Talk about closet envy! Rati Sahi Levesque has over 180,000 square feet of luxury consignment — fashion, fine jewelry, home design and art — at her fingertips. As Chief Merchant of The RealReal, she is a curator, creative director, story teller and merchandiser. Based in San Francisco, Rati manages the website’s luxury categories, executes its merchandising strategies and drives its creative imagery. A degree in Economics from the University of California-Santa Cruz, and consignment cred from her first business, the fashion forward boutique, Anica, perfectly prepared Rati for this position. Her genuine voice, historical inspirations and trend reports are carefully crafted to engage shoppers and match the brand’s strict policy on authenticity. Day-to-day, she is a busy businesswoman with one eye on the past and one eye on the future.
Chief Merchant at The RealReal is a unique position. Please describe it for us.
My main responsibility is managing our luxury categories, which include women and men’s fashion, fine jewelry and watches, art, and more recently, home goods.
This means initiating, developing, and leading the execution of merchandising strategies to drive revenue growth and deliver greater market share. Merchandising determines product acceptance and availability, demand, market trends, and pricing, in addition to driving all creative imagery for the company including sale images, editorial content, and lookbooks. It’s one of the most important functions of our business and thus, keeps me constantly challenged and BUSY!
Please describe your creative process at The RealReal.
The most important aspect of the creative process is making sure that we stay true to the vision and aesthetic of the brand at all times, so for me, that’s always top of mind. Logistically, when tackling a new project, we meet as a team to clearly identify our objectives. Whether it’s driving revenue, conversion, or branding, we want to make sure we’re mapping back to our objectives and accomplishing what we need to accomplish. Staying in close communication as a team is how we ensure there are no big missteps along the way.
Next we develop the storyline and bring in our creative team to come up with concepts that will reflect the storyline. For the most part, we keep it old-fashioned and dig up magazines, movies, and books for inspiration. It keeps things authentic and surprising for our audience who has become so accustomed to new-age inspiration tools like Pinterest and fashion blogs! At this point it’s all about execution, which of course is the most challenging and crucial part in the process, but also the most rewarding. I’m fortunate to work with a group of people who are invested in making the final result the best it can possibly be and are dedicated to seeing it through to the end.
The RealReal has a strong editorial point of view. What’s your secret for keeping the site fresh and relevant?
Producing new and unique content on a daily basis is key. We shoot new images every single day and have an excellent team who really understands the brand and our audience, and are genuinely excited about delivering the best possible content that they know our customers and consignors will enjoy.
How do you determine if a designer merits being on The RealReal Designer Directory? How often do you add to the list?
At the end of the day, it’s all about three metrics – sell through, resale value, and if the designer is on-brand. To determine if a brand fits our parameters, it really comes down to industry knowledge. We’re constantly reading about emerging designers and tracking the moves of existing designers. For example, if a brand adds a new creative director, we’ll usually see the resale value of that brand go up, which means we should start carrying it or keep carrying it if we already do.
Why do you think consignment has become such a huge trend in recent years?
As a society, I think we’ve become more mindful of how we consume things and how we’re impacting the environment. Consignment sites, while being cost effective, also provide a sustainable alternative to consuming clothing and accessories. At The RealReal specifically, we’ve created a new marketplace for luxury resale that promotes sustainability by extending the lifespan of upscale goods.
Fine Jewelry seems like such a challenging category for consignment yet you have a very large assortment. What do you attribute this to?
We saw a huge void in the secondary market for fine jewelry and watches. There really was no convenient or trustworthy place for people to buy and sell fine jewelry and watches on consignment. We filled that void and in doing so, have seen incredible growth. We saw a 200% growth in the category in 2014 and expect it to triple in 2015.
The RealReal consigns from all over the country. Do you see different trends and items coming from different areas?
Yes, definitely. Take our women’s category for example – in California, we receive a ton of fun, colorful dresses from DVF, Dolce & Gabbana, and sky-high Louboutins. New Yorkers are always sending in classic power dresses from Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors, paired with wear-to-work pumps and sling-back Manolos. In Florida, because of the weather, we see resort ready pieces from Roberto Cavalli and Missoni along with party-ready Jimmy Choo heels.
Why do you think men have finally caught on to the consigning trend? What are their shopping habits like compared to women?
Fortunately, men have seen the benefits of consigning both from an economical and sustainable standpoint and have gotten on board! Just took them a little longer! It also helps that the trend has gained cool cred among fashion insiders who tend to influence the masses.
One of the shopping habits we see across men and women is the desire for marquee brands and highly covetable items. The differences are that men shop across categories, putting together full outfits, to a higher degree than women. And men use their mobile devices to shop on our site more than women.
Authenticity is a cornerstone of The RealReal. Do you ever have consignors trying to sell fakes?
Yes, sometimes we receive unauthentic items but in most cases, the consignor (sadly!) does not know the item is counterfeit, so we always give them the benefit of the doubt. We politely inform them that the item did not meet our authentication guidelines and they are usually shocked.
How big and where is The RealReal warehouse? We know it’s cliché but do you feel like a “kid in a candy shop?” when you visit the warehouse?
Yes, definitely. I have to refrain from going downstairs in our SF warehouse or else it turns into a full shopping day! I love shopping on the site just like all of our customers, but now I prefer shopping the curated selection on the site vs. sifting through the racks like I used to!
We are headquartered in San Francisco where we have a 50,000+ sq. ft. warehouse and then we have a warehouse in New Jersey that is roughly 130,000 sq. ft. We have additional offices in Los Angeles and New York. Plus, luxury managers in 16 major markets, who go into consignors’ homes and help them decide what to keep and what to consign.
What have been some of your best vintage finds for your personal collection?
Chanel pineapple earrings, Chanel varsity jacket, Hermès rust colored coat. I adore them!