Renting the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Here at CanadaFashionLaw, we love legislative and case law developments that affect the fashion industry but we also love looking at new business models within the fashion industry.  We love outside the box thinking!

At the recent Annual General Meeting for the Toronto chapter of Fashion Group International, I was fortunate to break bread with Lisa Delorme, co-founder and CEO of Rent Frock Repeat, a new player in the Canadian fashion world.  From a business-model perspective, Rent Frock Repeat is interesting on two counts: first is that it introduces the concept of renting evening wear to Canada (something that is well-established in the US and European markets); second, it throws out the traditional brick and mortar model and is making its mark in the e-commerce world.  Online dress rentals - who would have thought!  Ever eager to learn more about the fashion industry, CanadaFashionLaw took this opportunity to interview Rent Frock Repeat on their experience in their launch into the Canadian fashion world.  We hope you enjoy!

Walk us through Rent Frock Repeat’s inception and development.

Kristy Weiber and I were invited to a wedding and simply did not want to put out money AGAIN for a dress that would be worn once or twice and then take up precious real estate space in our closet.  We came across a US website that rented cocktail dresses and we thought it was a brilliant solution to our dilemma but quickly found out they didn’t ship to Canada.  We had always been thinking of opening our own business but we didn’t know exactly what and this seemed like the perfect fit for us.  This was in May of 2010, by August of the same year we were incorporated and May 23rd 2011 we launched

The business model is largely internet based.  What challenges are specific to the e-commerce world, as opposed to the brick and mortar model? 

For our merchandise specifically it still comes down to women wanting to touch and feel the clothes or simply try them on.  When we sat down to map out exactly how we would overcome this challenge we asked ourselves how we could not only provide peace of mind about the fit challenge but provide even better service than a regular bricks and mortar store.  Our solutions included sending a second size for free, letting women narrow their selection by body shape, showing the dress on models that are not only different sizes but different shapes (pear, straight and narrow, hourglass, apple…) and providing pictures of how a woman could style the dress in different ways (classic, edgy, bohemian, feminine).

What challenges are the same?

Whether you are operating an online business or have a chance to meet your customers face to face the challenge is to earn your business.  We love this particular challenge because it all comes down to service.  Are you really listening to your customer’s challenge?  Are you giving them what they need and not what you think they should buy (or rent)?  Are you solving a problem or filling a need?  At the end of the day you need to make a profit and that is why we spend so much time on the business model and scale but we also know we can’t get there if we are not all about service.

You’re a relatively new company and yet you’ve had some fantastic exposure.  What’s the secret to your success?

We are fortunate enough to have a product that is visually appealing (who doesn’t like to see pictures of beautiful women in gorgeous dresses), a business model that is fairly unique and have provided a product that may have been financially or geographically out of reach.  This story resonates with the fashionista who lives in a rural area and currently does not have access to high fashion and with the fashionista student that currently does not have the financial means to shop the designer lines she would like to wear.  It is fashion democracy and I think people (including the media) like the idea that we can now all be on the same playing field when it comes to fashion.

Who is your target audience?  Has this changed from what you first imagined?

Our target audience is women who have a busy social calendar and are less concerned with having to own things and are more focused on looking and feeling their best.

In simple terms your company rents dresses but in reality it encapsulates more than that – it’s a vehicle to create Cinderella moments for your clientele.  Have there been some standout moments for you? 
Yes, and as excited as we are about being able to attend NY and Toronto Fashion Weeks, meeting directly with many of the designers and being surrounded by beautiful dresses (we must admit, it has been a plus to be able to go into the RfR closet if we need something fabulous to wear to an event), we are most excited about the stories we hear from our customers.  We have received countless Thank You notes in our return packages with comments like “I never thought I would ever be able to wear a designer dress, thank you!”, and “I fit right in on the red carpet and didn’t have to choose between paying the bills or a new dress to do so.”  But, our favourite story to date was the evening we dressed the winners of the Dr. Roz’s Healing Place “Victory Over Violence” Gala.  These three women had experienced a rough start to their lives but were being recognized for making the brave first step of reaching out to Dr. Roz and eventually implementing the tools they were given during their time at the centers.  On the night they were recognized publicly all three were wearing RfR dresses and they told us this was their Cinderella moment.  We were thrilled to be a part of it!

Why do you think that Canada has been such a receptive audience to your company?

Unfortunately our small population in Canada makes it difficult for us to have as many options as others do when it comes to shopping.  Just think of the options Americans have with Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bloomingdales, Barney’s, Lord and Taylor, Macy’s (I could go on and on and this is just their department stores).  We see all the commercials and so we are exposed to so much but we don’t have many options ourselves and need to think about the duty and delivery charges we would incur to have things shipped to us (and that is if they even offer the service).  So when a new company makes the items we want available in our own country we get excited.  We have to admit that we are pretty stoked about Target coming to Canada.  We want the new Jason Wu darling day dresses he is putting out too!

Your company has a program that raises money for the charities.  Can you elaborate on this? 

Our motto is “Rent the dress, Donate the rest” and the good news is that this is open to anyone who is throwing a black-tie or gala event to raise funds.  We provide the charity with a unique promo code that they provide to their guests and for every dress rented with that code we will take 10% and give it back to the charity.  What is even greater is that we are hearing women are now able to attend more events because they aren’t spending as much money as they normally wear on their wardrobe (which can be the most expensive part of the evening).  We also recently donated 5% of every rental from November 25, 2011 to January 2, 2012 to the YWCA Rose Campaign. 

What do you love the most about being an enterpeneur in Canada’s fashion industry?  What has proved most frustrating? 

Kristy and I have always been weekend warriors when it comes to fashion.  We worked our regular jobs during the week (and sometimes through the weekend) and then read fashion magazines and went shopping in our spare time.  So when we landed in NYC for our first round of buying we had to pinch ourselves.  Honestly, for anyone that loves fashion how can that not get your heart racing?  As for frustrating… not to sound like a Pollyanna but nothing.  Sure there are aspects of our jobs we like more than others like our buying trips over paying the bills and boxing the shipments but nothing that frustrates us.  We are thrilled and over the moon that this is what we get to do every day.