"BMW say that for every car that is shared, 11 cars are taken off the road; imagine if you applied that [approach] to fast fashion?" Before embarking on her latest venture, Sacha Newall spent some time over in Munich at BMW where she learned that the car manufacturing giant sees the future of its market as car sharing. It was this potential shift in consumer behaviour and business modelling – from ownership to sharing – that inspired her to launch My Wardrobe HQ.
My Wardobe HQ is being dubbed as the industry's first peer to peer and brand to peer fashion lending app. It's something of a cross between Instagram and Vestiaire Collective. Users can follow brands and peers who inspire them and rent items from their wardrobe or, indeed, buy them if they decide they love the item enough.
If the name My Wardrobe rings a bell (and for a certain woman of a certain vintage, such as this writer, it certainly will) then that's intentional. Newall briefly headed up sales for the former accessible luxury fashion etailer, My-wardrobe.com, before its assets were sold to upscale rival NET-A-PORTER in 2014. She liked the name (and it's a good one, and not trademark-able) so she adapted it for her new business.
Inspired by her experience of fashion (she was also one of the first retailers to trade a feed on resale site Depop) and her learnings from BMW, she teamed up with her business partners Tina Lake, who founded and sold London Boutiques to Grazia and Sarah Angus who was head of content for Matchesfashion.com, and they conceived My Wardrobe HQ.
"For the women we are targeting, one of their biggest assets is their wardrobe," she explains. And when a woman is not wearing the clothes in her wardrobe, why not rent them to others who would like them and earn some income? Not only is it a more sustainable approach to fashion consumption but it turns the women who rent their wardrobes into small business owners too.
"We learned that a third of regular eBay users generate an income of over £6,000 per year. And we thought, 'what if we could emulate that for rental?' The idea is that it pays for your future [fashion] purchases and it encourages you to buy less and buy better. We have a saying 'only buy what pays you back'," Newall explains.
The idea of renting clothes is nothing new (Moss Bros has had it at the heart of its proposition for decades after all) but what My Wardrobe HQ sets out to do is turn it into a luxury experience with all the attendant services you might expect from a high-end full-price retailer.
Furthermore it plays on the social media side with users being able to like and follow women whose style most speaks to them, and renters can create profiles where they can talk about themselves and explain their approach to style. Interestingly, it also encourages rentees to be more experimental with their style, early feedback has shown.
One of the most popular items on the app is a dress by Alexandre Vauthier, whose designs sell for anything between £2,000 and £5,000. Women may be reluctant to spend that on one his dresses, particularly as they are quite directional and the designer is not a household name, but they would be happy to pay a few hundred pounds to rent one
On a basic level, how the service works is each brand or individual renter sets up a feed on the app upon which items can be listed in under 40 seconds. A rental price and a replacement price is set at the outset. So, for example, a Chanel handbag might carry a monthly rental price of £100 and, if the rentee decided they wanted to keep it, they would pay the pre-agreed replacement price which might be £500. 20% of these transactions go to My Wardrobe HQ.
To rent an item the rentee must place the replacement price in an independent account that neither renter nor rentee can access. When the rental period is over they will automatically be refunded the replacement price, or, if they want to keep the item, the monies go to the renter.
The team has spent a great deal of time working out the payment system and technology (the business has been funded by a couple of institutional investors and some high net worth individuals), and felt strongly that this route offered more flexibility than, say credit card pre-payments, which only last a certain amount of time and would therefore be limiting.
On a more sophisticated level, the service gets very clever indeed. A number of on-site stylists are being trained to pull looks together for VIP users of the service, who can have them delivered wherever they want. If, for instance, a customer is going on holiday, the clothes (there must be a minimum of 12 items) can be sent on ahead to be there when the customer arrives, enabling them to travel with hand luggage only.
For these "gold standard" services, items are classified and fully insured and My Wardrobe HQ ensures their safe return. Understandably the cut that goes to the company in these case is higher, at 40%.
At the moment the app is in closed group testing with about 1,000 women and the listings are from brands and retailers with a rental offer. The peer to peer service is launching soon with some big name celebrities getting it off the ground by renting parts of their wardrobes for charity (indeed any user can opt to rent their clothes for charity should they wish). The full launch will take place in September.
If it takes off, and there's every reason that it will, it has the capacity to completely shift the shopping mindset. "Now if you buy something," says Newall, "you will be calculating it on an income per wear and not a cost per wear basis."