From the source: Audrey Khaing-Jones and Dean Jones, GlamCorner

Inside Retail Weekly: How did you guys come up with launching a fashion rental business?

Audrey Khaing-Jones: Every woman has an ‘I’ve got nothing to wear’ moment. I used to get invited to engagement parties and I’d buy an outfit every time, without even thinking about it. And every time, it would cost me hundreds of dollars. That’s when I thought, ‘Can I rent a dress?’ That was seven years ago.

So I started searching Google and found a few companies in the States but they didn’t deliver to Australia. I looked around elsewhere in the market and found some very traditional formal boutiques. All I wanted was a simple day dress and I couldn’t find it anywhere.

I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe there are 30 or 40 people out there who have the same problem as me.’ We started a little Facebook and Twitter page and asked our friends and family to join and ask what they thought about the idea.

Dean Jones: We struck a nerve with pretty much every woman we spoke to of all ages. The response was universal – ‘I’m tired of buying clothes for one-off occasions, but I get fatigued, it builds up in my wardrobe.’

AKJ: We used our wedding money from our wedding wishing well as startup capital. We bought 20 to 30 dresses and it started from there. At the time, I was hoping that if I could get 50 customers who kept coming back, that would be a good little business, I didn’t think we’d last this long! Of course, we have a long way to go, but I didn’t realise that was when the journey would start. But here we are.

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DJ: The average Australian woman only wears a third of what’s in her wardrobe. The other two-thirds is a huge stockpile of items she purchased for a single event and never wore again. That’s 27 kilos of clothing purchased per capita per annum in Australia. That makes us the second-highest consumers of apparel in the world, second only to the US.

We thought to ourselves, ‘Why is that happening? What is our customer doing to try to solve that?’ Apart from buying cheap, disposable clothing, she was going to close friends and family and she was sharing and borrowing clothing at a small scale. What we realised was that this ‘rental’ behaviour is not foreign to our customer at all. In fact, she’s been borrowing, selling or swapping clothing her whole life. It is arguably one of the oldest sharing economies in existence.

Uber didn’t invent ridesharing, people have been carpooling a long time – they just introduced the technology to help bring that behaviour out and create a community that could make it work.

That’s where GlamCorner comes in. We’re trying to make the wardrobe big enough and community tight enough through a trusted brand, where you can actually share clothing with tens of thousands of people at once with this communal wardrobe – providing the purveyor of [the wardrobe] can ensure it’s as new every time, it fits and it arrives at light speed. We realised that if we can do that, it might actually be a bigger business than we first thought.

IRW: Walk me through the GlamCorner customer experience.

DJ: Our customer comes to us when she has an event coming up of any kind – birthdays, the sixth wedding invitation, another formal awards night or a blacktie event and you can rent a designer item for a fraction of the full price.

You can basically go onto our site like any other online store and select what garment you want. Open up the booking calendar, like a flight booking or hotel, and choose the date and number of days you want it for. You can add a backup item – the same item in another size – or a completely different item for an extra $15, so it doubles your chances of what arrives in your box, and it’s ready to wear and you’re happy to wear it.

In the rental model, even if you’re not happy with your garments, we can have another item to you in 24 hours. In the rental model, everything is coming back, so it’s built in – we’re happy to keep sending you items until you’re happy.

If you’re in Sydney, you can have your item delivered in three hours, you can try it on for $30 and give it back the next day, obligation-free. When you receive it, it’s in a nice box and ready to wear. It arrives with a prepaid return satchel, so when you’re done, you just put it in the satchel put it in the postbox and it comes right back to us. And around and around we go.

That’s the core on-demand experience. You can stream your wardrobe like you stream Netflix.

IRW: You guys have also just launched a subscription service called GC Premium, too. What does that experience look like?

DJ: This was one of Audrey’s genius ideas. The subscription business came from us listening to our customers. We launched it late last year. A lot of them were saying, ‘I love renting’ and were renting more and more for their wardrobe. Some had been customers with us for a couple of years – they had started with a black-tie formal event, then they began using us for a few weddings or friends’ birthdays. Suddenly our pentretation had gotten deeper into their wardrobes and they began saying, ‘What about my work wardrobe or daywear? Can I rent that too?’

Our merch team looked at that, started getting jackets, blouses, pants and it didn’t stick. Four-day and eight-day hire did not stick, so we introduced a 15-day option and 30-day hire and it still didn’t stick.

Then we looked at the subscription model and thought, ‘What if we bundled a few things in a box and you paid a fixed price a month and you swapped those boxes out as much as you like? You’ve got access to the wardrobe like a library, but you get three books at a time.’

That grew like wildfire. For the workwear usage duration, you wouldn’t rent a blazer for four days, but you’d have it for a month, then you’d get to try something new next month. So suddenly the stress and anxiety about having that fresh wardrobe is super easy when you’ve got a subscription.

It gives you a complementary current wardrobe, you can experiment with your style. In the subscription program, the most frequently used colours were not blacks, greys and khakis. It’s the colours and prints. We’ve removed the burden of ownership so she doesn’t feel like she has to buy investment items. She can think, ‘I’m only getting this for a month, let’s go crazy!’ It gets us excited, because a customer can discover a side of her style that she never really had a chance to do, especially when it’s with some of the best international designer labels. So that’s where the subscription idea came from.

It’s still in beta mode. It’s almost there. The size of the wardrobe and digital experience are still being ironed out.  We’re really happy with the full availability of inventory customers would get, all the different styles are perfect, but we’re still working the pricing tiers. Some customers want to use it more heavily, some don’t, so there’s scope on both sides to make a cheaper option and maybe a more expensive one, where they can go nuts. There are some customers who want to use it every week, others want it every month.

IRW: You’re also currently expanding your premises. How’s that going?

DJ: We recently took over the lease for the adjoining warehouse to ours, doubling our total warehouse footprint from 1000sqm to 2000sqm. This expansion will allow us to have an expanded operations team all working together on one large open floor as a single ‘engine room’.

This will benefit our business and our customers greatly as it gives us plenty of breathing room to expand our inventory range as well as our picking, packing, dispatch, quality control and garment care/laundry teams. We’re looking forward to seeing the efficiency improvements that will come from this, which we know we’re going to need in order to keep up with the seemingly insatiable demand we’re seeing for the subscription service.

IRW: What are some of the unique challenges of the rental business?

AKJ: The logistics. From the outside, we’re a fashion business, but when you actually peel back the layers, it’s a logistics business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fashion product, we still have to send out an item on time, but it also has to come back on time, so we can send it to another customer. It’s like air traffic control – you have to make sure everything runs on time or there’s a domino effect. We had to invest in technology, that’s why we had to build an engineering team and an operations system.

Quality control is really important for us. We are very similar to other retailers where we take an order and we send it to a customer, but the part that differentiates us is where it comes back to us. When we receive the item, we have to make it near-new again, because the customer experience is everything.

We built a returns team, we have a garment care facility, we have a seamstress. We represent our designers, so when we put their names in our boxes, the garment needs to be perfect. If you’re a first-time customer, you might think, ‘Maybe the quality isn’t so good, but I’ll give it a go’. I want their items to be in immaculate condition, like something you would buy from David Jones or wherever. When we started, we didn’t know we’d have to invest in a laundry!

DJ: We clean 30 tonnes of clothing a month. It’s actually a wetcare system, it’s not a solvent-based dryclean. Wetcare is the equivalent of commercial handwash, it uses a fraction of the amount of water of a home machine. It’s gentle on the garments, the agents are water-based, allowing it to soak right through and clean the garments at a microbial level. Our clothes are literally cleaner than off-the rack. A gentle wash and a gentle dry, it’s as good as new.

Vogue sustainability editor-at-large Clare Press said [rental] is like a five-star hotel. For a long time, no one had an issue that only eight hours beforehand, someone else had been sleeping in their bed. But it’s been clinically cleaned between wears. If the cleaning process in between is immaculate, the customer is convinced very easily.

It’s easier to launch a business selling something where it’s consumed in the same way it always has – that alone is always hard, actually. It was doubly hard for us because it was a completely new way for people to consume fashion. It was harder to convince fashion labels that it was in their interests [to support us], it was hard to convince the market and harder to convince advertisers it was worth doing.

IRW: GlamCorner was Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia’s first sustainability partner and you had a stand at the event at Carriageworks in Sydney. What an honour.

AKJ: When our set went up at Fashion Week, it was a proud moment for us. When GlamCorner was born, I never thought we’d be at Fashion Week. I remember cold calling designers and telling them in the early days, ‘I want to stock your label and also rent them!’

It was a celebratory moment for us, and it was really about telling everyone that we’re here and we’re part of the industry. We’re not the kids who just showed up at the party!

DJ: It was unashamedly a flag-planting exercise for fashion rental. MBFWA is about the local fashion industry coming together, celebrating the best and newest innovations, particularly in design. It’s always very edgy and different. It’s exciting to be a supporter of that because we’re a direct beneficiary of how good Australian designers are.

It was really great to be there and say, ‘If you love that and you haven’t had a chance to try it before, maybe rent it first, see if you like it. You can see it fresh off the runway and rent it.’

There’s definitely a consumer who aspires to wear designer brands and it’s definitely not at her price point, which really might be at Zara or H&M. But we can offer designer quality at a fast fashion price point.

We’re very proud to have the opportunity to be a supporter of this community of very talented and hard-working people and look forward to being able to do so on an ongoing basis.

We’re already thinking about what we’re going to do next year!

IRW: GlamCorner is a BCorp company. What does that mean?

DJ: The certification is about not just being the best in the world, but being the best for the world. It’s about setting a new benchmark for what we as a society consider as successful in business. Since Rockefeller, we’ve had a benchmark for being the richest business – that has been done to death for a hundred years. These days, people are thinking, ‘How can your business turn the inertia of capitalism into something very positive that can make the world a better place?’

It took six months for us to get certification and you have to work hard to keep it.

BCorp is about the best products being in the market that are also the best for the planet, the market and our communities. In the end, consumer behaviour will drive that change, because it’s part of the reason why so much damage has been done to the environment and our communities, sometimes – the insatiable demand for capitalism, if geared in the wrong way, can cause damage.

But put in the right direction, that energy can reverse a lot of damage and turn the world into a fantastic place. There’s something exciting about that.

We know that if one of our average items is rented 20 times, which it is, that’s arguably 19 other times it didn’t need to be manufactured in the first place. That’s a 95 per cent reduction in the amount of economic inputs to satisfy the same amount of demand. That’s pretty meaningful – now and 20 years from now.

We know we are already affecting the sales cycles of the mass-producing fast fashion houses without compromising the end customer’s end experience. BCorp is all about making that official and saying you know what? We want to stand for something.

Audrey and I want to build something we’ll be proud of in five, 10, 50 years from now and we’re sowing the seeds now as a young business. It’s in our DNA, it’s in our company values and we have a lot of faith as the business grows that our impact will get better and better, from the sustainability impact right through to our supply chain policies.

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