A Hire Purpose

Applying the sharing economy model to the fashion market, STMNT wants you to forget about owning your clothes

Photo: Madison and Jenessa Olson

HOW DOES JAMES Bond do it?

No, not jumping from planes, trains and automobiles, suffering nary a scratch. Not escaping his enemy’s lair seconds before it is destroyed by a cascading series of explosions. And not even convincing women everywhere to sleep with him, despite the dangerous repercussions they will face.

The real mystery is how he shows up without any notice in Monte Carlo or Venice or Shanghai wearing a perfectly pressed tuxedo. He doesn’t have a carry-on, and he ­certainly doesn’t check any luggage. Perhaps Q sends his suits ahead of him. Or perhaps he rents.

There is a growing list of items we can rent, rather than buy, today. Sometimes it’s merely for convenience. Sometimes it’s to reduce waste and give the environment a break. Sometimes, it’s to save money.

Students rent textbooks—physical books or e-books—rather than buying. Photographers rent camera lenses for special occasions. Some funeral homes rent caskets for the public ceremony, lowering costs by using a ­simple wooden box for burial. On a happier note, people rent potted Christmas trees that go back to the tree farm in January.

Jenessa and Madison Olson dream of a world in which you don’t have to be James Bond to have access to ­fashionable clothing on last-minute trips to unfamiliar destinations. They dream of a world in which women do not spend $500 or more on a dress for a single event, only to hang it up in plastic at the back of the closet. They dream of a world where fashion is not connected to ­sweatshops in developing countries, damaging people and the environment as a matter of course.

The sisters’ dream has started in London, with a company they created last year, “Airbnb for your closet,” Jenessa, 28, says, capturing precisely what STMNT (that’s STATEMENT minus the vowels) is all about.

For now, 007 is out of luck because the company focuses entirely on women’s fashion. But that could change one day. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries about men’s clothing,” says Madison, 25.

The growth area is working with independent boutiques that want to expand into rentals without setting up a new infrastructure to do it. Why buy a dress for a one-time wedding or 25th reunion if you can rent one for a fraction of the cost and then return it, minus any keep-the-tag-on return subterfuge and guilt?

Even in the eight months since they launched their concept, it has changed significantly. Originally, it was aimed exclusively at women with a closet full of clothes interested in renting out a few pieces from time to time. Post a few pictures of your Joseph Ribkoff gown or Frank Lyman pant suit and pocket $50. Following the Airbnb and Uber model, the financials are handled by STMNT, and both parties get what they need. Those kinds of transactions still occur, with verified exchange points to ensure safety. But they are a minority of what STMNT has become.

The growth area is working with independent ­boutiques that want to expand into rentals without setting up a new infrastructure to do it. Why buy a dress for a one-time wedding or 25th reunion if you can rent one for a fraction of the cost and then return it, minus any keep-the-tag-on return subterfuge and guilt?

“It’s been wonderful for us,” says Devon Gormley, ­assistant manager at Nicholas & Elizabeth Bridal. “We’ve never done this before. We started about three months ago. They set everything up, and we’ve been really busy, honestly crazy.”

In addition to Nicholas & Elizabeth, Filthy Rebena Vintage and Elizabeth Noel have also signed up in London. A fourth retailer was imminent in late June but not nailed down to be announced. The first Toronto participant is the bridal shop LoversLand. STMNT will only sign up independent boutiques with lots of specialty inventory that can be offered for rent. The sisters also make sure boutiques have a reasonable amount of exclusivity in a given marketplace.

And each retailer decides what to offer as part of the program. “Obviously, we don’t make everything available for rent,” says Gormley. “But the last few of something or a one-of-a-kind dress. So far, we’ve found it can be someone who doesn’t have time to order something for a special occasion.”

Nicholas & Elizabeth offers a limited alteration service – a simple hem that can be reversed easily, for example.

Whether the provider is an individual or ­boutique, the exchange is similar. The garment goes into a STMNT branded bag. That makes it easy if the two parties are meeting in a restaurant or office lobby and don’t know each other ahead of time.

In the same way drivers for various food delivery services just grab the delivery bag at a restaurant, STMNT customers can just pick up their garment, hassle-free. Payment takes place on the STMNT platform, making it as simple as possible for everyone involved. And the company insures garments so any repairs or special cleaning are covered. Its damage rate is a paltry two per cent to date, suggesting renters take better care of borrowed clothes than they might their own.

“Setting it all up was a lot of work,” says Madison, who looks after the tech side of the business. “The payments are all automated. It works smoothly and simply because we spent almost a year building the infrastructure to make that happen. We started in January, 2018, and went to market in November.”

For all the work they did behind the scenes to smooth out the process, there were still plenty of stumbles. The website was not yet meeting their wishes as of July 1, and after a lot of work to create an app, they decided not to release it. “We have an app. It’s on my phone. It’s on Madison’s phone. But we met with a mentor who suggested we build the business, build the infrastructure more before launching an app,” Jenessa says. “So, we’re waiting to do that, but we’ll get there. That’s the plan eventually. We think of this as a software play, technology connecting people with fashion.”

For now, the website functions well and allows customers to search for garments, make appointments and pay seamlessly.

STMNT suggests retailers charge 25 to 35 per cent of the retail price to rent a garment. “It can certainly be lower,” Madison says. “That’s just our suggestion.”

The boutique keeps 60 per cent of the money; STMNT gets the rest.

“It’s been wonderful for us. We’ve never done this before. We started about three months ago. They set everything up, and we’ve been really busy, honestly crazy” —Devon Gormley, Nicholas & Elizabeth Bridal

The sisters work together for much of the week, relying on a few volunteers who give 5 or 10 hours per week. The work dynamic may change somewhat in the coming months. Jenessa just moved to Burlington and will work from there, although she spends a lot of time in London as well. It’s easy to foresee a time when she looks after the GTA while Madison focuses on Southwestern Ontario.

Both graduated from Western having studied business; both have worked and travelled. Jenessa worked in the oil and gas industry in Alberta for nearly two years. Madison studied leadership and management for three years at a Christian college in Sydney, Australia. Her time there inspired her to create SHINECanada, a charity that runs programs to help girls and young women recognize their individuality and worth.

Their older sister, Brittany, is a hair stylist in Los Angeles and is not involved in the business. “She’s very chill and relaxed,” Jenessa says, smiling. “I’m more of an A-type and Madison is somewhere in the middle.”

Their early success is exciting but doesn’t nearly match their dreams. When they let their imagination go, they see a scenario in which someone travelling to Europe packs only a few essentials and spends the flight on her phone picking clothes along her route, matching her choices with the social or business events she’s attending.

“Imagine you check into a hotel in Barcelona,” Jenessa says. “You see the STMNT logo in the hotel so you know you can rent clothes right there. Or you have them delivered to your hotel. Maybe you want a dress for one special evening in Paris. Instead of packing it and hauling it ­everywhere with you for two weeks, you order it ahead and have it there when you need it.”

They see the same opportunity for men’s clothing. It’s on their very long to-do list.

As more and more people get used to the Airbnb-ization of services, is it possible there will be a paradigm shift in the way we think about clothes? As people downsize into homes with smaller closets, will they want to own clothing for every occasion, especially RSVP events that happen infrequently? Could people’s relationship with clothing change? It’s a lot to imagine. Luckily STMNT does not require such a wholesale change in attitudes to succeed.

But if it happens, if the next generation follows through on its quixotic determination to respect the environment and live differently as a result, then renting could be the new black.

James Bond will have to change a lot of other attitudes to be a thoroughly modern man. But he will always be able to find a perfectly tailored tuxedo when he needs it. Christopher Clark

 

To read more about STMNT, visit Christopher Clark’s blog at www.christopherclarkwriter.com/blog

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