The world is full of beautiful clothes — sitting in closets, going unworn. In fact, according to Tulerie Co-founders Merri Smith, COO, and Violet Gross, CEO, about 70 percent of clothes in the typical woman’s closet languishes there on a hanger after being worn only one time.
The reasons why, Smith and Gross told Karen Webster, vary. Sometimes, the outfit was bought for a special occasions and the owner doesn’t have anywhere else to wear it. Owners also change sizes — up or down — over time and things don’t fit any longer. Other times, they noted, people make impulsive fashion choices because they fall in love with a piece without any real regard as to where exactly there are going to wear it. Webster admitted to being guilty as charged after purchasing a full-length, black-leather Valentino cape — which she loved at the time while in the store, but now keeps it in the closet waiting for the perfect occasion to wear such an item.
“Eventually,” Gross said, “the user gives it away or sells it.”
There are many shopping marketplaces on the web that will let them do just that — The RealReal and Tradesy, just to mention two. However, for many underutilized-clothing owners, that is a sub-ideal solution to the problem. They actually want to hold on to the item because “you never know,” Smith noted, as the perfect opportunity to rewear the killer (if somewhat impractical) high-end fashion piece may rise again.
As of this week, after nearly two years of beta testing, Smith and Gross have officially launched Tulerie, a platform that connects the owners of designer and/or premium women’s wear with those who want to rent those clothing items as short-term borrowers.
How It Works
The way it works: An owner will list an item on the platform and the potential renter decides on a price for which they would like to rent it. Tulerie suggests the rental price to be about 5 precent of the retail cost for a four-day rental (the typical rental terms), but both Smith and Gross told Webster that some of this falls under the discretion of the lister, who has to consider how old the item is and the state of its condition.
Rental terms on the platform vary as well, they noted, with borrowers able to rent items for 10 or 20 days, in addition to the popular four-day rental, depending on their actual need.
“We have seen that some customers are looking for a special occasion outfit and are looking for a very short-term rental. Others are looking to maybe mix a statement piece or two into their fashion lineup for the month,” Gross said.
Tulerie provides the shipping and return labels so the clothing owners can more efficiently send their items out, using packaging that they probably already own — one of the many Amazon boxes that are likely to be readily available, Gross told Webster. Once the borrower has received their item, it is up to them to report any damages, if any, directly to the owner through the Tulerie platform. Dry cleaning, she noted, falls on the lender because, by and large, that is how they prefer it.
“Our users have a relationship with their dry cleaner. They definitely want full control of that process,” Gross added.
Bringing In Both Sides Of The Platform
The challenge of getting any platform off the ground is familiar to any entrepreneur that has ever set out to recruit two different parties to a platform, both founders noted. The first challenge that had to be cracked was bringing in those with clothes to lend — and bringing them around to the idea that perhaps renting their clothes out might be a more profitable way to deal with high-end items that haven’t been worn that much.
“What we have seen coming out of beta is that a good number of our users are putting things up on our platform to subsidize future purchases. We know that women are actually interested in getting a return on what they already own, and so this is an education process. We can say, instead of sending this straight to The RealReal, why not loan it out a few times and make maybe twice the money you would [have by] just selling it off,” Smith said.
Smith also noted that because they have included a messaging feature within the app, it is much easier for lenders and borrowers to interact directly. That increases comfort in the process — it feels much less intimidating than simply lending a pricey item to a complete stranger — and helps to make sure customers understand, in depth, what they are getting in terms of fit and look, long before it ever arrives.
Bringing in customers to actually rent these items is critical, Smith added. Part of that is about inventory and making sure the items exist in enough diversity, both in terms of size and style, to meet the needs of a growing base, but also in terms of value. On high-end consignment sites, customers might spend 60 percent, or even 80 percent, on some discounted items. However, the Tulerie founders noted, if an item started at $5,000, even the extremely discounted price is going to be well out of reach for an average consumer.
“We can offer customers a chance to wear something that they will actually love, at a price point that is manageable, and offer borrowers a much better life for items that are going unused,” said Smith.
The Sharing World
A decade ago, Smith noted, consignment shops as a concept were still something that might attract a bit of a side-eye, particularly among designer and high-end shoppers. The idea of renting out one’s wardrobe would have seemed a bit outrageous to many people, even 10 years ago.
Times have changed, though, and as the sharing economy has come to include things as personal as renting out one’s home, online high-end consignments have become a lucrative mainstream endeavor. The market now seems ripe for a service like Tulerie's.
“This is just falling in line with the direction that the world is really moving in,” the co-founders said.
Smith and Gross noted that where they are today is just the start. In the next few months, they will be thinking about how they can develop and enhance the platform more. Among the first improvements they are looking to make is the addition of rent-to-buy as an option, which is for when customers fall in love with an item they have temporarily and want to give it a permanent home.
“We think that an owner who gets an offer, who [is maybe] on the fence about it, we think they might be likely to let it go for a price,” Gross said.
As for their bigger vision, Smith said they believe they can open up designer fashion to be a more inclusive world, simply by offering an entirely new customer base access to labels that, heretofore, just weren’t an option. The average consumers might buy a statement piece or two, she noted, but a wardrobe full of owned designer items is unrealistic. However, a wardrobe that includes a series of designer clothes — through the power of the sharing economy — is realistic, and is a reality that Tulerie wants to help build.
“We kind of feel that it breathes new life into these brands that have been around forever, that are hardly attainable for most. And it allows a new generation of users to wear them in their own fun way — and breathe new life back in,” Smith concluded.