I know many of us out there, myself included, have scrambled to find the perfect outfit for a party, date, job interview, etc. Truth be told, I am no stranger to undergoing the stress of not being able to figure out the right piece or find the right item to complete my outfit for any given event.
As a recent college graduate, I also know there are a lot of women out there who only wear a dress once. Sometimes for the fear of people have already seen you wear the outfit to another event, or for the reason you or someone else, have previously posted a photo on social media of yourself wearing the outfit or item. It’s sad I know, but it is a reality on college campuses.
I’m also confident that this consumer behavior isn’t restricted to university or college campuses but is a part of a larger trend amongst women in response to living in the age of social media, as well a reaction to the rapid turnover cycles that characterize the fashion industry today — what is termed as, ‘fast fashion.’
Now think about this for a concept. What if you could rent out and share your clothes to your peers on a college campus? This is the service Dressmate provides to women in colleges across the nation.
We spoke to Dressmate founder, Jennifer Simons, on her vision for Dressmate; what motivated her to create the business, what challenges she has encountered since starting it, the importance of community-building and reducing one’s environmental footprint. Of course, she also shares what advice she has for young entrepreneurs and finally, her plans for the future.
When speaking to Simons about Dressmate, what became apparent is that Simons truly understands and relates to how fashion is highly individualized and is an expression of one’s identity. As she states,
“Clothing is a physical representation of who we are, and it should feel personal.”
The concept of sharing your closet with a potential stranger may seem a little odd at first. But if you think about it, this person may not even be a stranger, but a face you have seen around campus, someone in your class and perhaps, you just do not know them on a first-name basis.
And if they are a stranger to you on campus, in all likelihood, they have shared the same worry of not having the party dress, jumpsuit, denim jacket, black blazer, pleated skirt or printed pants, they often want at their immediate disposal. And possibly, these items are buried in your dresser or are hanging on your closet rack just waiting to be worn.
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When asking Simons how Dressmate came to be, she recalls that she first had the idea at the end of her sophomore year in 2016. She recounts having ordered a dress online for an event that took a week to be delivered and surpassed its two day expected time of arrival. With the dress having not been delivered by the day of the event, Simons’ options were limited and her 5’10” stature made the prospect of borrowing from her friends, all of whom were much shorter, to be a challenge.
She relayed that during her walk to class that day, she couldn’t help but notice the girls of a similar size to her passing her by,
“I kept noticing other tall girls who I didn’t know, but theoretically could borrow from. That thought nagged at me, and I realized that everyone has a closet and the majority of it remains unused. In an effort to solve the problem, my roommate at the time suggested “a social media for your clothes,” and that eventually became what Dressmate is today: a peer-to-peer clothing rental marketplace for college women.”
So there you have it.
In the following year, Simons transposed her business idea to the platform of Facebook and then curated the transactions through a Venmo account. In the months after, Simons attended a SummerHoyas Startup launch program and later hired her development team. She launched beta at her college Georgetown University in the months preceding her graduation in 2018.
One of her biggest tests came when she tested her business in a corporate setting at the Glossier HQ with employees. With a 25% conversion rate during that trial run, she realized she had a viable product even outside of the college space.
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Still, her focus remains at the university level as she plans to scale to over 100 campuses before she moves into other communities like offices and cities. Since then, she’s worked with Xessentials Accelerator and is currently at Monarq Incubator where she receives support from other female founders.
In talking to Kulture Hub, Simons expressed how she wants Dressmate to allow women to have the closet they have always wanted but may not necessarily have complete access to. It is for this reason she wants readers to know saying,
“Invest in things, get rid of what you don’t want, and give those items a chance with someone else who can love it. For those items that you do keep in your closet, rent them out to get the most use out of them, and wear them well.”
In this way, women on campus are not only simply sharing their wardrobe but they are also building relationships and a community. As Simons says,
“Dressmate leverages communities and meets women where they are – in their closets, in their neighborhoods, and in their communities. We help women get the most out of their closets by creating a friendlier and more accessible world of clothing.
In other words, Dressmate offers a much simpler supply trajectory and by doing so, builds relationships between individuals that may not have formulated by themselves. Simons notes,
“Think about your college or your workplace, do you/did you know everyone extremely well? Probably not. Dressmate offers communities the possibility to more intimately get acquainted with one another.”
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She continued by emphasizing the overall transaction as a win-win scenario.
“On your end, you get to wear what you were looking for for a fraction of the price without having to commit to buying it and keeping it in your closet. On the owners’ end, she makes money off an item that was a sunk cost to her and just sitting in her closet. From a larger perspective, both parties are discouraging the buy-it-wear-it-once model and hopefully, it was fun for both of them.”
While there are positive outcomes for both individuals involved in the transaction, if you zoom out for a second and see the whole picture, you realize that the impact is larger than one may initially think. By making changes to our consumer practices and behaviors on a localized level, such behaviors are significantly beneficial to the environment.
Dressmates’ business model pushes against fast fashion, in which major companies offer huge sales, often with prices so low that we as consumers often don’t even think twice about the items we throw away and what the ramifications of such behavior are.
Fast fashion has blurred the clear line between the seasons of summer/autumn and winter/spring, instead insisting that in order for us as consumers to keep up to date with the latest fashion trends we must continue to buy before the turnover begins and prices rise again. In short, it has produced a detrimental culture of rampant consumerism and wastage.
Indeed, Dressmate was catalyzed by Simons’ desire to break down the wear-it-once model and in turn, adhere to a retail model that is committed to reducing excess clothing consumption.
One of the many things that make Dressmate an admirable business is that it is conscious of the way in which Gen-Z often has limited knowledge and a lack of awareness of the realities that characterize the retail supply chain. In talking to Kulture Hub, Simons expressed,
“I want Dressmate to educate millennials and Gen-Z girls on the damaging effects of fast fashion and point them to alternative options, whether that be renting through our platform or shopping at brands that hold sustainability close to their hearts.”
This didactic agenda is so important given our contemporary consumer practices alienate us from the labor processes (and often the violations of workers rights that come with these processes) and ultimately estrange us from the fact that our purchases have environmental implications.
Importantly, Dressmate doesn’t rely on shipping like most retail outlets. By doing so, Simons has followed her commitment to an environmentally friendly retail model, since retail shipping significantly contributes to pollution.
In regards to the prospect of scaling out Dressmate to locations outside of college and university campuses, Simons has goals to expand and implant her model into local communities.
“I want Dressmate to be the largest community of women centered around clothing. If a woman moves to a new city like Brooklyn, I want her to be able to make an account with Dressmate and have 10 closets open and available to her on her block.”
In offering advice for aspiring young creatives, Simons didn’t shy away from addressing the fact that multiple failures come with one entering into the world of entrepreneurship. She shared this advice:
“Fail fast. You will fail a lot. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. I wish I could attach every rejection I have received in this article. Just keep moving forward. For every 100 no’s, there’s 1 yes. Remind yourself that every “no” is an opportunity to improve. Every “yes” is confirmation that you are working towards a greater goal. Looking back, I wish that I had pushed past failures quicker and focused on the successes.”
She finished by telling me,
By letting perfect get in the way of the good, I inhibited Dressmate’s success. Whatever you have, just put it out there. Get customer feedback. Pivot. Make it better. One day, it will look better than you could have ever imagined and you will look back and only remember the people who said “yes” to you.