First of all, when I say flea market, I mean the web or smartphone application-based buy and sell platforms like Mercari. These are known in Japan as “Furiima Apuri” as in Flea Market Apps. If you live here but are hesitant to try these out because of the sign-up process, I am currently working on a comprehensive guide on how to use them so be sure to keep an eye out for it. Also, this is not to say that you can’t find actual flea markets in Japan. In fact, a quick Google search would show you that, depending on the weather and the area, they are held a couple times a month and you have plenty of opportunity to visit one.
But that’s not my thing. My thing is spending my entire commute wide-eyed, dissecting postings on the Mercari and Rakuma apps on my phone looking for my next fix. My kind of drug? Pre-loved designer bags – preferably old enough to qualify as vintage.
Today, I will be introducing three of my favorite finds. I consider these purchases absolute treasures not only because I personally adore their designs and quality but because I believe I was able to “bag” (pun intended) them for such affordable prices.
I will also be sharing some tips that you might find useful for your own shopping. Alright then, meet my babies.
Noir/Black Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 in Epi Leather
Made in 1991, this Vuitton is vintage. I don’t know about you but it really amazes me to think that despite being older than I am, this bag is still a beauty and in very good condition. It is very evident that the previous owner cared for it greatly – there are zero scratches on the material, all of the hardware are still intact and no part of it is showing any kind of serious damage – not even the oh-so-sensitive Vuitton zipper tab and lining.
I also personally prefer the subdued, simple design of the Epi compared to the more popular leather patterns such as the Monogram or Damier. I lusted over many a Speedy Epi bags before finally settling on this one. I’m not going to lie, of course its age shows in some ways such as the lack of luster on the metals, some vertical creases on the outside and a certain ‘old item’ smell. These don’t bother me much – the metals could easily be shined professionally. I don’t mind using the bag with the creases as is, since its form is still intact anyway and I was able to get rid of the smell by using some charcoal odor absorber.
All those things aside, the best part about this purchase and what finally made me push that ‘Buy’ button is the price. Louis Vuitton is still a very big name in Japan and their bags are still highly coveted. In fact, I would advise tourists looking to shop at thrift stores here not to expect finding quality ones in very low prices.
So how much was it? I got this beaut for only ¥21,000 including the delivery fee! That’s only around $195, folks! Browsing online and physical stores in Japan would show you that for that price, you are more likely to end up with goods that have some kind of damage or are moldy with age.
For the amount I paid, this bag was definitely a steal!
Bleu Tropical Balenciaga City
I love, love, love Balenciaga bags. In my next life, I wish to be reborn as Nicole Richie just so I could get my hand on her enviable Balenciaga collection. I have bookmarked lots and lots of Motorcycle style bags on my Mercari app and to be honest, they could go for cheap – as low as ¥8,000 for pieces that have no significant damage (those that can render it difficult to use). I think the reason for this is that Balenciaga doesn’t really age that well. With proper care, the leather just gets better with time, in my opinion. However, especially with it’s brighter colors (like this Bleu Tropical), there could be extreme discoloration over the years. Another sensitive point for this bag is the handles. With much use, they could not only be discolored, some can get soft enough to have tears or the signature tassel can get disentangled. The bottom edges could also experience a lot of wear to the point that the lining becomes exposed.
When I bought this, I was looking for a summer bag so a bright color was definitely one of my considerations. I was about to dish out ¥40,000 (the cheapest I could find at the time) for a nice Apple Green City when I came across this listing. I still dream about that Apple Green (one of the brand’s limited edition colors) Balenciaga every now and then and hope to own one someday but the difference in price was just too high.
I paid only ¥11,000 for this one – also with the delivery included. To be honest, its handles are not in very good condition – they have some discoloration which I know would only get worse if I continue using it without any sort of protection. To deal with this, I decided to wrap them in matching twillies. I think they suit my baby quite well and am now very happy and worry-free carrying this bag everywhere (and in any season for that matter, lol. Turns out Balenciaga leathers “shine” during the colder seasons). Aside from the handle, I have no issues with the rest of the bag. It was also sold to me as a complete set with the dust bag, mirror, number plate and papers. So, no regrets here.
Green Proenza Schouler ps1 Medium
Once I learned of Dakota Fanning’s obsession with Proenza ps1s, that did it for me. I, too, had to have one. Besides, look at them! Aren’t they just the very definition of preppy cool? I swoon.
Located in Ginza, there is only a single Proenza Schouler store in Japan. In addition, they are not as widely known as some of the other big name brands. For these reasons, they are pretty hard to come by in the second-hand bag market and tend to be pricey as well. I usually found them upwards of ¥30,000. You could get one for a lower price but usually in Suede leather which I am weary about purchasing.
I was able to acquire this one through sheer luck. I found it quickly after it went online and as soon as I felt secure that there were no issues with the product I decided to go ahead and buy it for ¥13,000, delivery fee included. I especially love that it is in green because I can easily use it as an accent to my outfits. And, oh my God, Proenza leather is just beautiful – I love feeling it.
You can see a dirty spot on the top part of the bag but that was entirely my fault. I made the mistake of bringing it on a trip to a waterfalls. Do be careful about water damage on your Proenzas. I think they are a bit sensitive compared to other bags and this damage just broke my heart. Still, I consider this a good buy.
Some Quick Tips
- Understand the difference between Rakuma (ラクマ) and Mercari (メルカリ)
The Japan virtual buy and sell scene is dominated by these two platforms. As far as I can tell, Mercari seems to be stricter when it comes to their postings. This is an important point to consider when searching for designer goods because it means that you are more likely to come across imitations when searching in Rakuma. In fact, from what I can see, Rakuma is flooded almost daily with posts of knockoffs. So, the other way around, if you are looking to score some pretty copies of designer products for very affordable prices – this is the place to go.
Another difference between the two is that Mercari has a higher ‘posting fee’ (paid for by the seller). Some people would post their item on both platforms looking to earn a specific amount of profit. Because of this, the very same product could have a lesser price on Rakuma. If you see a product you like in Mercari, try to copy the title and paste it on the search box in Rakuma. If it is also present there, there is a big chance that you could knock off a couple hundreds, even thousands from your payment.
- Try not to comment in English
I have seen a lot of English comments left unanswered in different postings. I guess in addition to lack of expertise in the language, most of them might find it a hassle to have to translate your statements. Try to use Japanese as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try Google translate, that’s what I did in the beginning. It was obvious that they could tell I’m a foreigner because they would incorporate English words every now and then. But, they always answered! I think they appreciate the effort and consider it as a sign that you are serious about the transaction.
- Do not hesitate to negotiate
That’s what flea markets are for, right?!
Most of the prices posted have room for negotiation. A quick “amount円 でできますか？/(amount)えんでできますか？” which translates to”Can I have it for (amount)yen?” could get the negotiation started. Translate the response and continue from there.
- Do not pay for delivery
On the filters, always check 送料込み(出品者負担) – this says that the seller will pay for the delivery. I used to worry that this would make me miss some good listings but from my experience, that has not been the case yet.
Also, the other option of paying for the delivery by yourself is such a hassle. You have to wait specifically when it would be delivered and pay it then and there by cash.
- Know your stuff
Especially if your goal is to buy some designer goods, make sure that you can evaluate the authenticity of the product – hopefully just by the pictures. Most are easy enough to spot – multiple postings with exactly the same studio-shot pictures, “brand new” articles sold for suspiciously low prices.
Do your research in advance and know what are the signs that the item is real.
That’s it, guys! Hopefully the tips here would come in handy and my lovable sacks would serve as an inspiration for future shopping. Happy hunting!