Insights into what the future of the fashion industry might look like with Tamsin Chislett of Onloan
Imagine being able to add new pieces to your wardrobe every month, and then give it back once you’re over it.
Today’s episode is about a startup company that does just that, Onloan is a fashion rental subscription that sends you new pieces of your choice every month, from the cult brands we’re all obsessed with on Instagram. The 2 female founders are on a shared mission to reduce waste, curate brilliant independent designers and reignite a love of clothes without the guilt. After getting featured on the today show early on in the journey the company took off to quickly became one of the UK’s leading fashion rental services, whilst fulfilling on it’s mission to do good and create positive change in consumer shopping behaviour in an attempt to impact the fast fashion crisis that’s clogging up our landfill. This is Tamsin Chislett for Female Startup Club.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
This is Tamsin for Female Startup Club. Onloan is a fashion rental service. We lend great clothes to women for work and the weekend and everything in between and we do it on a monthly subscription. So uh, loaners as we call them, sign up, choose one of two plans and then receive clothes every month to wear and enjoy. And then at the end of the month they packed them up, send them back to us and they select new things and rent them again. And um we partner with 20 amazing contemporary brands to do this offer their clothes and we also take care of all of the cleaning and mending and everything in house.
00:02:26Edit So we're like a fashion company, but also logistics company, a bit of both and in terms of where it came from. So I've had a really long standing interest in sustainable fashion. And when I was looking around for exciting business ideas, I kind of knew that was an industry I wanted to work on. Um it was something I was passionate about enough that I knew I could carry on when times got really tough, which is obviously super important as an entrepreneur. Um and, and yeah, I kind of new fashion versus industry where the current way of operating, it's just something that cannot last and has to change. Um so I like everybody else my age in the UK was a total Top shop addict as a teenager, I spent all my weekends there, um you know, if I wanted to try a new style, I would just buy it from top shop where it's like got bored of it and then, you know, just sort of vanished into my wardrobe and I kind of knew this was icky and um, not sustainable. Um and after a while it just became too big a thing to ignore. So I started buying from more sustainable brands, kind of local small producers, people who knew their supply chain well.
00:03:28Edit And, and yet it grew into this real interest of mine. And so when, when I realized I want to start business, it was an area I wanted to welcome, and then I started doing some research and found out that the rental market is just obviously huge in the US. Um I think pretty big in Australia, I think big and quite a lot of places, but in the UK haven't taken off at all and it just felt like the time was right for a business like this one to really go for it. So that's what we've tried to do and what we want before you had the idea to start your own business, is this your first business? It's my first business. So most recently before I started, I was working with other entrepreneurs. I see working for like that you could dress it up nicely, but essentially it's a corporate finance house. I was helping companies to raise investment, but specifically really early stage companies, um, all of which had a positive social or environmental impact. So they're tackling a sort of problem or social environmental problem in some way. And then I would help them to raise capital from investors who wanted to make money, definitely. But investors who also, we're kind of committed to supporting those kind of businesses.
00:04:31Edit So, um, we're aligned with the goals of the entrepreneurs. Um, so I was doing, yeah, I spent three years there. I was helping entrepreneurs put together their investment pictures and financial models and decks and all sorts and then managing that process of helping them raise capital. Well, that's so cool. Did you have like multiple kind of avenues that you were exploring before you got to online or was was it clear that you were like, the idea is just there and that's what I'm doing? Um, yeah, I didn't have any other ideas. I didn't know like a long list and you know, the sort of privilege of choice between them. Um, I think it was more like a sort of a honing in on this, on this opportunity. So yes, I, as I say, I kind of, I think you meant to say that you saw the burning issue and that's why you started a business, but the truth is, I just really wanted to start a business and so I came at it from that angle and I, you know, I got to got to know a lot of different sectors through my previous job, I used to work with businesses across everything, health education, um climate change, housing, young people, any kind of social issue and yeah, the one that kept coming back to was around fashion and the fashion industry and so it was more of a slowly closing in on the target rather than having lots of options, you must have had like a really, um I guess you had a really great advantage against other businesses having this insight on how to raise money.
00:05:58Edit Did you have to raise money? Because I imagine your business was kind of, you would need a lot of startup capital to be able to buy into all the stock, Right, So um, yeah, you would have had that the knowledge of what's needed to go out and pitch to people. Yeah, it was going to be embarrassing if I then couldn't raise money for my own after having like advised companies on it for a while. Um but you know, and as is always the way I am, as soon as I started doing it myself, I realized that some of the advice I'd be giving out probably wasn't that easy to follow, I think every sort of consultant or advisor this there then go and do something themselves. So yeah, it was interesting. I kind of totally underestimated um how much time entrepreneurs have to commit to fundraising. The answer is like you just have to invent time from nowhere because you have no time. And so having sat on the other side of the fence where I'd be like, well, you know, you should put together a really nice financial model that's got all these different layers to it and three different pitch decks to taylor for every audience. And then as an entrepreneur, I was like, oh my God, if I can manage to get one basic P and L. Cashflow done, that's amazing. Um So yeah, it was a good education in my own advice.
00:07:02Edit Um but we did raise capitals. I raised, we raised an angel round last year um uh close to at the end of May I think um and raise like half million dollars from, from an amazing group of angels, wow, cool. And with that you were able to have like a runway of a year or was that just to invest in the original stock or the initial stock that you had, How did it work for anyone listening who is wanting to go into like a startup that they need to raise money for what all of them. Yeah, sure. So we we kind of boost up to that point. So I um I started working on the business, um, part time september 2018. And at that point I put in some, a little bit of my own money and actually took out a personal loan to buy the first sort of set of stock that we would need. Um, I'm still paying that loan back, um, and we'll be for a while. Um, and, and yeah, so that was our sort of jumpstart capital. And then I really, I sort of work backwards from what I knew investors would need to see in order to have faith that we were a company worth investing in.
00:08:06Edit So, um, I actually sort of kind of wrote the pitch deck for the investment that I wanted to raise all the way back in september, I kind of wrote it nine months in advance if you said to mean, um, so I knew that I would have to prove that, you know, that we had a product that customers liked and that they were, they were kept returning to, I knew that would have to prove that the market was really big and growing in the UK. I knew that I'd have to prove that we could partner with brands in a way that was like going to work for the financials. Um, I had this whole list of things that I knew, you know, would be seen as really big risks from investors. If I didn't show that we tried to kind of mitigate, um, and reduce that risk of it. And of course, we were, we were in our really, really early stage business, there's still a really, really risky investment. That's the nature of early stage investing. But I knew that I had to kind of demonstrate that we've worked through each of those risks and tried to show that we've made progress on all of them. Um, and I was actually really helpful because it kind of guided what we did for the first nine months. You know, if we, we focused on getting customers straight away, we had customers in week one because we wanted to show that people stuck with us a month or month to month.
00:09:15Edit Um, we, you know, we partnered with brands really early on because we knew that we had to show that we were going to be able to build their trust and, and, and their partnership. So yes, it was kind of working backwards from that pitch decks about 10, it came to raising investment. I felt like we kind of done everything we could for that stage of a business. How many customers did you already have? Um, by the time you started investing and how many brands have you partnered with just to paint a picture of like, was it already a huge production by then? No, it was tiny. I'm not actually going to say the number because it was so small, but it, this is interesting in and of itself. Right. We, I mean, we, we raised a lot of money off the back of a really small number and it was less about the quantity, but more about the feedback we're getting from those customers. So it's more about the strength of the relationship we've built with them. Um, the, the fact that even by, so when we raised money in May, we had customers who had already been with us since september, so we were showing their customers who, who had really long lifetime um, with us.
00:10:20Edit Um, uh, we're getting really positive feedback from them. And then I think the other thing that was really crucial was we could demonstrate that we were adjusting the business based on the sort of more negative feedback. So we could show that with a kind of business that would listen to feedback and change as a result of it. And I think that's, you know, that's something that investors really want to see is that you're going to be this constantly learning and adapting organization and you're building something you're purposely building something customers want. Um, and so we were already able to say, well, you know, actually our customers, um, you know, I'm trying to think of an example, I think we learned, Yeah, here's a good example. So we learned really early on. We thought customers would only want to rent like the most fancy, super embellished really loud, really out their clothes. We're like, you know, you by your pair of blue jeans and but your, your rent, you're like, um you know, glittery mini dress, whatever. And we actually found really early on this huge segment of customers who are like, no, I, I yeah, I own three pairs of blue jeans, but actually I've never tried wide leg jeans.
00:11:24Edit I've never tried flares and I'd really love to try them through rental because I can do that for a month, see how it goes and then maybe that's a way that fits me and maybe it isn't. Um and so we have, we kind of quickly adapted the stock that we were buying to be much less about really out there pieces that you might only wear once or twice a year and much more about kind of elevated everyday pieces, Jazz up your existing wardrobe and we wouldn't have got there without having customers who told us that. So it was that feedback loop that we demonstrated that I think was good. And how did you get that feedback loop? Was it just literally listening on social media or did you specifically send out emails and ask for feedback or did you focus groups? Like how did you get to that point? I think it was, we're delivering a kind of laughably high level of customer service at this point. So, um by the time we raised investment, I'd only just stopped doing hand deliveries was pretty much hand delivering every parcel around London. Um and so I have a chat. It was great. You know, we met, we met all of our customers and there were, there were a few, there weren't that many, but there are few and so uh and then, you know, if they had any questions about anything, we would enter into a conversation.
00:12:30Edit We opened up every channel we could think of to talk to them. So we had like email um, chat on the website, we had WhatsApp, we had instagram, we have facebook anyway that a customer could possibly think, oh maybe I can ask online this, we made sure it was open and really obvious. Um and so yeah, we just, we just had this unsustainable but great level of um relationship with our customers. And then we were always looking out for the ones who clearly really enjoyed the product, but also we're really demanding because they're they're like our favorites, like they've clearly seen value in this, but they also have loads of things, they want to be better and they're just your perfect people to build a product for us? What we kind of sort them out and I know that you have a business partner. So did you guys know each other before um online like years ago? Or did you meet specifically because you were looking for a business partner or how did that come about? Yeah. Um so nasty is my business partner and we have known each other a long time. So I went to university with her husband um and actually did my first job after university with her husband too and I'm going to get it wrong, I think her and her husband had been dating for like eight or nine years and I probably met her fairly early on in that period.
00:13:40Edit Um I didn't know her that well though. We actually, so we actually, the one time we used to meet every year was for a week long holiday in the south of front um at a festival called Worldwide. Really amazing, beautiful small festival were both completely obsessed with it and we've been like eight or nine times each and we just used to hang out there every summer and give it drunk and enjoy a night out and then at the end of the night end up having ridiculously intense chats about sustainable fashion and the industry and like what we were going to do to change it and yeah, they're really important part of our own history because that's kind of where not and I bonded. Um so then when I had this business idea and realized it was going to be a fashion business, I knew that I needed somebody who was gonna kind of be um like the ying to my yang and provide all of that um not just fashion industry intel, but just like an understanding of like the emotional side of fashion, which is just not my background at all and um yeah that was the first person, what was her background, so that is a kind of fashion industry insider through and through.
00:14:44Edit So she she worked for four years for Mario Testino, best for fashion photographer in the world as a senior art director, which is a pretty insane role that took her all around the world and like you know, shooting the top designers and top models and she is as a result of complete miracle worker at making stuff look and feel amazing from an aesthetic point of view. She also has experience as a trend forecaster and she also worked for quite a while when she was like much younger in retail, which is really, really helpful um just like the interesting part of her background, I mean she really knows customers very well. Um she left Mario maybe I think probably three years ago and went freelance and then what did creative projects for brands as diverse as Chloe, top shop linda farrow, um like a real high low Mick and I think you know, I was talking to a lot in that period mostly at this music festival in France, but but about how she was getting pretty fed up with yeah with the industry and the level of waste and the lack of conversation around it and I think really questioning her role in it, she ended up as creative director for a beauty brand called Mina um took it from inception to um tons of global stores around the world and I think enjoyed that start of experience.
00:15:58Edit They wanted to repeat it in some way, but back in the fashion industry and kind of tackling the sustainability problem the same time. And so did you were just like, yeah, can you be my business partner, or we like, oh, we should work together, Like how did that conversation actually go and then how do you work out the things like the equity split and who does what, and all the nitty gritty of that, of what a partnership looks like in business. Yeah, all great questions. So I um yeah, so I approached that um in around April 2018, I just quit my job, I was gonna take four months out to travel with my family, I didn't come back and start the business, and I approached her and said, I'm really thinking hard about starting this business, you should do it with me. And she basically said, no, she's just like, no way. She's like, I don't, you know, I think, I think the logic was her, her freelance career was really taking off. She, you know, she's gone through that rocky road that all freelancers do, we have to build up your roster of clients, and she's got a really good place, was getting signed up to amazing work, had a regular team, she could pull in just felt really good about it, and then um so I threw in this idea and she was like no I don't think so.
00:17:01Edit Um I came up from four months traveling and tried again and she was like maybe I can help you out a little bit and we started working together on bits and pieces and then by january um as she describes it, she just this is all she was thinking about, this is taking all her brain space and she knew she had to be in amazing. That's so cool. And then when you guys started working together um so the split of labor between me and that has always been really obvious and that's been one of the real pleasures of partnering. Um We have completely different skill sets like to the point of hilarity sometimes. So my background is all business strategy analytics, data numbers, Excel like building financial models. Um yeah just anything where it's like number based data, data based and then that is entirely aesthetics and emotions and feelings and brand and marketing and yeah, how you put a sort of brand values into images which is just like to me it's like magic.
00:18:04Edit I have absolutely no idea how she does half the stuff that she does and I think face of earth to um and so yeah, it's been a real treat. I think we didn't realize when we started just how much of an asset that was gonna be that we were such different people. Um, it definitely comes to challenges because you do have to make sure that you understand each other. And so, you know, we have these like kind of funny meetings at the beginning where I would like walk through a financial model with her and she just sort of nod and smile a bit and let me, I don't have no idea what you're trying to tell me. Could you just get to the point? Um, and, and similarly, you know, I would, I would send her something I built are very, I built my first website myself on Shopify and I send it to her and she's super politely would be like, um, I think we just need to make a few changes and then basically we do the whole thing because it looked a total mess and I just, I I just couldn't see it visually. I don't see the same thing she does until she's done it. And then I realized it's so much better. Um, so yes, the division of labor has always been really clear. I think we overlap on a few things. So, um, sort of buying, which is probably the one where the mix between kind of aesthetics and trend forecasting and my data and analysis come together really nicely.
00:19:13Edit Um, and then obviously anything internal to anything to do with building our team and how we want to run the business. It's all joint, but otherwise it's kind of me on operations product that does everything aesthetic and the way that the brand looks and feels all of our image photography, which is amazing at. Um, and then, um, kind of liaising with our brands as well because she put some teeth. Um, and then we work together on anything internal, so team related and we work together just about on buying it or not is doing more of it these days. Um, but yeah, it's always felt really natural what the split is. And also, um, I think really helpful that we don't step on each other's toes. Very much kind of, we both have a lot of respect for each other's domains and what we're both good at. And so, um, I think that can be a source of tension in founders when their skills overlap a lot and mine and that sometimes we feel like they barely touch, let alone overlap. So it's been really useful in that sense. And I imagine from your past work, um, in that kind of investment space and seeing what the struggles were between founders, you would have been able to preempt and like dodge those bullets that, you know, other people experience.
00:20:21Edit Yeah, there are definitely some of my mind. So, you know, I knew I knew we needed to nail the equity split long before we got investors involved. Um, we have signed up to what we call like it's called like a founder's agreement, which basically like specifies certain things about the way we were going to work. We also had a chat really early on about company values and um you know, which ones were super aligned on where we might think differently about things. So we had a lot of those painful conversations really early. Um doesn't always, you know, doesn't mean there aren't complex later on, but it definitely felt like we'd um yeah, just aligned ourselves on some of the most critical stuff that otherwise can be super painful, which was really helpful. What kind of advice would you have for someone who maybe was like has just started a business or is wanting to start a business but doesn't know about kind of the side of the world that you're from and having that kind of mindset of what a profit and loss document is or a P and L document whatever we want to call it um or founder agreements and all that kind of stuff that you would inherently know to the core, but maybe other people maybe, maybe Natalie didn't know about all that stuff in the beginning.
00:21:28Edit What would your advice be for people who are in that boat of not knowing what that stuff is? Like where would they go to find that kind of information? Um how do they navigate that? Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, I think the good thing is you can find anything and everything these days. I guess my sources for a very kind of specific UK ones, but to get really specific the things I find useful. So we use a company called seed legals for all of our legal documents. Yeah. Yeah. They've just been pretty obsessed. Yeah, there there, you know, I think they paid £22 a month and we get access to loads of standardized documents that that every company needs and without any first and they explained them really well and they respond to any questions you have about edit, you want to make them. So you don't, you know, a lot of that was new to me as well about setting up a company. Um, and they've been there, they're a great source of help and they do do it. They do explain stuff in very like not legalese language on the business side. I mean there's a million places you can learn how to do a P and L.
00:22:31Edit But I do think nothing beats sitting down with somebody else who understands it and finding somebody to spare their time and go through it with you because um, you know, you can read 100 blocks but one back and forth session, we'll be better than any of those. We actually joined an accelerator. So we were on an accelerator from, when did it start? Maybe March last year for three months. And that was really useful for both me and that it was a really nicely designed accelerator where we kind of um, could pick and choose what stuff we got involved in and for both of us there were complete blind spots and either had ever done before. So, you know, I think for both of us we've never done a more analytical side of marketing for example. So we would join sessions that taught us a lot about, about what to focus on and what, you know, what you're trying to learn about the business earlier on, what you're trying to prove and um, yeah, that was massively helpful. I would, I would do that again, having said that it was an accelerator that didn't take any equity. So that was a particularly nice setup, but we did find it really useful just for filling in the gaps that acknowledge that neither of us had Yeah.
00:23:31Edit What was the accelerator called? Is it UK based? Obviously, yeah, it's UK based, it's run by a network of coworking spaces called Huckle Tree. Yeah, celebrate itself is called Yeah, Zoo and the alpha cohort last year, which was brilliant. And what was the process to get in just like an online application or did you know someone online application and then a pick Yeah, yeah. And then a pitch and they were specifically looking for teams that had at least one female founder in, um, which was great because we were also pitching whilst both pregnant. So we needed, we needed to have people who were like very cool with the fact that we were in our first year of trading and also both having babies. Um, and they didn't even blink. I don't think it was just like half of the course. That's amazing. I wanted to switch focus a little bit and talk about how you really put together your launch plan and what you did around your marketing in the beginning to get your initial first lot of customers that you got before you were doing your um, fundraising round and then kind of how that evolved with the money that I imagine you were also able to put into marketing and that kind of thing because obviously being just over a year in, it's a really nice kind of period to see that like initial scrambling marketing kind of thing and then that flourish into marketing with actual budget.
00:24:53Edit Yeah, definitely. So, so we've never had a launch and we still might have one at some point. We noticed that with a lot of, a lot of tech startups, I'll tell you that they started in a certain year and then you go and find their legal documents and they actually started like three years before and you know, they spent the three years figuring stuff out and then they launched looking all amazing. So, you know, um, stay tuned. We might launch in 2021 or something. Um, we, um, we had customers before we had absolutely anything else. I was, you know, it was, Um, really committed to, that's why I wanted to build the business, I wanted to start with the customers, I guess what you'd call the launch was the very first thing I did was just pretty much call up 10 of my friends and say I'm gonna buy you something nice off net a porter and you're gonna pay me some money, I'll give you the thing, you can keep it for a month and then you have to give it back to me like um that sounds weird but okay, I get to choose anything. Um So yeah, so we started with that and found the 1st 10 customers literally by doing that and then they kind of spread the word to other people once they got into it and um I'd say the 1st 50 customers, but all word of mouth just saying, oh my friends doing this thing and you should try it out to.
00:26:07Edit We then probably the next wave wave of customers came through instagram and we were lucky enough to be found by a few bloggers who wrote about us and they were particularly tapped into kind of sustainable world um in particular kind of sustainability, but people still love fashion. So they're desperately trying to square that circle of like, I love clothes but I want to live more sustainably and happily for free. These bloggers are just really nice and like the products I wrote about it wasn't a partnership. We did, we, we just got lucky. Um, and then since then, you know, marketing strategies evolved tons I think um, customer referrals and word of mouth is probably still the main way that we grow. Um which is great. Do you have a referral scheme built into the website? We do. It's laughably manual in the back end at the moment. It's still extremely scrappy and painful for us to do, but we do. So we, so yeah, we have an ongoing forever deal. Um, that gives both the referral and the referral discount if they bring new people in which works really well and we've had some people really run with it, you know, bring on 20 customers just themselves.
00:27:09Edit Um it's like one of the really nice things about fashion rental business is that the kind of the spark for a customer to welcome somebody else in is built into the product because our customers wear great clothes and then as always happens, somebody says, where'd you get that from? And then they say, well actually this funny thing, I've decided this thing called on loan and, and you know, we are new and it's a new service and it does take a bit of explanation. And so that moment between two women is really important and we just try and kind of amplify it as much as possible, wow and so on your in terms of performance marketing. Do you also do things like facebook cards, instagram ads, google doing all that kind of stuff as well. Yeah, we just since we started in january for the first time running facebook and instagram as we haven't done anything till then. Um We have now stopped them because of the coronavirus situation, which we'll probably talk about a bit. Um so it actually only ran for a couple of months. Um but we were we were learning lots about what works and what doesn't, you know, obviously finding the instagram is much better for us, given a kind of premium targeting and it being all about fashion.
00:28:17Edit Um finding, you know, finding our way around retargeting and like different content for different groups. So good to be completely honest. We were at the very beginning of the learning curve for that channel. Um and instead it's really been more about, yeah, customer referrals. Pr so we've been really again really fortunate with pr we have great connections and we've made, you know, made the most of those as much as possible. Um So we've had quite a lot of national press which has been a major for us. Um and then we were just about to start as well, a kind of offline strategy in real life um sort of like kind of like trunk shows, but glammed up trunk shows and we were just planning it all and ready to do the first one and then the lockdown hit and so we will pause that until later, but we're, you know, we're really confident that that you just need to get our collection of clothes in the same room as some women and be like, you only have to pay X amount and you get to borrow these for the month. And just the magic of that is really great. And so we definitely want to do more of that once once we're all allowed out again.
00:29:18Edit Yeah, absolutely. I experienced my first um like, I guess you could call it a trunk show experience of renting something and I couldn't actually find something that I wanted in my in my particular size. But I came across the one that's currently in Selfridges. And I was like, it's just such a great idea because I was looking for a wedding. I ended up having to buy a dress that of course I'm really going to wear it like once or twice. And I was so excited to be able to rent a dress. It didn't work out. But I was just so I loved it. I think it's such a great concept and there's so much room for all of that to grow because I feel like it hasn't really grown at all yet. It's really still at the beginning of what it could be. Um I was wondering if you have any challenges like in the beginning when rental services came online. I think I listened to a podcast with um the rent the runway founder And she was saying one of the challenges was getting brands on board with having rentals of their clothing. But I feel like it would have progressed much further that brands are, especially if they have a sustainable message um within themselves, they would be much more inclined to be involved in that.
00:30:23Edit But do you see any challenges there when you're speaking with the brands and trying to get them on board with It for everyone? Yeah, I mean, I think 10 years ago when the runways does, it must have been a lot tougher. We definitely had an easier job. But yeah, most so the 20 brands that we're working with and they're really amazing contemporary brands. They totally get why rentals awesome for their brand. You know, the big advantages of not only that we had just a great wholesale partners, like we turn up with a checkbook and we buy their product and that's already step one. Um but also we we are introducing them to a customer who probably hasn't tried them before and we track this. So we ask our customers whether they're trying a brand for the first time and more often than not they are. And so that's a customer who may be now or maybe in the future will be able to afford to buy these brands outright, but but has chosen not to now because it's the premium level. It's quite, it's a big commitment and so to have the ability to try it for a month and you know, feel the quality experience in their wardrobe, enjoy it. Um, you know, realize how great those clothes are just really valuable for requiring customers.
00:31:25Edit I feel like you've said everything and summed up everything that I personally feel and have thoughts like you've really tapped into the human behavior of, of all of this. That's good to hear. I mean, we, we, it's what we hear all the time. We thought that, you know, I thought that sustainability would be the biggest reason people would rent and it is a really big reason and it's very much a driver for the UK market in particular I think. But the biggest reason we're here is because people want to try out things and they want to do it without the commitment and it's that sort of, um, variety and sense of fun. Um, but without having to spend over money and committing to clubs that you don't know if your love forever. And that's what I rented is so great. Yeah, I think like for me as well, me and my husband, we've been traveling for the last two years and so we live somewhere for like 123 months depending on what visas we can get and we travel around. So I literally own one suitcase full of stuff. Then I have a tiny suitcase full of like my brand related things for like jewelry and so I actually just can't fit in on the stuff.
00:32:27Edit I don't buy clothes in that sense, but I always, I'm just such a clothes lover, I always want you close. Um and definitely like I'm always doing things with different brands and that kind of thing. And so for me, I just think see rental as such a, as a modern approach to being able to kind of express yourself through different things, but still not have this kind of lugging around all of the unnecessary clothing that you often end up hoarding. I feel um maybe you were at once or maybe it still has tags on it in your wardrobe and it's such a waste. Yeah, we all look like that totally. I mean for a lot of londoners, it's about wardrobe space. I mean water is a tiny, we just don't have root level of quotes we'd like to have access to. So it's uh, you know, then we have the whole marry condo trend and wanting to have less stuff. It's very much taps into it. It's just all part of this idea of just consuming and accumulating. Yeah, absolutely. And when you did your plans, like, how many times do you have to rent something out before that particular piece becomes profitable? Um, depending on the piece because we buy stuff that's the retail price is anywhere from about 1 50 to £400 sort of payback period for those items is different, which is why we have a mix of them.
00:33:39Edit Um it can be kind of anywhere from like three months to six months. Although yeah, there there are, there are a lot of factors that make into that. So the original price of the garment, but also how much it costs to care for the garment between rentals. We have got a lot smarter already over the last year about which governments are easy to care for and very low cost to careful. Um Which ones will last. You know, you have to build in the fact that some of these governments just aren't made to last multiple rentals. And again, we've learned a lot about which fabrics will be durable and which embellishments will work and which ones won't. Um so yeah, eventually I think we're armed with all that knowledge. We can buy into pieces that will just last a really long time. And um, you know, payback payback early because they're cheap to maintain but still be really fabulous and beautiful for the customer. We're just kind of edging towards that on all front. What if someone wants to buy the piece, can I just buy it as well? What if they get it? And they're like, yeah, I love this. It's the perfect fit. I don't want to send it back. We typically partner with our brand and if the if that item is still in season this season's item, then we will send the customer to the brand to buy retail and the brand are brands typically give them a discount to do that.
00:34:48Edit So they, the customer ends up with a brand new piece rather than one of our rented pieces and usually for for a discounted price. Um and the brand's really like it because we then get to demonstrate that we have created a customer for them and it also means that we get to hold on to our stock and get it out to more customers and kind of give it this long happy rental life that would like to um if it is a previous season piece, then we're far more likely to be okay with selling it ourselves. Um Although given we're so early in the life cycle of the business, we still don't do it very often. We just, you know, from a sustainability perspective and the reason we're building the business, we're not about encouraging people to buy stuff. So we have these funny conversations sometimes with customers, well, they say, well I'd like to buy it and we're like, but do you really, Yeah, Are you positive you want to buy it? And, and sometimes they're like, actually, you know what, I'm sure. Yeah, exactly, exactly. Um but they will often then rent it for another month. So we have customers who rent something for 23 months and that's still much better value than buying it and, you know, they realized actually, I wanted it for the summer because I was going on multiple holidays or whatever, but now I really am done with it and want to send it back and then we'll take it back and learn it to somebody else.
00:35:57Edit And with much rather that than um yeah, being a sort of sales site along the side of retail site, a rental site and we touched on just a few moments ago, but I want to talk about what's happening in the current kind of global news front crisis situation that we're all dealing with and how it's impacted your business and whether you've had to pivot or innovate to keep going and yeah, basically how it's impacted you. So yes, it massively affects us. I think um uh everybody is affected but our value proposition was in or is in giving customers great clothes to wear for work on the weekend and those customers are on mass now working from home and not leaving the house. It's like, it's almost it's kind of extraordinary how much our value proposition it's just like um been tampered with sort of sort of this or a nuclear apocalypse were like the only thing that could have gone wrong. I've, you know, I've always thought that our business is one that will do very well in a recession because I think we have um we become like the the best value way to access great clothes by a long way.
00:37:10Edit And so I've never been scared about that for the business, but this challenge was obviously just not something we foresaw and it's really tough on a rental company. Having said that we are, you know what, three weeks, three into lockdown in the UK. And so we're nearly at the end of a sort of a whole month cycle for our customers and we have a lot more customers continuing with renting, then we may be expected. Um and it's so fun to see. We have um yeah, we're doing a roaring trade in great tops for zoom meetings. Um We're also doing a tell you what's picked up in the last week is a roaring trade for just like really, really fancy out their dresses um which people tell us they're wearing to all the virtual birthday parties and engagement parties that they're going to, which I just love. Um and actually it's almost like a license to people to go for the wildest thing they can find just yesterday we sent out to um wrap leopard print dresses with like feathers around the cuffs. I saw that one. I love it.
00:38:12Edit Yes, it's amazing. I'm not even sure that it's very Carole Baskin. It's very power basket. So that might be part of the part of the drawer at the moment um is just being very mean worthy, definitely. Um but I just love this idea that people are sort of, you know, that they're already into week three of the lockdown and actually everyone's needs cheering up a bit and so renting something fantastic that really doesn't deserve a long term place in your wardrobe but would cheer you up for a period of time. Um Makes sense. And so so yeah so we still have customers, we still are sending out orders but it's definitely it's you know it's our business like everybody else. And so we've done what every other business is done which is um you know immediately look at every way that we can to conserve cash, cash being king of everything else. And you know uh ceo my number one priority is to make sure we have um the write cache strategy. And so we've cut all marketing spend. We are we we've we're not changing the team at all, we have no plans to um shift on that.
00:39:15Edit But we looked at every other line on the P. And L. Basically and gone through it being like do we need this for the next month? Yeah so that's cash. And then you know our focus has shifted. So we were all about growth and inviting new people into the business and I think now we're much more about engaging with our existing customers in a way that's nurturing. Yeah exactly. You know everyone just needs a bit of love um you know we're not pushing products in any way because it just seems gross right now. Um Yeah just sharing what we're up to being a lot more sort of on the front line as people, you know, trying to introduce ourselves into the business a bit more because I think everyone just wants human to human contact. Um and then aside from all of that, on the content side were also just working on our product. So the funny thing about all of it is it's really, really hard as a business owner and in the, you know, when I first realized how bad it was going to be for everybody, there were some tears. Um but actually, you know, when when we sort of step back and have a look at the situation, we've been given really something quite special, which is this opportunity to work on our product without having to worry about customer growth.
00:40:17Edit And there's not really many circumstances where you get to do that, you know, we've been in business for over a year, we have so much stuff that we know customers want, we never have time to build it all because we're desperately trying to grow and look after customers, and we've been given this moment to kind of pause and do all the stuff on that long list of things that never gets done. The stuff that's always on the back burner off. Yeah, exactly. It's like everyone has that list right, where it's like we would love to get to this, but I don't get past, you know, just looking after customers today. Um and we can finally get to that list, so in a way it feels like there are some silver linings to the, the impact on the business. You know, obviously the sort of the crisis is a globally and socially and economically is a complete catastrophe when you look at it on a business level, um as long as we have enough cash to outlast it, which I think we do then, um then there are some silver linings because we get to do that list of things we wouldn't do otherwise. Yeah, I really, I've enjoyed seeing brands kind of innovate during this time and I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, she owns an Active where and also sustainable Space and Activewear label and she was talking about all the nice things that they've been able to bring to life in terms of a wellness calendar and live meditations and live yoga classes with their like the studios that they're connected to, and we were talking about how beautiful it's been for her to bring the DNA of the brand to life so that people can really feel what their community is about and the way that they kind of they knew it was, but now it's like super extreme.
00:41:48Edit And I could tell it by looking at the way that they were kind of like scaling things up online and digital and how just amazing it all was and I think that a lot of brands have this nice opportunity now to be like, yeah, this is who we are and this is what we're about rather than taking that backseat approach and it's been so nice to watch. Yeah, I totally agree. I mean we introduced a new type of email called the Loner digest, which goes out on a sunday and just like pulls together all of our recommendations with the team for the week and you know, it's a mix of like the users or podcasts and books and things, but then things like where to buy your best CBD oil in London. Um, just all sorts of stuff that has become, you know, part of our lives over the last few weeks. And it's really nice to put that out there. There's very little product on that email is not about product, it's just about, this is our world, we're trying to build and you know, you're invited in and yeah, it feels really good. It's a lovely moment just to pause and do something a bit different. Um, and then for every business, the key is just how long it lasts. So, you know, A few months is fine. If it's, if it's 18 months of serial lockdowns, then everybody's gonna have to rethink everything.
00:42:52Edit But that's okay too. Um, the other thing about coronavirus for us though is it's having this massive, massive impact on the fashion industry. So many businesses have not only shut now, their retail stores, but also their online operations in the fashion industry, that it's going to have this huge knock on effect on the whole supply chain. Um and it's really interesting from a customer perspective, because people really aren't buying very much at all. You know, I was reading an article in court this morning where they had a lovely or just powerful quote from a chinese consumer who said the virus has suppressed my passion for shopping and we are going to end up with this whole season, if you like, where loads of customers have not bought any new clothes and I'm super optimistic that people will get to the end of that season and look back and be like, oh I saved a lot of money. Yeah, exactly, it saved a lot of money, I've got no extra stuff in my wardrobe, I've got, I'm gonna wear last year's summer clothes for the last few weeks of summer, whatever it is. Um And we'll just be a really interesting moment of us all sort of being forced into this lower consumption model by nature of where we are in supply chains being disrupted and I think will encourage a lot of us to just pause and say, well actually, maybe I prefer this lower consumption model, maybe this suits me better bet of my finances.
00:44:04Edit Um but it's, you know, better for my how tidy my houses, but also better for my mental health. Um you know, it's being forced upon us. Um and that could have quite a long lasting impact I think yeah, I'm also wondering what the impact will be on things like fashion week because obviously fashion weeks are gonna be canceled, this kind of thing. But I was talking to a friend of mine, I was in paris during Fashion week and we were discussing, you know, fashion week starting to change, it feels like it hasn't really innovated. And then I started seeing some influences before Corona hit talking about how I can't remember who it was, but it was one of the big influences. She was having a conversation on her instagram about how she was a bit tired of Fashion week, she was, she'd been doing the circuit for 10 years, it's like a long time of travel, it's exhausting. And she was talking also, she's disappointed that brands hadn't kind of evolved and it's really the same thing, same thing, same thing on repeat. And then I was talking to my girlfriend about it and we were saying like how long does fashion week continue in the, in the way that it is continuing these huge extravagant events that are so wasteful, encourages like a ridiculous amount of travel um for everyone around the world congregating on these cities, like, and now with this happening and the next probably for the rest of the year, the next to like the june resort season and september seasons will probably not happen I imagine and it will be interesting to see if a it forces someone to come in with big pockets and innovate and do something crazy maybe digitally completely and like over through the whole thing or, or if it will go back to normal next year, I'm really interested to see what the impact is there.
00:45:36Edit Yeah, I feel like we're at the moment in the peak of that feeling of disruption, like everything's been thrown up in the air and we don't yet know whether when it falls down it will look a little bit different or completely different. And at the moment all we consensus that feeling that it's all been thrown up in the air and it's just like very hard to predict how much will we settle where it was. Um We've had, you know, we've been speaking closely to all of our brand partners. And one thing that struck me as they are all assessing their um uh september orders, so their autumn winter orders and they are pre empting a lot of their wholesale partners and not being able to take on the order that they thought they would. So they're trying to avoid cancelations. They're sort of thinking about that in advance and working with the suppliers to see which haven't gone into production yet, it might be canceled, etcetera. And we've had word from quite a few of them that they are reverting to um styles, twists on styles that they've done before, that we're really well loved the first time that are easy, easier for their supplier to put together? Um sort of reverting back to old season. Classic. To me, it's just this hint at a sort of new way of thinking about newness, like in season and hype and trend, that's going to get blown apart maybe because actually you have brands that will bring that older styles realizing that they were great and they're still great or you have brands that really hone in on a particular shape, but deliver it in different fabrics every season, you'll have less of that kind of, here's a whole new collection that I created from scratch because it just won't, it just won't fit into the calendar, just won't feel right anymore.
00:47:01Edit And obviously from a rental business perspective, we're delighted about that because our whole philosophy is great clothes are great clothes, it's not about whether they're this latest season or not, you can enjoy them for a really long period of time provided they're looked after properly. Um, but it's going to be so interesting to kind of yeah, see the brand is being forced to accelerate some of that thinking as well. Yeah, absolutely. It's going to be very interesting to watch what happens next. So usually at the end of every episode I ask every woman who kind of a quick fire round of questions, There's six of them. Um you've probably seen or heard them on my instagram or the podcast already. Um so what's your why? Why? Why? So I am here to build a business that gives women away to enjoy great clothes whilst also consuming less and and I want to do that as part of a even bigger conversation about humanity and how we all need to consume less but hopefully can do it in exciting and innovative ways that are still full of joy. I think it was, I said this is quick five but then I always have some comments in, I think it was you that actually said before we started recording how you also want to make sure that when your Children grow up they are able to be like yeah I can see that you made a difference and that you were working towards something and I think that is really important and it's something that my husband and I talk a lot about, we recently stopped, well not recently it was probably lost july that we stopped eating meat because we were like okay we travel a lot and we do a lot of things so if there's just one aspect that we can start making a difference in our footprint, what can it be and it just so happened to be stopping eating meat and but we were also in that same thought process of when we bring other little humans into this world, we don't want them to look back and be like oh you guys were shipped like you did nothing.
00:48:46Edit Yeah, totally. I mean yeah, I already get side I for my Children only gonna get worse. It's definitely true. I am yeah my boyfriend is vegan were pretty vegan at home. I haven't quite made it there yet but my excuse is I had to go to babies which I just don't have the, the nutritional knowledge to be vegan and great babies. But yeah, we are also very much trying to make choices that make sense for the future and that we that we will be able to look our kids in the iron say yeah, these are the choices that we made definitely. Yeah number two is what's the number one strategy that made your business pop And this can be sort of like the examples that I've given in the past was um I saw an interview with this woman and she was talking about how she got a piece of press in. It was about the company was dame sex toys and she was talking about a piece of content that was written about the brand in the new york times and basically she said that didn't really drive any traffic at all. But at the time she boosted it on facebook and she's like we got more sales in that day than we did in like a month because people saw the association and it just, it was before facebook like didn't ban things like that.
00:49:48Edit Um And so that's the example that I usually give of just something random that sparked like a ton of new sort of eyeballs on your, on your company. Yeah, sure. I mean, so that there is one, one week, that's the week that I have to pick, but it was a kind of combination of factors. So end of november last year, myself and my co founder, we're both back in the business full time having, you know, both left to have babies and come back. We were kind of in the swing of things. Finally getting in our groove again of getting a lot of stuff done, had a team of three with us who are also fairly new, but getting in the groove and then, um, we'd also taken delivery of our first autumn winter order, which we obviously placed orders for six months before the fashion calendar. And so it's our first set of stock in the building that we really believed in and had sort of, you know, purposely got behind. So it felt like a lot of things were in place, but we weren't, we weren't spending really any money on marketing and didn't have the capacity to make much noise and then Dolly Alderton, who's the Sunday Times journalist and the um, host of the high low podcast mentioned us on the high low and we knew it was going to happen because now it knows dolly a bit um, kind of felt a little bit prepared for it, but we had absolutely no idea what was about to hit.
00:50:59Edit So I remember walking in that morning being like, guys, it's dolly day and then um within seconds our website was basically on fire and we doubled the size of the business in two weeks and none of us really slapped for those two weeks, we didn't have any clothes left really, by the end of those two weeks, I was desperately trying to call in extra clothes from all the brands. Um it was completely bonkers, but really wonderful and just a, just a really great experience to go through as a team, such a bonding experience and also just really exciting to know what that level of growth feels like and you know, we obviously want to create a lot more moments like that and felt like a real reward for what had been obviously a tough year, first year of business to babies. It was, we were just back in it thinking we could really do with like a little boost and then this major boost came along and exploded everything and yeah, it was great. Oh, that's such a wonderful nifty little piece of coverage that wow, we, it was, yeah, it was very kind of uh Uh number three is what, where do you hang out to get smarter can be anything.
00:52:02Edit Yeah, so I think my, my go to, so I read um a lot of stuff online and I think a few spring to mind. So I read a newsletter called fenn Street. Really great worth checking out and they call it a lot of really interesting articles about all about women in business and tech startups in particular. Either by women or about like the female experience in this industry. Um just really always super intelligent curation. And then the other one I love is the first round capital blog. So first round like a super successful seed stage venture capital firm in the U. S. And they have a blog where they invite uh experts from tech industry to um or startup to write blogs and I really like it for two reasons. One, they're very, they're really good mix of strategic and practical. So I always read a blog and I actually have something I'm gonna go do differently as a result of reading the blog, but to actually be a really diverse range of voices.
00:53:03Edit So I find the sort of um how to run a startup vibe is very male heavy, which is why I love your podcast so much. The first round Capital blog is a really good mix with a lot of female voices in it, like very senior, very experienced women telling it how it is. So it's really good, Really cool. Have you heard of the glean lux? Yes, yes, really good as well. I like that for like little snappy emails daily. I'm not in the slack channel yet, but I've put my request in. I'm like super keen to get into the fly, can see see who else is in there. Nice. Hopefully see you in there at some point. Yeah, I'm also a fan. It's good. Oh jolly good. Uh number four is, how do you win the day and that's around your AM PM rituals that keep you kind of productive and successful and happy. Um yeah, this question is quite funny because my, currently my baby wakes up at 5 45 and my toddler goes to better eight. So between 5 45 and eight, if I am at home then whatever they are doing is ruling what I am doing. So the, yeah, I would have some sort of ritual in addition to that is quite funny.
00:54:06Edit Um so I um yeah, I really enjoy topping and tailing my day hanging out with them and I actually, I always, you know, people ask a lot about running a business with two such small kids. Um but I feel like what it's really, really useful for is giving me that break from the business startups are all consuming and all encompassing and actually I have a completely forced everyday way to break out of that and think about something else and because Children are the same right there, they're exactly the same startup and Children all encompassing, all consuming totally, but if they were going to have a fight, like the Children would win. So like two times a day. I don't have any choice but to turn off my phone for a bit and do bath time or do you know, do story time, whatever it is. And um, I actually think for mental health, that's, it's just a really nice switch to flick and just use a totally different part of my brain. Let's get and question number five is, if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it?
00:55:08Edit And that's kind of like wanting to sort of suss out what the most important revenue driver is in your business or the most important resource that you have. Yeah, I mean I'm just saying that I've got some clothes and I've got a team because otherwise otherwise I need advice and clothes just to be able to lend smell or um, but yeah, with those, you know, if it was today as we are now and I had £1000 left, I would use that money to give three month subscriptions, 200 or so. Um really awesome people, not necessarily kind of, um, solely instagram style influences, but just like impressive people in their field who are looked up to who have a busy eventful social life who will talk about the clothes when they're wearing them and I would get them wearing our codes. I'd also get them doing a three month subscription, not just a one month one off because we find that by month three, we've really built that habit of people renting rather than buying. Um and they start to really become evangelists for the, for the change that they've made.
00:56:11Edit Um, so yeah, I would just get that going with as many people as I could afford to with £2,000 and hope that that spread the word Amazing and question # six is how do you deal with failure? And that can either be a specific example or just generally your general approach, your mindset. Um, so I'm like inherently a very, very positive person. My parents say I was born that way, just sort of arrived with a deep seated, um deep seated view that everything was gonna be fine. I don't know if it's having two older brothers or what, but I just, yeah, I always think it's all gonna be okay in the end. It's very useful right now given the current climate. Um, so yes, when, when I fail or when failures happen, I tend to have a super positive spin on them. Um I think I've also learned over time to kind of pause and almost have a less positive spin on them. I think for a while, I was almost too positive, like glossing over them, like move straight on everything's great, doesn't matter, like almost slightly delusional, whereas I think I've learned more now to stop and you know, I know that I'm, I'm eventually just going to right off to something positive and like spin this, it's like, oh it's great, you know, it's meant to happen, this happened instead, but I now do a bit better than I used to also stopping and trying to learn what went wrong and why.
00:57:30Edit Um but I have taken some practice because my natural, my natural reaction to failure is like, was it really a failure or was it something great in disguise? What's the silver lining? Yeah, exactly, exactly. I think it's still a pretty good attitude to have though, it's really useful for potential happiness, it's not always most conducive to learning and I'll tell you what it's not good for is sympathizing with friends when they just want to hear you say no, no, I don't want to hear the solution yet or why it was great. I just wanted to agree with me that it was terrible and that we failed and and I've got better at doing that over time. Yeah. And last question I just wanted to ask you was if you had any advice for any other women out there who are wanting to launch a startup and maybe wanting to go through the the joy of raising money and finding a co founder and all that kind of thing. Um words of wisdom, Words of wisdom definitely do it, don't not do it. Um you know, if you're scared of it, try and work out what you're really scared of and um really hone in on that and you'll probably realize it's not that scary.
00:58:35Edit Um I think building a great network, you know, other female founders is really important, I think, um yeah, spinning failures as positives, it's also really important because they are going to be them every day. Um, and, and then also just checking kind of your reasons why you really want to do it. I think I have a really strong reason why I want to do this business and so every day where I think I'm exhausted or you know, it's just too hard or whatever is happening has gone all wrong. I find it usually I've got some reserves to overcome that and keep going because I have a really strong reason for wanting to do it. Um but yeah, other than that, just go for it and everyone is figuring out as they go along. That's probably another piece of advice. Don't you see if anyone knows what they're doing because nobody does great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Where can people find you on the internet? Yeah, so we're um W W W dot online dot co dot dot com dot co and likewise on instagram, we're online dot com.
00:59:41Edit I think we're on twitter and linkedin, but basically find us on instagram and then go check out the website. Cool, thank you so much. I really think it's lovely to talk to you.