how to brand, so when Covid hit I realised my mum really needed help because otherwise the business just wasn’t going to survive, however long we were going to be closed. I built us a website and set up a social media account, and it kind of went from there. I soon realised it was growing quite quickly, so I ended up leaving my job and joining Sellier full-time. I now pretty much run the entire digital side of things.
How has the business evolved in the last year?
In the last year we’ve seen really strong growth, to the point where now we have a completely new set of buyers and sellers to the ones we had a year ago because acquired so many through social media – particularly Instagram, and just people hearing about our business and recommending friends. So, a lot of our growth has been down to our digital strategy.
How does it work?
At the moment, we only take about 20% - 30% of all stock offered to us, so most items we turn away or point people in the right direction to other consignment stores, just because we try to keep our platform as curated as possible. There are other places where you can find amazing items, but most of the time you have sought through so much dross to find that one gem. We want to avoid that for our buyers, as we want them to go on our website and see that everything is amazing. We just take the best and price competitively. Our highest commission is 50% for everything under £1,250, then for everything that’s more expensive it goes more like 60% or 70% to the seller, then we do a flat commission for Hermès bags. It depends how expensive the item is really.
So, what would be a flat commission?
An example for the super high-end bags would be say if someone brought us a Hermès Birkin bag and we were going to sell it for £12,000, then we would charge them £1,600 to sell it, which is the same as most of the other online platforms.
Has it surprised you that you’ve had such strong growth online?
It really has, massively! We thought we’d be doing well, but we didn’t think we’d grow as fast as we have, or get the level of stock that we have. We’ve got people sending us stock from across the world, including from VIP’s from America, Australia, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Our consignors are choosing to not to sell domestically, but to send things all the way to the UK via DHL in order to sell with us. The quality and the volume of sellers like that is what’s really surprised us.
Have Covid restrictions and the lockdowns perhaps played a part in more people having clear-outs and wanting to refresh their wardrobes?
I absolutely think that Covid has precipitated our growth, because people have been sitting at home and thinking they need to have a clear-out and sell some things. Also, people are sitting at home thinking they’d quite like something new, and everything at the luxury end is so expensive. They may not be thinking about dropping £7,000 on a new Chanel bag, but they may look at Sellier and buy one for £2,500. It’s a no-brainer really. We only take stuff in really good condition, and everything is packaged beautifully. It’s a whole process, and it’s been such a learning curve from the beginning when my mum was the one just sitting in the shop doing the parcels all by herself. We quickly realised that wasn’t going to work! So, we now have a lovely team of girls to do all of that side.
From starting the website, what sort of money have you been turning over?
In our first month of starting the website we turned over £70,000, and we were really pleased with that. Now we’re turning over between £350,000 - £500,000 a month. We’ve seen steady month-on-month growth in terms of order volumes, values and the amount of products we’re selling. What’s amazing is we have a returning customer rate of about 60%. We’ve seen 60% of buyers buy more than one item a month, which is incredible.
What are people really wanting at the moment?
At the moment people are going crazy about Chanel bags. If we drop say a classic flap Chanel bag, that would cost anything between £6,000 - £7,000 brand new in a Chanel boutique, it will sell in three to five seconds, and I’m not exaggerating. We will put it out there on Instagram and say ‘hey guys, we have a classic flap bag coming in this afternoon,’ and we will immediately see an uptick of people on the website. People will sit there constantly refreshing their browser until the bag comes online – then they’ll be about 20-30 people trying to check out on that one item. We would sell it for maybe £3,000, and make around £1,000 profit.
What markets are strong for you right now?
At the moment, sales to America are particularly strong. For some reason American ladies are always buying coats and a lot of bags. Our main markets in America are Los Angeles and Texas. They like Christian Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent – a lot of the French and European designers. They tend to prefer the classic items over the edgier things.
Our other biggest market was Ireland, but we’ve found that Brexit has completely killed that market for the moment. Our Irish customers are no longer shopping with UK companies because they have to pay 20% VAT on imports. So, all our lovely Irish ladies are having to find other companies to shop from. In order to get round that barrier, we’re looking to open a European presence later this year. We won’t be seeking a European partner, we’d do it completely ourselves as actually most of the year I’m based between London and Monaco, where my husband works. So, I’d run it and build a team there.
What famous customers do you have?
We have customers such as Irish model and media personality Vogue Williams, and Georgia Toffolo who won I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Also, Lydia Millen just bought a beautiful Hermès Birkin bag from us, and we have famous people clearing their wardrobes with us like Sophie Paterson, the well known interior designer. We have lots of well known people and influencers who both buy and sell with us.
Where do you photograph everything for the website and what’s your unique angle?
We’ve taken over a big Knightsbridge townhouse and different jobs are done by people on different floors. The fact that we do social media completely differently has probably been how we’ve scaled the company to the size it is now so quickly. These days people need to be inspired to shop, so I hired different girls of vary shapes and sizes, some tall and model like and others who maybe 5ft 2” and curvy, and I give them a list of products that have to be shot every day – and different girls we have on the team model them. We show people how to style them and we talk through the condition of each item, as well as showing them the amazing things about the items. That’s how our social media basically works, all the new items go on video on Instagram stories, and people swipe up to shop.
What’s your take on the sustainability issue?
Fast fashion feels good in the moment, but the economics of it is pretty appalling. Take a Zara dress, which you may buy for £50. You may wear it three times and then sell it on Depop for £10 or give it to charity, which will probably incinerate it because they’ve got too much Zara anyway. Or, you could go and buy a beautiful vintage Chanel dress for say £350. On the base of it, yes of course it’s more expensive, but you’ll probably end up wearing that dress for the next three years because it’s a special piece. And when you come to sell it, you may sell it for what you paid for it, or even for a profit, and the person who buys it will do exactly the same thing. If you buy the right thing, and it’s a luxury pre-loved garment, you’re never really going to lose money.
Who are your competitors and how are you different?
There’s lots of big players like Vestiaire Collective who are doing what we’re doing, but they are really a marketplace. The problem with them is anyone can upload an item on the website and it’s not really curated. So, you don’t even know if the item is authentic, especially when items get shipped directly to buyers. We’re really the only marketplace that checks, authenticates and selects every product to make sure they are perfect. It’s a lot more work but that’s why we’ve grown so quickly, because there’s no one else doing what we’re doing. We have to have a good eye for the right pieces too, and be able to explain to sellers why certain things re-sell for certain prices, and we have to be very confident in how we price items. Also, we have reached a point where the team kind of know what’s going to work and what’s not, and we have strict rules in place.