“A closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear” isn’t just a commonplace problem — it’s a huge and profitable business opportunity.
To be precise, the global second-hand apparel market is now worth $26.7 billion and is projected to almost triple in size by 2025.
What’s driving this surge? Consumers’ changing attitudes towards mass-market fashion (and the practices driving pollution behind it) are a huge factor. However, we also have to consider the impact of aggressive brand growth efforts utilized by tech startups like Vinted.
Sporting a brand mission of “Sell the clothes that have more to give. Shop for items you won’t find in stores”, Vinted is one of the biggest fashion resale platforms in Europe. Per the latest data, the platform has over 45 million active users and $32.5 million in annual revenue.
So how did Vinted earn the status of Europe’s most popular second-hand clothing marketplace? And what actually fuel’s their brand success? Let’s take a deep dive.
Vinted’s Success Story
Founded in 2008 by Lithuanian entrepreneurs Milda Mitkute and Justas Janauskas, the idea for Vinted was first discussed at a party.
Mitkute was about to move away for college, but her new place could barely fit all the clothes she owned. And that got her thinking: why isn’t there an easy way to sell used clothing online?
In an interview with Nordic Business Forum, Mitkute explained:
“I was invited to a housewarming party where I met Justas. I remember telling him about my idea at around 2 am, and he said: ‘Why not, we should try’.”
In just two weeks, the duo had created a simple website to test their idea… and people loved it.
In the following months, hundreds of members joined their peer-to-peer clothing marketplace. And thanks to Lithuanian media publishers who covered the launch, the news spread fast. From radio stations to newspapers, journalists were calling constantly in to invite Mitkute and Janauskas for interviews.
Empowered by this initial wave of organic brand growth, the team doubled down. By 2009, Vinted launched in Germany under the name Kleiderkreisel. Soon, the news about the Baltic startup’s success traveled across oceans — backed by the investments from Accel Partners, Vinted expanded operations to the US and the UK in 2011.
As opposed to the typical B2B or B2C, Vinted operates as a C2C marketplace — providing a space for sellers and buyers to connect. Additionally, they don’t handle shipping or offer consignment services. So, cross-border expansion was easy to orchestrate and Vinted was able to new markets in record time.
But rapid growth comes at a toll. Despite raising several rounds of investments, totaling €52.2 million, Vinted was once again short on cash by 2016. As Thomas Plantenga, then-consultant and now-Vinted CEO, admitted: “company growth stalled whilst the costs were increasing rapidly”.
The company was in peril due to several factors — operational overspending, high customer acquisition costs, low user retention efforts, and mounting complaints around service levels. And to make things worse, Vinted’s brand value was diminishing fast.
So, Plantenga decided to make some radical changes. Under his guidance, the company:
Adopted a “No Sellers’ Fee Model”: This allowed sellers to list an unlimited number of items without paying any selling fees.
Added “Buyer Protection”: An extra “insurance” fee users could pay to acquire more safety and security on the platform.
Set Up 24/7 Customer Support: This was to improve the speed and efficiency of issue resolution and improve the platform's reputation.
Also, Vinted switched gears from aggressive new market expansion to achieving higher brand consideration numbers in two core markets: Germany and France.
With their refreshed brand marketing strategy, Vinted now focused on cultivating a better sense of community. The team noticed that platform users developed connections that resembled more of a social network than an eCommerce website.
Users followed one another, exchanged likes, and partook in many private conversations. So, Vinted decided to capitalize on this behavioral trend and rolled out more community-building features.
This major shift in strategy worked. Within several weeks, Vinted broke over $2 million in sales in one day — and then proceeded to close the largest ever investment round for a Baltic startup.
By 2019, Vinted became the first unicorn startup in Lithuania with a €1 billion valuation. A year later, the platform was acquired by a Dutch competitor, United Wardrobe, for an undisclosed (but likely lavish) sum.
Circa 2021, Vinted is still in its active growth stage. Once again, the brand is raising funds upwards of $303 million with the goal of making an even bigger mark in the circular economy — just like its US competitor thredUP.
But despite having strong positions in European markets and a more refined growth strategy, Vinted still has plenty of challenges ahead. They need to differentiate from a growing number of competitors, improve brand affinity, and fulfill a bigger brand mission they’ve committed to — making second-hand fashion the first choice worldwide.
3 Brand Growth Lessons from Vinted
In the early day, Vinted boasted strong organic growth momentum. Paired with strategic product development, its efforts landed the brand atop several European markets.
But as more brands enter the space, Vinted will need to strengthen its connection with current customers to increase retention while further expanding brand awareness. Thus far, the team has been moderately successful with this task.
So, if your brand is struggling to transition from organic to orchestrated brand growth, here are several tips to keep in mind.
1. Focus on Value Creation
When Plantenga joined Vinted, the app was making most revenue of its from charging a commission on sales — a standard model many C2C marketplaces use.
But with the rising competition and ability to sell goods directly (e.g. via the then-new Facebook Marketplace), Plantenga recognized this wasn’t a viable approach for the long term.
So, he changed Vinted's monetization strategy to the one they use today. Now, the platform makes money from:
listing visibility boosts
brand-sponsored ads (akin to social media)
Buyer protection is the feature that nets Vinted the most revenue. Why? Because it’s value-driven. People are wary of buying things from strangers and some have probably been burned by scams on other platforms.
Thus, buyer protection fulfills several jobs at once:
Motivates more people to shop on Vinted without worrying about fraud
Helps locate and eliminate dishonest sellers through submitted reviews and complaints
Allows Vinted to attract more sellers as product listings can remain fee-free.
And this monetization strategy works to their advantage and even prompts users from other platforms to switch. As one former Depop seller admitted to Refinery29 that she “really hates how Depop takes 10% of sellers’ earnings. On Vinted, the system is more logical and it falls to buyers to pay this fee.”
The Takeaway: Understanding the features customers are willing to pay for is crucial when operating on slim margins. While it’s easy to focus your product development efforts around the highest-grossing features or copy your competition and then try to sell to consumers at any cost — eventually, this can lead to a high rate of resistance and user attrition.
Thus, smarter marketers seek data to understand what prompts consumers to consider, use, and stay with your product. Then, they invest in strategies to maximize the perceived and obtained value from the product through a mix of pricing tiers and premium features.
2. Cultivate and Curate a Community
Shopping is a social experience. It’s not just picking clothes from racks, it’s also sharing “looks” from the changing room with your friend group or texting about the “steal” you’ve just managed.
Vinted was among the first marketplace platforms to take note of the users’ “social” behaviors: “On other platforms, you visit the site when you know what you want, but usually, on Vinted, people seem to be spending time there when they don’t know what they want, or when they have too much time,” Janauskas told Tech.eu about their observations during early company days.
So, they tried to amplify these behaviors through the platform’s shopping mechanics, with Vinted user-profiles resembling social media accounts. They were also among the first to add “likes” and the ability to follow seller profiles. Plus, they encouraged users to add photos and quick “About Me” sections.
Similarly, the team deliberately attempted to preserve the C2C aspect by not allowing resellers onto the platform. Plus, they haven’t made any attempts to partner with brands.
Natacha Blanchard, Consumer Lead at Vinted, says: “We do not allow professional sellers or dropshippers on the platform. We work closely with our members and customer service teams to enforce this. If there is any suspicion of commercial activity, users are warned and may be suspended or blocked permanently.”
On one hand, such a consistent focus on one brand value is good for maintaining brand integrity. Users love Vinted for what it is — an affordable way to buy or sell clothes.
But this singular approach also limits their potential for growth. In the future, if Vinted decides to change its attitude towards pro sellers and pursue alternative revenue streams, this may create brand-damaging community backlash.
The Takeaway: Over 59% of consumers feel that businesses have lost touch with the human element of customer experience. However, Vinted’s carefully-cultivated community plays to its advantage of maintaining a personable, approachable, and likable brand personality.
Still — a distinctive, narrow brand focus can limit the possibilities for future growth. At some point, Vinted may struggle to attract new target audiences unless they come up with a creative angle on their original brand promises.
3. Use Voice of the Customer (VoC) as a Marketing Tool
Apart from cultivating a community on the platform, Vinted also uses social media to amplify its reach to new audiences. But given their business model (a marketplace), coming up with on-brand content can be challenging.
But it looks like the community really came through for them here. For instance, French users have set up a hilarious Best of Vinted Twitter account — which now has over 378K followers (vs 7,800+ on the official Vinted FR account).
The community-run profile curates the best gems from the platform like impromptu Kermit the Frog appearances in the product listings. Or funny dialogs between users (in French) about the possibility of getting a discount because “the listing said that the item was never worn, but now you are sending me pictures, where you are modeling it for me”.
Vinted shoppers are also super active on TikTok, where the brand’s hashtag amassed over 705 million views organically. However, Vinted doesn’t have a corporate TikTok — which seems to be a mistake, as many fans use TikTok to vent about their unfortunate purchases and unmet expectations.
Vinted’s use of community voices gets more intentional in TV campaigns and out-of-home ads. For example, in the brand’s recent promos in Poland, France, and the UK spotlight its users as the ads’ protagonists.
In each market, they focus on promoting their key brand differentiators — affordability, ease of use, and access to the circular economy. Such consistency is nice for global branding, but are they doing enough to engage with local audiences?
Given that it’s mostly the community that drives the local online conversations, Vinted might be lacking accurate brand tracking data on local trends.
The Takeaway: Word of mouth and community-led marketing can create a viral buzz around your brand, leading to higher brand awareness numbers. But the problem is that you can’t control the conversation.
Instead, you let both favorable and not-so-favorable brand associations emerge and become part of the narrative. Also, without listening to and interacting with your audiences, it’s easy to miss major changes in sentiment, satisfaction levels, and overall content. And that can ultimately derail your growth.
Vinted championed growth by being the “first mover”. They impressed users in Lithuania, Germany, and France — among others — by filling in a vacant niche. As Janauskas recounted: “Similar to Lithuania, Kleiderkreisel was growing organically through word of mouth. We didn’t do any marketing and just focused on the product.”
But as the global and regional pre-loved apparel market gets more competitive, Vinted will need to shake up its marketing mix. Community voices can help you gain popularity — but can just as easily result in cancelation. From off-hand comments to minor mishaps, we’ve seen it happen to other brands like Too Faced, Heineken, and The Honest Company — among others.
To outsmart the competition, Vinted will need to become more intentional with owning and shaping its brand marketing strategy. And we’re eager to see where that will take them!