Greece remains mired in crisis and profoundly depressed, yet at least one small corner of the country’s economy is flourishing: luxury goods. The business of helping Greece keep up appearances in economically troubled times is, apparently, booming.
For instance, Starbags rents out expensive designer handbags, and offers an affordable solution to any woman who wants to flaunt her wealth even if she doesn’t have it anymore.
“Most women who would rent from a company like ours would want instant recognition,” says Oliana Spiridopoulos, Starbags’ owner. “They want to be recognized for their good taste and economic status. They want to be seen looking their best but also looking socially mobile.”
That’s upwardly socially mobile … even though the country may not be headed that way economically. Starbags charges the equivalent of about $60 to rent a handbag by such designers as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and other top fashion houses. More importantly, it’s a cheaper option than paying $1,800 to buy a new bag.
“People rent the handbags for very special occasions, like weddings and christenings, where they’d be expected to carry something relatively more expensive than usual,” says John Spiliotakis, Starbag’s executive director.
So, do people who rent the handbags pretend they own it? “Some tell their friends they’ve hired the bag, some don’t. But, look, nobody is going to come up and ask whether the bag you’re carrying belongs to you,” says Spiridopoulos says.
Down-on-their-luck fashionistas who prefer to own their clothes and accessories have another option in Athens. They can buy second-hand designer clothing like shirts, jackets, coats, dresses, pants and even wedding dresses at a store called Kilo Shop. “We buy large quantities of secondhand or surplus designer clothes abroad by kilo,” says George Danakas, a co-owner of the shop. “So it is only fair to sell by the kilo to our cash-strapped customers here in Greece.”
The clothes are in excellent condition but since they have been bought in bulk and could be 10, 20 or even 30 years old, the prices are low: a pair of Levi 501s for under $20, a Tommy Hilfiger shirt for just over $10.
Sabine Danakas, a Kilo Shop co-owner, claims that the business is prospering in spite of — or perhaps because of — the crisis. “Greek people live mostly outside. They may live in plain houses and apartments but when they go out in the sun, they have this feeling of showing off,” she says with a laugh. “And this is particularly true during an economic downturn. They want to look good and if it does not cost very much to look good, they’re really happy!”
Neli Sfigopoulou, a 28-year-old tourist trade worker, looks happy as she weighs which designer top to buy in the Kilo Shop. In these difficult economic times, she says, this kind of shopping is retail therapy on a shoestring.
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