Anna Bance is the co-founder of Girl Meets Dress and a trailblazer of the fashion rental market. Her website, set up a decade ago, offers women the ability to rent high-end designer fashion for a fraction of the retail price.
In the past couple of years there has been an explosion in start-ups offering fashion rental but Bance saw the opportunity earlier than most. As well as designer rentals, Girl Meets Dress, also offers services including a London Showroom, maternity rental and bridesmaid loans.
You were very early onto the fashion rental scene; how did you identify a gap in the market?
When Girl Meets Dress launched in 2009 the recession mindset dominated. It meant that "cost per use" was a huge driver, as being smart with money and where to spend it was highly regarded. But it was also clear that people had started to realise that experience and time are the most precious commodities we have, and that consequently ownership is becoming more irrelevant than ever before.
I feel incredible validation now that mainstream retail and brands believe rental is a key part of the revenue mix.
With my co-founder Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise we looked into the market we saw that no one else was doing fashion hire. Traditional rental shops on the high street had existed since the 1960s but moving the concept online and stocking designer brand names was the key to expanding the business model. Rental is exciting because it allows our customers to update their wardrobes at their own pace and change it based on needs, whether for travel, business or a special occasion.
Can you summarise your business model?
We buy and own the stock, listing it for 2 or 7 night hire, from £19, 10-30% of the retail price of the item. Most of the players in the retail space are trying to get the consumer to buy more stuff. Our value proposition is exactly the opposite of that.
Girl Meets Dress customers can rent over 4,000 dresses from over 200 designers from more than 30 countries. As well as growing our optional subscription option, a £99 monthly fee which gives the member unlimited free dresses.
10% of orders are made to be worn for events that same evening. We rolled out a London same-day delivery service that guarantees orders placed by noon will arrive by 6p.m.
We also have a London Showroom, and demand is huge. The increasing number of customers living within 100 miles, wishing to book an appointment to try on dresses with a stylist is a testament to the changing landscape of retail, and the importance of a continued multichannel approach.
How do you choose to stand out among all the other rental services that have emerged?
We have spent the past 10 years enhancing the customer experience, product line-up, and operational efficiency of our service.
The past couple of years have certainly seen a selection of new rental retailer’s launch. The majority are running a peer to peer model, so a very different proposition from Girl Meets Dress.
Ultimately, we are competing against fast fashion. For women who work and live near a Zara, it is too easy to put off buying something for a nice event until the very last minute, because you know that when you walk through the door you will find something that’s suitable and inexpensive and fast.
We support designer brands by introducing them to new customers and arm them with data. We act as an acquisition channel, adding new customers of these designers, while taking attention off of fast fashion. Changing the answer to “Should I shop once a month at H&M or get designer access at Girl Meets Dress?”
Girls Meets Dress has benefited from the increasing rise in "collective consumption". To what do you attribute the sharing economy's popularity?
On a mass level, consumers have reached peak happiness with clothing purchases. Clothing has become so inexpensive over the years, and the resulting joy-less nature of apparel shopping can be linked directly to the proliferation of fast fashion, thereby resulting in a general sense of fatigue.
The rental economy in 2019 runs the majority of our lives - how we interact now with transportation, with entertainment, with music and now with clothing. We are so used to having an option to rent or an option to subscribe. As a customer we can make the choice that is best for us.
Our millennial customers especially prove an anti-materialism shift, and don’t want to carry the load of owning more things.
They don’t need to buy cars anymore when they have Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft. They don’t need to buy DVDs when they have Netflix and Amazon Prime or CDs due to Spotify and Soundcloud. So, why do they need to buy clothes that they would have to store, clean and care for when they can rent them instead? And on top of this the Instagram generation crave newness – they don’t want to be photographed in the same outfit twice.
As well as offering affordable fashion, in what ways is Girl Meets Dress changing the shopping experience?
The aim with Girl Meets Dress has always been to give our users not only access to high-end fashion products for special occasions, but one-time-wear clothes on a convenient pay-per-use basis.
I don’t believe that clothing rental means the total "end of ownership" as the future of retail. But it is about having greater options. We want women to rethink how they build a wardrobe around smarter choices. I think that half of women’s wardrobes are going to move into the cloud and so a portion of what we wear every day will compromise of things that we don’t own forever.
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