5 Minutes With Maximillian Bittner, CEO, Vestiaire Collective

Maximilian Bittner was, until March 2018, founder and CEO of Lazada Group, a leading Southeast Asian ecommerce firm. It was so successful that Alibaba Group acquired majority ownership of it. Since the start of the year, Bittner has been dabbling second-hand online retail, as the leader of Vestaire Collective. Retail Gazette caught up with him to see what he's been up to.

Maximillian Bittner details ambitions for Vestiaire Collective as CEO
Maximilian Bittner was the founder and CEO of Lazada Group, Southeast Asia’s leading ecommerce company.

You were appointed CEO of Vestaire Collective just nine months ago. How is the gig been so far for you?

I’ve enjoyed every minute so far. After leaving Lazada I was looking for a new challenge that would allow me to build on the experience I gained driving Lazada but also give me an opportunity to apply that knowledge in another sector.

I found the perfect opportunity in Vestiaire Collective. Resale is pivotal to the fundamental shifts taking place in the fashion industry and consumer mindset right now so its an exciting time to be able to drive the business to the next stage.

Tell me about the Vestaire Collective story.

Vestiaire Collective was launched in 2009 by six co-founders including our president Fanny Moizant and fashion director Sophie Hersan. They spotted a gap in the market for a trusted platform for fashion lovers to buy and sell desirable pre-owned fashion.

At the time they knew a lot of friends who had incredible designer pieces they no longer used sat in their wardrobes but had no where suitable to sell them. At the same time they also spotted a trend for bloggers selling pieces directly through their platforms. The concept for Vestiaire Collective was born from this gap in the market along with the founders’ desire to place circularity at the heart of the fashion system, which was pioneering at the time.

In the short space of time you’ve been in office, what are some of your proudest achievements?

The projects I’m most proud of include a substantial change to the commission structure, numerous product and tech developments to improve customer experience and engagement, and more recently the launch of a new Direct Shipping option. Making circularity accessible to every fashion lover has always been in the heart of everything we do.

Following the commission restructure, we received feedback from some customers advising they would prefer to opt out of our physical check and authentication process for certain lower price pieces, allowing them to save time and money when receiving their pre-loved items. Listening to customer needs and offering added value wherever possible is something I believe is extremely important in retail, so I wanted to launch a new service that allows customers to opt out of a physical quality control check on low price items sold by our most trusted sellers. Trust is key to our company’s DNA so we designed this new option to be the most trustworthy for our users by restricting it to our Trusted and Expert sellers only, members who who sell regularly, ensure their items conform to their descriptions and ship quickly.

We also restricted this option to a list of eligible brands and items by reviewing years of company data to identify brands and items at low risk of nonconformity. It’s a significant change for the business so I’m really proud to be launching the new service to EU customers in early September.

What’s in store for Vestaire Collective for the rest of 2019?

We’re about to launch the Circularity Collab in conjunction with Direct Shipping, this is the first installment in a series of brand partnerships aimed at driving circularity in the fashion ecosystem.

The first installment launches with a selection of leading French brands including Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot, Ba&sh, Amélie Pichard and MaisonCléo.

We’ve also just opened a pop-up boutique in Le Bon Marché in Paris and in October we’ll be opening our first permanent boutique in Selfridges department store.

Finally, we’ll end the year by celebrating our 10th birthday. The incredible rise of resale over the last 10 years has been phenomenal, and Vestiaire Collective has really been instrumental in driving this change.

What gap in the UK retail market does Vestaire Collective strive to address?

The UK was the first international market Vestiaire Collective launched following strong organic interest from the region. Many of the first UK customers were coming to the platform to buy pieces from popular French brands such as Isabel Marant and IRO from French community members.

As the business has expanded globally, the appeal of being able to connect fashion lovers around the world with the pieces they’re searching for remains a unique proposition that Vestiaire Collective brings to the UK market.

How is Vestaire Collective’s business model different to its main competitors?

The Vestiaire Collective platform was built on three unique pillars which ensures a unique appeal in the competitive landscape. The first is its highly desirable inventory which is edited by our in-house curation team. The second is the trusted element of the platform which we’ve built up through our authenticity and quality control process, finally our global community of over eight million members who engage with the platform and each other on a daily basis.

How is Vestaire Collective addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

A strong need to innovate and keep up with the fundamental shifts that are impacting the customer landscape is one of the biggest challenges facing the retail industry today.

Customers are also demanding a higher level of transparency from companies and expect them to take an active stance on social issues. The rise in social media, the uberistation of ownership and an increased importance of sustainability have all driven a significant shift in consumption habits which has impacted the industry and also driven the boom in the resale market over the last ten years.

Vestiaire Collective was a pioneering model at the time it was founded, and my focus is to ensure the business continues to drive innovation in the resale market and the wider industry through customer engagement, discoverability, tech innovation and driving circularity in the fashion ecosystem.

Tell us about yourself and your background before Vestaire.

I studied science in economics and history at UCL in London before moving to Chicago to study for an MBA at Kellogg School of Management. I started my career at Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking division in London prior to joining McKinsey & Company in Germany.

I then went on to found Lazada in early 2012, during my time as CEO there I was responsible for the performance of all six operating countries. Together with my team, I aligned all aspects of the business and was responsible for ensuring the success of Lazada
in each of its operating countries.

In 2016 we sold a controlling stake to the Alibaba Group and I left the business in 2018 before joining Vestiaire Collective in 2019.

What got you into retail in the first place?

During my time at McKinsey & Company I spent a lot of time consulting for retail clients. Many of them were running quite traditional retail business models such as Mail Order. It was crazy to see the impact e-commerce was having on their business I was convinced that the future of retail was in ecommerce so I decided to explore the opportunities in the market, founded Lazada a few years later and never looked back.

I love how dynamic the online retail industry is, you really need to always be thinking three steps ahead and respond quickly to changes in the market to keep the customer engaged and excited.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

The ecommerce and tech experience I developed during my time at Lazada have been incredibly valuable in forming the areas I want to focus on in driving the Vestiaire Collective business forward. Evolving the customer experience and discoverability is something i’m working on right now, and of course my experience in the Asian market has been useful in helping to shape the strategy for driving growth in the APAC market.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

There are many opportunities to go after. My biggest challenge is to keep the team focused on the big topics that really make a difference. But at the same time I also want to empower managers to be able to test and trial things autonomously, to keep the entrepreneurship alive in the company.

And the most rewarding?

Seeing the team pull together to deliver big projects that will really drive impact for the business, I love the energy you feel in the office just before we’re about to launch a big initiative. These projects are opportunities for people to show what they are made of and I love seeing young managers rise to the challenge and become leaders.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

If you are trying to copy a model that is currently successful, you will fail. The industry is too dynamic so you need to have your own vision of where you want to go. Follow your passion and your instincts, you need to find something that will make you want to get out of bed in the morning.

Whichever part of the industry you want to work in, always try to keep an entrepreneurial state of mind, innovation is key to any retail business marinating a competitive edge so never miss the opportunity to drive or suggest change where you believe its needed.

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