When getting ready to head out to work every morning, I catch myself staring into my wardrobe for a very long time.
Although I admit that I have a bursting wardrobe with hundreds of clothes, I still have a tough time settling on an outfit everyday (and it doesn’t help that I hate repeating my clothes).
My mother often nags that I’m just wasting my money when I shop for new clothes, because they’ll soon end up forgotten and hidden at the back of my wardrobe.
This dilemma of having so many clothes, yet having so little options, may sound ironic but it’s a legit concern!
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Making The Infinity Wardrobe Dream A Reality
Raena Lim, a self-confessed shopaholic, complains of the same problem. In fact, almost 80 per cent of her wardrobe is under-utilised and had not been worn in a long time.
That was when she figured that there was a need to “redefine the way people consume fashion, while being mindful of the environmental impact and wastage.”
Together with her long-time Indonesian friend Chris Halim, they started up Style Theory in January last year.
The two went to the same secondary school in Singapore, and attended the University of British Columbia in Canada together. Chris studied computer science and business, while Lim did finance and human resources.
According to the 29-year-old duo, Style Theory aims to solve the problem of people frequently splurging on new clothes, yet always complaining they have nothing to wear.
“Using our platform, customers can rent unlimited clothing at a monthly subscription price [of $129],” said Lim.
Their idea is simple: Subscribers can rent three pieces of designer clothing at a time, worth up to $600 each, for as long as they want.
These clothes will then be delivered right to their doorstep in a ready-to-wear condition, cleaned and fully-pressed.
Once returned, customers can pick and choose another three, and do this as many times as they like in the month!
Style Theory stocks everything from workwear to party dresses, and it’s literally an extension of a woman’s wardrobe, stored in the cloud.
Renting from our constantly growing “infinite wardrobe” gives them access to a huge range of designer wear, without [bearing] the full cost of owning individual pieces.
“It’s completely hassle-free with free laundry and shipping, and we intelligently combine user and product data to solve common issues such as sizing and fit.”
Luxe For Less
When asked why they chose to specialise in designer clothes, Lim said most local stores carried mostly high luxury and high street brands.
“We recognised the lack of bridge market brands, and set out to source these brands from all over the world. Our assortment today largely composes of designer labels that fill this gap, introducing new contemporary brands that consist of clothes that are high in quality, well-fitted, and look great into the market.”
“We also want to be a supporting platform for our local designers to introduce these designs to the market. Some of the brands we carry today include Keepsake, Adrianna Papell, Aijek, Stylestalker and Zac Posen.”
Style Theory makes an effort to curate the brands and products they bring in, so customers are guaranteed a good selection.
This also makes it helpful for those who are busy and have no time to go to the malls to browse and shop.
“Our buys are based on research done on our target market, combined with the data from existing subscriber rental patterns. We also look at the latest trends and upcoming contemporary brands on WGSN and evaluate viability in the markets we operate in,” said Lim.
“Internal research also forms a big part of our decision-making, and helps us to build clear customer buying profiles. We look at demography data such as age and occupation to understand customer preferences, and track popularity of styles via consumption patterns.”
Steady Growth For The Past Year
The duo pumped in $40,000 to get the business going, and they have also received multiple undisclosed VC funding to date.
Though they declined to disclose revenue figures, they said the company has been growing steadily since inception and he expects to break even sometime this year.
While business is doing well now, the early stages of Style Theory was very difficult.
For the first few months, Style Theory operated out of a small apartment, managing office and warehouse operations in a tight space no larger than 800 square feet.
“Our very small team were made up of only part-timers and interns, and we struggled to cope with the crazy demand,” lamented Lim.
We had to do many things ourselves, including picking, packing, and sending the packages to customers. Chris himself personally handled customer service every weekend for 6 months.
Because they were a very lean team, they needed to scale up urgently to meet the operational and clothing demands.
Fast forward to today, the Style Theory team consists of about 70 people, including buyers, packers, marketing, software and data engineers, as well as customer service staff.
The startup also quickly gained traction. When they soft launched in April 2016 to 150 people, they were fully subscribed within a month.
Most of their early adopters are “working professionals who are career-focused and very passionate about fashion,” said Lim.
Over the past year, Style Theory has successfully attracted thousands of subscribers, who realise that renting allows them to afford an unlimited wardrobe at a low cost.
But due to the limited number of styles and sizes of clothes, subscribers are required to register online in advance and it can take a few weeks before they can start renting clothes.
However, Lim reiterated that customer experience is their top priority and they constantly evaluate the utilisation of existing clothing pieces and overall satisfaction levels.
According to her, they are actively increasing the style, quantity, and even sizing of apparel in order to meet all the subscribers’ needs.
“The team also works very hard to on-board an increasing number of new arrivals each week so that we can accommodate more new subscribers.”
At the moment, Style Theory brings in about 300 new items a week at a retail price between $300 and $600.
Sharing Economy Works For Fashion Too
The sharing economy is seeing a rapid rise in Singapore, and we’ve seen it happening across various verticals, from transportation to accommodation.
As people are now more accustomed to sharing a ride with others, or sharing a stranger’s home while on holidays, this had probably made them more open to the idea of renting clothes too.
Sharing the same sentiment, Lim said that the huge adoption of the sharing economy has reshaped consumer habits and she believes that “fashion makes sense as the next step.”
Clothing and accessories often have a high value, but are low in usage. When we choose to rent instead of buying something, we also choose to multiply our options without the associated high costs of buying individual pieces.
Ultimately, the biggest challenge for them is getting the market and their customers to understand their concept.
While the idea of renting has been around for ages, the evolution to a sharing economy concept is still fairly new in Asia and they are continually working to shift people’s attitudes and shopping habits.
Specifically, the duo still struggles to change consumers’ mindset of renting only for occasion-specific needs.
“We want to transition this customer mentality towards one that is more for everyday purpose.”
She added that there is also a “rental stigma” among consumers.
“Reusing clothes often comes with concerns around hygiene and maintenance,” she elaborated.
“We’ve managed to solve this pain point for our customers by partnering with Jeeves, a high-quality dry cleaner in Singapore, and also through stringent in-house inspection processes so as to ensure each clothing piece always feels ‘brand new’ to customers.”
The company started in an 800 square feet unit in Tanjong Pagar with 150 subscribers, 40 labels, and about 900 pieces.
In November last year, it moved to its current 3,500 square feet space in Pasir Panjang, with thousands of subscribers, 100+ labels, and over 10,000 pieces of apparel.
The company has grown in more ways than one; and with the success it has built in Singapore; the duo wishes to expand the business and “break into other markets in Southeast Asia”.
In fact, they will be launching in Jakarta soon. Chris, who leads the team there, have set up an office and is preparing to scale up to the forecasted demand.
They already have a long waiting list of subscribers in Jakarta.
“We are also exploring investments into smart infrastructure that will greatly improve our customer experience.”
Featured Image Credit: Style Theory