It’s the constant struggle every woman faces – what to wear. But getting dressed for your next big event doesn’t have to be a headache.
That’s where DesignerShare comes in. Co-founders Sarah Perkins and Bill Meyer are helping deliver high-end fashion right to your doorstep. And the best part? You can rent any piece, any time, to help spice up your wardrobe.
“We are the first truly peer-to-peer market place for women to rent their designer clothing and accessories to one another,” says Perkins.
“So essentially, if you want to compare us to a big, successful model, we’re like the Airbnb of designer closets.”
Users can join the DesignerShare site for no cost, put up their designer pieces as a lender or search as a renter, and voila—hundreds of designer items are at your fingertips.
For Perkins, the idea started to blossom after years of swapping outfits with her girlfriends—something many women can relate to.
“In college I was in a co-ed business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, […] and we would have these events multiple times a year where you’d have to be in a cocktail dress, and the only real method at that time was going out and buying things,” Perkins states.
“I was buying these mid-level designer dresses, […] and I would have multiple friends ask me if they could wear my piece the next time,” says Perkins. “So there were events sometimes where I saw multiple dresses and clutches from my closet being used, which was really cool. I never really thought to monetize it, it’s just something that I thought was a bonding experience with everyone.”
It wasn’t until Meyer came to her in 2015 to discuss the possibility of a business partnership that the idea for DS really began to take root.
“Bill came to me and said ‘I’m done with law. I want to do something entrepreneurial, […] let’s do something in the sharing economy, I don’t think anyone has really touched clothing.’”
After tossing around some ideas, Perkins says the idea really began to take shape.
“I [thought] women would definitely do this with each other, because it was something I was doing all the time,” she says.
“When we started, I did some really heavy research on [our competitors], and by looking at some of these models and looking at traditional retail, too—you look at everything from start to finish, not only in terms of how our business model would work from a user perspective, but also a pricing analysis.”
But it wasn’t just about testing the market, as Perkins says a lot of it came down to not only user experience but also what people are willing to pay for a service like DS.
“There’s nothing worse when you’re shopping online, and you see all these fees add up at the end that you didn’t think about,” she says.
“We really wanted to be as transparent as possible, and you can see that before you request a rental. You’ll see every single fee, outside of city taxes—which are very small—before you click rent.”
So, in 2016 the two started down the path of researching and testing out the rental process, all while Perkins was still maintaining a full-time job.
“[In summer of 2016], we said we really need to ramp this up and do it full-time, so I quit September 1, and I just celebrated my one-year anniversary of doing this full-time.”
And the last year has been a busy one. In March of this year, the official DesignerShare site was launched.
It seems things have been going up ever since. Perkins says the site is home to around 500 users, with approximately 500 designer pieces, and deliveries are going out every week.
“We are even doing more market testing now—we have assumptions of who these women really are, so how do we create the correct messaging for them to sign them up and really get started?,” she says. “It comes down to psychographics over demographics.”
But, as is usual in the entrepreneurial world, a lot of the struggle comes down to funding.
“One of our biggest challenges as a start-up is getting creative with a small amount of money.”
And while, Perkins says Meyer focuses on the big picture, with emphasis on the legal and financial side of the business, she is happy to take on the creative side by using her journalism background.
“I really help run from an editorial, creative director perspective—what’s happening in marketing and how are we designing the site, what features do we need to make out users really happy,” she states.
“So we are a great balance for each other, and we have a good team that helps us round us out, too.”
Thus far, the pair says they have seen users in the 25-34 demographic both as lenders and renters, but continue to be excited about fostering the DesignerShare community.
“It’s people who love fashion, and who’ve invested in some great pieces and want to get them out there,” Perkins says.
“The greatest thing is seeing someone participate in both sides of the market. So, whether she started out as a lender or renter, really taking the chance to try the other side and really being excited about it,” she continues.
“Nothing has been better than seeing a renter become a lender because she tried the service, fell in love and said, I’m either going to put up the pieces that I have—or, we’ve even seen some investments happen that go directly to DesignerShare.”
As if renting a designer piece for a week isn’t exciting enough, there’s also plenty of incentives for anyone curious about trying out the service.
“It’s not only that you can earn money from your closet so easily, but that you get to try these amazing luxury designer pieces at a lower cost, and decide whether you can live without it or not, or even keep renting,” Perkins says.
“I”d say our biggest difference from some of our [competitors]—that we’ve even heard from some of their employees—is that they stick with contemporary designers, and we have contemporary all the way through true luxury pieces. So you really can have a Chanel handbag for a week or some Miu Miu shoes.”
The process of signing up is simple, and can take just a matter of minutes according to Perkins.
“There is no cost to sign-up, […] it’s a la carte essentially, so once you get signed up, if you have pieces in your closet, you would take nice, clean photos of them. If they are clothing pieces, it’s best to see them on a person to see how different body types look, and from there, once you upload your photos it takes maybe five minutes to do a product description,” she explains.
From there, you can set the approximate retail cost and how much it is to rent for the week. And, if you’re looking for a specific designer or piece, the site is easy to navigate to find right what you’re looking for.
“The supply side has been coming a lot easier for us than we expected, and now it’s about educating women in the Chicagoland area where we have started. Now, it’s about trying to build that trust with them, so that does come to a bit of longevity,” she says.
“[It’s] also continual education about our process, how we make sure that pieces are protected through every transaction from not only our door-to-door delivery of making sure pieces are never not in someone’s hands, to having a lender protection fee to cover any small mishaps, helped by our dry-cleaning partner, Tide Spin.”
“We’re really focused on this community empowering each other through both sides of the channel.”
Chicagoans seem to be taking to the idea. But, Perkins says she and Meyer are always on the lookout for ways to grow the business—and one way it’s expanding is by partnering with local designers.
“There are some local designers or even local consignment shops on our site, and we fully allow them to write in their product descriptions you can go buy at their sites,” she says.
“I think overall since we do have a mission of having women feel more confident on a regular basis, we want people to feel the exact same way when working with us.”
The start-up has been working with local UX design company, LimeRed Studio, throughout their process, tasking them with building the user-friendly DS site. The successful partnership has recently expanded as DesignerShare now works out of the same studio as LimeRed, after spending their first year working out of Chicago’s own 1871.
The growing business isn’t planning on stopping any time soon, as Perkins says they have big goals going into their second year.
“[Year two] we’d like to be in a second city, […] perhaps Boston, or Washington D.C. and from there connect the cities through shipping methods,” Perkins explains.
The bonus? The pieces never leave your closet unless they’re being rented, and Perkins says this is also a way for the company to keep their own operating costs to a minimum.
In the next couple of years, DS hopes to grow nationwide, with the clothes and accessories shipping directly from door-to-door with DesignerShare facilitating the transaction.
Perkins also says DS is hoping to expand even sooner, by working with ride-sharing companies to make the delivery process even quicker and smoother.
“Instead of a person in the back, it would be a Gucci handbag,” says Perkins with a laugh.
“Ultimately, we just want to see from a business side a really strong team that is committed to not only gender inclusivity, but also size inclusivity and just really showing that you can feel and look great from the inside out.”
Ultimately, Perkins says it’s important to keep in mind that there’s always a learning curve.
“I’m learning everyday—I started as a sponge, and I stay a sponge. You have to keep that mentality, and […] you have to stay humble,” she states.
“There’s a lot of proving myself and that comes from facts; it comes from knowing my business, being composed and finding just the right people to work with, and not everyone is going to think that way. In some ways, it’s nice to have a male counterpart for those people that need a little balance.”
But for Perkins, it seems to boil down to being committed to working towards your goals.
“You have to just keep pushing through because the successful companies are the ones that persevere.”
And as the company continues to grow, there’s been a lot of gratification in keeping that persistence going, according to Perkins.
“Creating something that wasn’t there before—that’s been really amazing, seeing something come from just an idea to an entire site, an entire community that we’re building,” she explains.
“Also, learning how to be a leader, and be a manager. It’s really rewarding to see the people around me succeed.”
While high-end fashion may not be your go-to, Perkins says it goes beyond just clothing.
“It’s a community that we are building, and I think people can see fashion as something really shallow, but ultimately we’re trying to do it from the perspective of men can typically put on the same thing all the time, and no one is going to say anything, whereas women are constantly scrutinized,” says Perkins.
“We’re not here to pit each other against one another. We are here to lift each other up and be the friendliest fashion company you’ll ever meet.”
Photo Credit: DesignerShare