This Mumbai startup lets the fashion-conscious rent luxury designer wear for a fraction of the cost
Longing to wear a designer outfit for a friend’s wedding but the high price tag is pulling you down. Worry not. Gaining access to expensive designer outfits and accessories is no more a pipe dream, thanks to startups like The Stylease.
Founded by 30-year-old Jheal Shah in 2016, The Stylease is an online fashion rental platform offering the trendiest outfits and accessories on rent at your doorstep.
From Anju Modi’s lehengas to Ridhi Mehra’s effortless separates, from Mahima Mahajan’s sultry silhouettes to Prerto’s accessories, the Mumbai-based startup has your every ethnic impulse covered. The platform claims its collection is renewed and expanded every month, includes free delivery and pick-up, as well as ensures high hygiene care.
The Stylease has collection from over 100 designers including some top Indian designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, Anju Modi, Raghavendra Rathore, Mahima Mahajan, and Ridhi Mehra, and international brands such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, among others.
Jheal's inspiration to start The Stylease sprung from a gap she observed while at her mother's store.
“Since my mom has her fashion label, I have seen a lot of people come into the store to get their older clothes modified as per the current trends. And the most common complaint has been the clothes were too expensive to throw them away, but also not trendy enough for them to wear during the current season. Having lived in the US and the UK where thrift stores and reusing and recycling outfits was fairly common, I came up with the idea of The Stylease in India.”
The Stylease founders Jheal Shah, Tarang Shah, and Juhi Shah have known each other all their lives and decided to go into business together.
A fashion enthusiast and a graduate from the Parsons School of Design in New York, Jheal was joined by her sister, Juhi Shah (26), and cousin Tarang Shah (26) as co-founders.
Juhi is a graduate in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, and has done her MBA from ISB, Hyderabad in Family Business Management. Tarang has graduated from BITS Pilani, Rajasthan.
“We have all grown up together and have known each other all our lives. We were always taught the value of hard work and perseverance and it’s been easier for us to work together as a team since we come from the same background as well,” Jheal says.
The Stylease has six people in its team along with four to five people on contract.
Standing out from the crowd
The startup offers high-end garments and accessories for a tenth of the retail value on rent for a period of four days. It sources outfits from designers or through people who own high-end designer outfits but have no use for them anymore.
“Our USP lies in our curation of the outfits, the domain expertise, as well as our customer service. We also rent products under our own label - ‘Stylease Exclusive’, which enables us to create garments and jewellery according to current. They are currently our top renting pieces as well,” says Jheal.
According to The Stylease, it caters exclusively for its members, ships pan-India, and ensures fast delivery. The startup is recording close to 5,000 visits on the website every month.
“We don’t have a try-at-home option. We offer a free replacement in case something is wrong with the outfit. If the rental is in Mumbai, we personally refit the outfit and send it. If it is out of town, then we allow the customer to take it to a local tailor to refit it. The average rental is between Rs 4,500 and Rs 6,500 for a four-day period. In case a client is extremely unhappy with our service, we offer a full refund,” Jheal says.
The Stylease currently competes with the likes of Flyrobe, The Clothing Rental, Liberent, Wrap’d, Stage3, Rent An Attire, Rent at TALI, Rent It Bae, Blinge, etc., operating in the space in India.
“Our biggest competitor is Flyrobe. We do have very different target market, outfits, and designers than them, and so we’re not essentially competing for the same clients. There is also New York-based Rent the Runway, which is what we are aiming to be in India,” says Jheal.
Tailor-made for the millennials
The Stylease is striking a chord with young, fashion-conscious millennials by targeting both men and women aged 25 and above, who want to look good and feel good while staying on a budget.
“We deliver across India, so you can order the same outfit in Mumbai as well as from a Tier-III city in Madhya Pradesh. It makes more sense to rent the clothes you love for a special occasion, especially if you don’t plan to wear them again,” says Jheal.
“Some of our biggest clients are young mothers who have changing body types - from pregnancy to post giving birth for the first year or so,” Jheal tells YourStory.
The company’s ecosystem partners include designers, dry cleaners, and logistics companies. It claims to have 2,000 customers till date, and is looking to grow it by 25 percent this year.
“We currently market heavily on social media and are doing smaller offline marketing initiatives by tying-up with other brands and companies. We also run AdWords campaigns as well,” she says.
The millennials are not just fashion- and tech-savvy, but also care about doing their bit for the environment. Thus fashion rental startups like The Stylease that promote circular fashion hold appeal to them.
But running a fashion startup comes with its own set of challenges.
Jheal says, “The toughest times were during the off-season months last year, since there wasn’t much movement. To counter this, we started a western wear line and a cocktail collection, and are marketing for pre-wedding and maternity photo shoots as well to get more business. Our business is usually good between October/November (post Diwali) till March since that’s the peak wedding season in India.”
And shaadi season, expectedly, sees brisk business.
Jheal adds, “Our biggest success is during the wedding season when we send multiple outfits for the same wedding to multiple guests. However, the difficult part of this business has been educating the customers. We are still working on showing people how rentals are a good idea for them, and they aren’t wearing ‘used’ garments.”
Future of fashion is in renting
Currently bootstrapped, the company was started with an initial investment of Rs 30 lakh. The Stylease follows a revenue sharing model with individuals as well as designers. According to the founders, the company generated Rs 10 lakh in revenues in 2018-19.
“We have a model where every rental for us is operationally profitable. We do not make a loss on any order. We have no barriers to payment, and unless the customer pays full advance, we don’t deliver the pieces. Our unit economics have been positive from Day 1,” says Jheal.
According to a report published by Allied Market Research, the global online clothing rental market garnered $1.01 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach $1.85 billion by 2023, registering a CAGR of 10.6 percent from 2017 to 2023. The market in Asia-Pacific is expected to grow at the highest CAGR of 11.5 percent between 2017-2023, led by India and China.
Rising internet penetration rate and shifting consumer preference from offline retail channels to ecommerce are factors driving the growth of the online clothing rental market, as per the report.
The Stylease claims its vision is to create a one-stop shop for anyone looking for high-end designer wear on a budget. It also aims to create an environment where rentals are not looked down upon, but instead looked as the most economical solution.
The three-year-old startup is looking to raise funding of around Rs 1 crore in the near future.