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'Indian fashion rental biz will be a Rs 14k Cr opportunity in 5 years': Sabena Puri, Stage 3

Don’t buy it, rent it. Sabena Puri, Co-Founder, Stage 3 talks to YS Weekender about the trend of renting fashionable clothes for special occasions

'Indian fashion rental biz will be a Rs 14k Cr opportunity in 5 years': Sabena Puri, Stage 3

Saturday March 21, 2020,

11 min Read

Digital sales have spiked during the times of social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak as many people have been on an online shopping spree all week.

But why buy it when you can rent it? That is the mantra among young people nowadays who love fashionable clothes but can't afford the price points.

Today, renting branded clothes and accessories is the new normal, say founders of fashion rental platforms which offer clothes and accessories on rent. There is no social stigma attached to renting clothes for special occasions anymore and more and more people are opting to rent rather than buy since it works out for them on many levels.

To begin with, renting is more affordable and secondly, since a costly outfit cannot be worn over and over again, it remains unused in a wardrobe for many years. When you rent an ensemble, you can return it and rent another designer outfit for another occasion at a cost that is much easier on the pocket.

Stage3 is one of India’s well-known fashion-rental and styling platforms, which is bringing a large selection of celebrity-endorsed designer outfits and accessories to India’s closets.

The company was founded by Sabena Puri, Sanchit Baweja and Rina Dhaka. This Delhi-based company focuses on providing today’s fashion-forward millennials affordable access to on-trend, glamorous fashion through rental and sales.

The company has been on a mission to transform the way India consumes fashion, promoting sustainability by making expensive designer wear accessible and affordable via its rental and styling platform. It is focused on building a strong fashion ecosystem, by continuing to build on its extensive network of designers, influencers and celebrity stylists.

In an exclusive interaction with Sabena Puri, Co-founder, Stage 3, she talks about how they created the brand, the advantages of renting fashion and much more…

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Sabena Puri

Sabena Puri

Why is the concept of renting clothes gaining popularity in India?

Millennials in India are engaging with high-aesthetic lifestyle brands like Zara,, Forever 21, Tommy Hilfiger, and several of these companies have individually grown to over INR 1000 cr in a matter of 4-5 years. Additionally, a surge in Indian sharing economy businesses and the resulting fractional ownership are acting as a bridge between aspiration and access, be it cab aggregators (Uber, Ola), entertainment (Netflix) or rental platforms for furniture (Furlenco).

Similarly, when it comes to clothing with high social obsolescence, millennials are now interested in renting a dress-up experience from the latest fashion and designs, without having to necessarily own them. Moreover, with sustainability becoming more and more important, most young Indians prefer to make fashion choices that are eco-friendly.  

In line with this, Style Theory in Singapore has recently been funded for USD 15 mn in a round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia. Similarly, in India, consumers, enterprises and investors alike are beginning to believe more in the clothing rental concept.

Fashion model

An ensemble by designer Rajdeep Ranawat

How do you make people understand that renting clothes is cool nowadays?

Given that our target audience consists of young millennials, it is not much of an issue for us. Young millennials are active participants in the sharing economy. At Stage 3, not only do we let users rent an outfit, we also style it with accessories and alter the clothes to the size of the customer. So, our value proposition is extremely compelling. All we have to do is actively address any concerns around authenticity and quality. 

Can you tell us about your rental fashion platform?

Stage3 is a fashion rental and styling platform that aims at transforming millennial India’s closets by providing affordable access to on-trend, glamorous fashion, leveraging designers, celebrity stylists and data insights. As we like to put it, “If it’s glam, it’s Stage3.”

All our products are carefully curated by stylists and merchandisers, paired with AI and advanced analytics to get a 360-degree view of our customers’ requirements, thus enabling us to create unparalleled experiences from end-to-end.

We believe that there are three key parts of a millennial’s wardrobe – the basics (regular, everyday wear), elevated essentials (pieces you want to keep for impromptu dress-up moments) and designer wear (glamorous outfits for special occasions). At Stage3, we have the capabilities to deliver on the second and third which are design-led.

Fashion model

An outfit by designer Abhinav Mishra

In line with our mission to dress modern aspirational India glamorously and affordably, we have two business models in place, viz. a rental model (Stage3) and a commerce model (Alaya by Stage3).

Through these platforms, users can rent expensive designer outfits with high social obsolescence at a fraction of their MRP, and buy from a collection of stylish elevated basics, co-developed by designers and celebrity stylists, leveraging data insights.

Given that 60% of a women’s closet remains unworn, we also give customers the opportunity to work with us on a revenue share model and on board their designer clothing for rental. With this, 20% of our inventory is sourced C2C.

What is your inspiration behind the brand?

With social media becoming an indispensable part of people’s lives, there has been a widespread transformation in the way fashion is being consumed in India, resulting in a large need-gap in the market. This gap was between what people wanted to wear and the prices at which they could access that clothing.

The desire to fulfil this need amongst young people to dress glamorously by providing them with affordable access to design-led fashion is what led us to establish Stage3.

Can you tell us about yourself and your Co-founders?

I spent a large part of my life in the United States, before finally returning to India. There, I studied at Columbia University and got an MBA from Harvard Business School. During the course of my career, I worked in product management roles at Verizon Wireless and Palm Computing, before going on to launch Junnoon, a modern Indian restaurant, which ran very successfully for several years in California. Shortly after my return to India, I co-founded Stage 3 with Sanchit Baweja and Rina Dhaka.

Sanchit Baweja, our Co-founder, is a graduate from Australian National University. He as a keen eye and interest in fashion as he used to be the former CEO of Buttons ‘n’ Threads, an online brand that specialises in bespoke men’s apparel.

Rina Dhaka, the next co-founder, is a renowned Indian fashion designer and has spent over 30 years in the industry with several accolades to her name. She has been a part of important fashion events such as Miami Fashion Week.

fashion model

A sari designed by Punit Balana

Why did you decide to get into the fashion industry?

There were widespread transformative changes in fashion consumption, brought about by social media and Bollywood influences.

I saw a major gap in the fashion needs of the millennial mass market, with rapidly evolving trends, consequent aspirational choices and a shift from functional clothing to glamorous dressing up.

Being a bit of a design fanatic myself, the idea of being able to help elevate the state of fashion in the country was an exciting prospect for me.

What kind of clothes do you have on your website?


Gulabo collection by Abu Sandeep

Stage3 has authentic glam design wear for all kinds of dress up when you want to look your best. This includes outfits for occasions like dinner parties, weekend parties and corporate events, to the ones where people usually want to ‘deck-up’ a little more, such as festivals and weddings. Some of the designer outfits we have on our platform are from Manish Malhotra, Anamika Khanna, Sabyasachi, Shantanu & Nikhil, Abhinav Mishra, Arpita Mehta, Abu Jani/Sandeep Khosla, Payal Singhal and Anushree Reddy, amongst others.

What is the target group that you cater to?

Our target audience mainly comprises of the younger, working millennials with an income of 35K upwards. Their fashion choices are largely based on the latest celebrity styles and movies, a lot of which is trending on social media. Our customers also have strong social media presence where they express themselves and their style through a number of platforms. Additionally, they tend to have active social calendars, meaning that they are at a number of different occasions every month and seek glamorous outfits to dress up in, and prefer not to repeat them.

Where do you source these clothes from?

We have an extensive ecosystem comprising of 200+ top as well as upcoming designers, and we source our inventory directly from them. Additionally, our inventory comes from our users who list authentic designer wear from their own closets to be rented out on Stage3. Through our stringent inspection and cleaning processes, we make sure each piece is of the highest quality and in pristine condition for our customers.

How do you keep up with the current fashion trends?

At Stage3, we have a very strong advisory board comprising people such as Anaita Adjania Shroff, Gautam Kalra and Arjun Sawhney, amongst others – all of whom are very plugged into fashion. We also have Rhea Kapoor, film producer and celebrity stylist on board as our Style Director.

Overall, our team is one which is completely geared towards fashion. Our marketing and merchandising teams keep a close watch on trending designs and constantly interact with in-demand designers to help shape our offerings and ensure they are in line with our target audiences.

How is the Delhi market different from Bengaluru market?

Delhi reflects the North Indian culture of “bigger is better”. In the north, people love to stand out and dress up. They are completely comfortable in heavily embellished garments and tend to go for bolder, dramatic looks. The Bengaluru market leans more towards subtle, understated looks, with ensembles that are more delicate yet impactful. In spite of these different outlooks and fashion trends, both the markets are increasingly opening up to the concept of rentals to suit their respective preferences.

Do you also advise people on what clothes they should rent?

At Stage3, we believe in taking things a notch above and giving you the complete look! Via our ‘Dial a Stylist’ service, we offer free one-to-one styling advice for all our customers via our expert team of in-house stylists, who are up-to-date on the latest trends and celebrity fashion. We advise them not just on the outfit but also on the accessories that go with it, based on their dress up occasion, body type and preferences, amongst others. With this, we help them narrow down their top choices to ensure that their final look is on-trend and glam while being in line with their personal style as well.

How do you merge international styles with desi trends?

We are constantly modernising Indian clothing, be it pairing sarees and lehengas with western blazers and capes, or crop tops and blouses teamed up with dhoti pants to create a chic and cool vibe. Additionally, we have several pieces listed on our platform which are made using traditional Indian fabrics, such as stylish brocade jackets and capes embellished with traditional work. These pieces seamlessly bring together Indian and international styles, and can add a distinct touch to any ensemble, whether it’s a special night out or something more extravagant like a wedding.

Do you also provide accessories like bags, jewellery, shoes etc.?

Yes, our offerings at Stage3 are not just limited to clothes. We have specially curated accessories by top designers including Ritika Sachdeva, Outhouse, Amethyst and Amrapali amongst others. These range from bags, bangles, belts, earrings, necklaces and rings to maangtikas and mathapattis, all of which can perfectly complement outfits for different occasions.

What tips would you give to people who want to get into the fashion industry?

Whatever part of fashion you want to be in, whether it’s merchandising or design or anything else, remember that in the industry, fashion is not just art, it’s a business for customers. Therefore, one should never lose sight of the customer in whichever area of fashion they choose to pursue.

What are your future expansion plans?

At Stage3, we’re all about the experience. In the near future, we plan to integrate our customers’ social calendars into our platform to ensure we are up-to-date with each of their dress up requirements. We are also focusing on a number of experiential marketing initiatives such as our Fashion March and our campaign with Rhea Kapoor, to spread greater awareness about our rental model.

In the long run, we see designer-led rentals becoming the norm for dress up, both in India and globally.