- Caroline Bui is the founder and owner of ‘The Birkin Fairy,’ a luxury consignment shop for Hermès products.
- After working at Hermès for 12 years, she launched the online shop and has since sold nearly $2 million of used Hermès items.
- This is her story, as told to freelance writer Jenny Powers.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
It was 1984 when Hermès debuted The Birkin Bag, a handcrafted leather carryall featuring two sturdy top handles and a lock and key closure to ensure all of the bag’s contents remained inside the bag. At the time, the bag, named for British actress and singer Jane Birkin, retailed for approximately $2,000 to $3,000.
The Birkin Bag would one day become the most sought after bag in the world, a status symbol creating legions of fans and spurring a years-long waiting list of eager buyers from around the globe willing to pay five to six figures for a single bag.
I’ve been interested in fashion since I was a child.
I spent many summers accompanying my grandmother to local garage sales. Born in 1920 and having survived the Great Depression, my grandmother was understandably frugal and recognized the value in good quality objects.
We would sift through items in search of jewelry and pottery that she would later resell for a higher price at her own garage sale. She was an incredible salesperson, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, these experiences taught me the joy and exhilaration of the hunt which would later define my interest in collectible objects that retain or gain value.
When I turned 17, I spent the summer living in New York City studying fashion illustration and draping at Parsons School of Design. Upon graduating high school, I went on to The Art Institute of Chicago where I earned a BFA while working in sales at Chicago’s newly opened Ralph Lauren store.
Diploma in hand, I returned to New York in 1999 taking on a series of fashion editorial-related jobs at Conde Nast rotating between Mademoiselle, Self, and Allure before moving on back to retail.
I fell in love with the social component of fashion while working in retail.
While I became accustomed to being surrounded by luxury products, what really fueled my interest in fashion was engaging with customers and helping them find what they wanted. In 2001, I decided I wanted to return home to Chicago and so I requested a job transfer to the location where I’d initially worked.
The following year, I took a sales position at Hermès.
Back then there were only eight of us in the Chicago store, and we were each assigned an area of specialty. Mine was leather goods and scarves – not because I possessed any special knowledge in those areas, but simply because that was the section that needed to be filled at the time.
As part of my training, I was invited to travel to Paris where I had the opportunity to meet with the craftsman, tour the distribution facilities, and pay a visit to the Hermès Museum, a venue exclusively reserved for staff and select guests. My new work aligned perfectly with my art history background and for me, every transaction was like selling a piece of art.
Over the years, I assisted thousands of customers and sold countless Birkin Bags.
In fact, one of my longtime customers who was a collector referred to me as “The Birkin Fairy” or “Fairy” for short because my position allowed me to grant Hermès wishes.
Everyone knows that getting your hands on a Birkin Bag of your own is no easy task. Demand surpasses supply. It takes 48 hours to handcraft a single bag and production is limited.
It’s almost impossible to be able to walk into a store and buy a Birkin off the shelf. You can put in a request for one, but no one knows how long you’ll be waiting. They’ve even placed a limit on how many Birkins a client may purchase each year. All of these factors have caused a thriving resale market.
Even after working at Hermès for 10 years, I had to get special permission from the powers that be to buy one for myself as a gift when my daughter was born in 2011. A few years later, I managed to acquire a second, less expensive one for $3,000 as part of an employee sale of handbags that do not pass the company’s quality standards and are therefore only offered to employees.
By 2013, I was a married mother of two and wanted to spend more time at home with my family.
In search of more flexibility, I began interviewing at other companies, but when a longstanding client asked if I could help her sell 20 pieces of her Hermès collection, I decided to go out on my own in a different direction.
In 2014, I set up shop from a tiny desk in my bedroom. I invested $2,000 to buy a domain name, build a website, and secure a few basic supplies before officially launching The Birkin Fairy, a secondary luxury marketplace selling pre-owned Hermès products.
The first bag I sold was an orange Birkin that at the time was nine years old. My client originally paid $6,600 for it in 2005, and it sold for $8,700 in 2014.
To date, I’ve sold nearly $2 million of Hermes products online through my website and Ebay. I sell all items on consignment, brokering transactions on behalf of my clients for a commission ranging anywhere from 18 to 30%.
All my business is via word of mouth – I’ve never spent a dollar on customer acquisition.
I’m truly a one-woman operation from photographing products to acquiring and selling merchandise to shipping to social media, where I have over 81,000 organic Instagram followers.
Before COVID-19, I traveled across the country to meet with sellers, helping them do everything from evaluate their inventory and determine what they’d like to sell to help them authenticate, organize, and care for their items. One of my clients in Los Angeles wound up having $505,000 worth of Hermès handbags sitting in her closet and after reevaluating the contents, we ended up selling $50,000 worth of handbags and acquiring six new pieces for $98,000.
My site has featured everything from a well-worn Birkin that sold for $8,000 to the $150,000 So Black feather Kelly Bag that I have up for sale right now, which is only one of two bags ever made.
While I have worked with some celebrities, most of my clients are just regular folks with amazing closets.
The resale market for Birkin Bags has always been robust.
This is because there is so much more inventory online and it’s readily available – for a price. The pandemic has driven more interested buyers online and helped grow my business due to inventory shortages, production delays, and store closures.
One study from 2017 revealed that over 35 years, the value of Birkin bags rose 500%, with an annual increase of 14%. When you buy a Ferrari and drive it off the lot, it immediately loses value. When you take a Birkin Bag home, depending on how rare it is and how it’s maintained, it has the potential to increase in value. It’s a handbag, a piece of art, and an investment all rolled into one.