We sat down with Co-Founder of Designerex, Kirsten Kore, and discussed the future of fashion rentals, sustainability and reaching the US market.
Dubbed the ‘Airbnb’ of designer dresses, Designerex is the largest peer-to-peer dress sharing platform. As one of Australia’s largest clothing rental marketplaces, they currently have over 15,000 designer dresses across more than 600 designer brands. Founded by Costa Koulis and Kirsten Kore, Desigenrex has recently launched in the U.S, making it the ‘only dress rental company to go global.’
How did the idea for Designerex come about? What inspired you to start this business?
“The concept literally came about from my own experiences of needing a dress for an event, finding a beautiful expensive dress, but not being able to justify the purchase. How could I justify spending $1000 on a dress knowing I would only wear it once? I went searching for a solution and found a few girls renting out their dresses on Facebook. That’s really when my partner Costa and I realised there is an opportunity here to open up the wardrobes of millions of women and provide them with a secure dress renting platform.”
What makes Designerex different from other fashion rental programs?
“The platform is the first and largest secure peer-to-peer sharing marketplace. While inventory-based models rent to women from a warehouse of stock that is selected by the platform founders or stylists, on Designerex, women are in charge — over 45,000 women are making money renting their own designer dresses (hello side hustle), or saving both money and the environment renting, rather than buying, a dress for events. There are over 15,000 dresses listed, which is the largest selection of designer dresses available on a rental platform — and while inventory models are restricted by arrangements with designers, we have no such limitations of which labels or brands can be listed, other than that they are of high quality. And because so many diverse women are using the platform, we have hundreds of brands, from Australia’s top labels to lots of boutique and niche brands,” said Kore.
“Our technology is also unique in the wardrobe sharing market we offer our users ID verification technology that enables real-time scanning of a driver’s license or passports for legitimacy — you want to trust the person you’re renting to! It’s similar technology that is used by the likes of Airbnb and Easy Jet. We also offering disruptive payment solutions like Afterpay.”
Do you have prior experience in the fashion industry? If so, what key information did you pick up from the industry to apply to your own business?
“We actually have zero fashion industry experience! I — Kirsten — do have experience as a keen shopper which is why and how the idea came about, ha!”
Designer rentals have become an exceedingly popular option for fashion-savvy consumers. Why do you think this has happened?
“I’ll give the nod to good old technology, which has enabled online marketplaces, in general, to flourish all around the world. For the designer fashion market specifically, technology, coupled with the growth of social media and early adopters has contributed to the designer rental market to boom. And our first and consistently solid users are millennials who are hyper-aware of their spending habits and also up for innovation,” explained Kore.
“Fashion-savvy consumers are heavy users of the platform, though let’s not forget about the non-fashion-savvy consumers who never intend on wearing a gown to the one-off gala event they have to attend, or savvy mothers having to buy multiple formal dresses for their daughters. To put it simply, it is just a smarter and more flexible way of consuming fashion at a time when being sustainable and reducing the giant impact of fast fashion is important to so many consumers.”
Designerex has been dubbed the ‘Airbnb of designer dresses’. How did this come to fruition?
“It is by chance that we have a similar business model to Airbnb. When the idea came to mind, we knew the sharing economy was disrupting the world, and we asked, how can we solve this problem of not being able to justify buying a dress, which so many women grapple with daily? How can we access all the beautiful clothes being unworn by millions of women? You wouldn’t buy real estate without knowing you could earn a rental return on it right? There are dress owners on the platform who have made a 700% return on their dress in less than a year. A dress is an asset indeed! (Tell your husbands…),” explained Kore.
Companies like Urban Outfitters have embraced the fashion rental phenomenon – do you think there will be a surge from retailers to offer a rental program, or is it something that most will steer clear from?
“My thoughts are that it is inevitable that brands and businesses will need to look at the rental, resale and refurbishment models and what could work for their business and their customers. The spotlight is shifting from ‘which brands are sustainable’ to which brands are not. Sustainability has played a major role in the fashion industry, with many consumers boycotting fast fashion brands as a result of environmental damage. How can Designerex offset this issue?
“The platform has a minimum RRP of $250 for any dress listing on the platform. Anything under this is not accepted. This means that the Designerex platform and the service it provides to our users actually incentivises people to purchase designer fashion, over fast fashion. Fast fashion won’t make you money. Consumers are chasing a constant fresh, new look and they’re also wanting to do it without guilt. Prioritising quality means we’re also prioritising sustainability.”
What marketing tactics did Designerex use to reach the size it is today? Is there anything you would do differently?
“Early on, we recognised who our early adopters were, where they liked to hang out and organically reached them through social media. We provide all our users with a custom URL which directs to their own profile and dress listings, so social sharing and tagging become a thing!”
What’s next for Designerex?
“We just launched in the US market, making Designerex the only dress rental company to go global. We were also very fortunate to be selected by Austrade’s highly-competitive landing pad program in the USA, which assisted us with our global expansion. This year we also have something super exciting coming for our users… but I am sworn to secrecy,” said Kore.
Has the fashion industry changed with the uplift in fast fashion retailers? Would you see it as a detriment or a worthy change?
“There’s no doubt the industry has changed in the past decade. Although fast fashion retailers don’t have a wonderful track record with ethical and sustainable processes, one thing they have done is recognise what the fashion consumer wants: NEWNESS.”
Where do you see the fashion industry in five years? Do you think more people will rely on rental programs?
“In five years, I do hope to see a much more transparent fashion industry with brands answering, ‘where do my clothes come from?’. I also would like to see more innovation so that progressive and sustainable ways of consuming become the norm, not the exception.”
You’ve had some celebrity endorsement recently – would you say ‘famous faces’ play a role in your marketing strategy, or is it purely coincidence?
“That is mostly coincidence. We have really focused from the beginning on building a great business, great technology and let that be our best attraction. Famous faces, of course, are always a cherry on top!” explained Kore.
Some advice from Kirsten Kore: “Don’t let anything hold you back and never stop learning about your customers.”