A Chanel bag. A Birkin bag. That sounds like a dream closet. Just like you can live in a dream house for a week with Airbnb, you can walk around with a thousand dollar bag – or like I did – with a $19K Birkin Bag for two weeks with the new Chicago startup, DesignerShare.
“Women love to bond over this idea of sharing their clothes and accessories with one another,” Sarah Perkins, Co-Founder of DesignerShare, the first peer-to-peer marketplace for women to rent their designer clothing and accessories in Chicago.
We’ve all envied our friends closet at one point or another – or borrowed a friend’s shirt or a sister’s earrings. But, it becomes another level when that closet includes Chanel and Hermès.
Windy City Cosmo sat down the Co-Founder of DesignerShare to learn about how some of the most coveted items in fashion are now being shared with other women in Chicago. And then, I share my experience with the service and what it was like to rent a $19K Birkin bag for a two-week vacation.
The Story Behind The Chicago Start-Up:
DesignerShare started with a problem, as most startups begin. In college, Sarah Perkins had too many sorority formals to attend and not enough outfits. So, she borrowed from her friend’s wardrobes – something that resonates with a lot of women.
Rent the Runway was actually starting when Perkins was in college and she thought “I’ve done this. I just haven’t monetized it yet.”
There are other places you can rent handbags and shoes and clothes from – but all designer, and all from your peers? Nope.
Monetizing an Idea:
Having an idea is great, but finding an idea to fund it is another story. Windy City Cosmo has spoken with a bunch of female entrepreneurs. Some reach out to their network and alumni like this 3D printing jewelry start-up and some do a mix of e-mail outreach and venture capital funding, which is what DesignerShare did.
For pricing, they looked at their competitors and other sharing economy companies. They did a heavy pricing analyst.
Sarah shared the mentality, “We want everything and we want it now. We want it cheap. But people will pay for the convenience. We really focus on being fast and efficient and wanting to make sure the experience was everything she wanted.”
The start-up had an office in 1871 and used some of their resources to grow their business. They also did rounds of venture funding and used PR to gain exposure. So far, they have several articles on sites like The Chicago Tribue and DNAinfo.
They even held a runway event at the rooftop at The Godfrey Hotel in October 2017 with other entrepreneurs like makeup and hair startup for employee perks, The Lisa App.
Finding Balance as an Entrepreneur:
Business wise it’s always a journey. How do you grow your brand and also stay sane?
“I was raised to have a lot of balance,” Sarah Perkins shared, “I go to bed by 10 pm and I wake up at 6 am to work out. I am non-functional if I don’t get enough sleep. I take the longest naps on the weekend.”
“I haven’t gone on vacation in 8 months. I think January I’ll have a few days.”
GirlBoss Was Right: Customer Service is Important:
“We don’t want to be mean girls. We want to be the friendliest shopping,” Sarah Perkins shared.
“No one wants to leave home. I’ve delivered to a girl at happy hour,” Sarah Perkins shared. “I walk into Monks Pub in the loop. It’s a very old bar. It’s one of those places with peanuts in the bar. And I show up and say ‘here’s your clutch for her friends birthday party this weekend.’ The customer said, ‘look at this customer service, you’re delivering to me while I’m having beers!'”
And the craziest part of the story is that Sarah is allergic to peanuts. So, she literally had to find the client, deliver the designer item, and leave before having an allergic reaction.
The customer said look at this customer service, you’re delivering to me while I’m having beers!
It’s not always delivery that equates to great customer service. Sarah Perkins describes a situation where one client was unhappy with a bag and within 2-3 hours they got her a new one.
The Dream Closet:
DesignerShare has expanded to 800 users and 700 pieces. Some notable items include Dyanasua bag from Gucci and two Birkin Bags.
Women Using DesignerShare:
“We really want women to look and feel great on a regular basis. We focus on the problem of people feel scrutiny in how they look, ” Sarah Perkins shared.
Clients use DesignerShare for a number of reasons – sometimes it’s a birthday party or a vacation where women want to rent a bag or a dress.
Today, with the need to constantly go out and do photo shoots for blogging and business, it can get overwhelming (and expensive) to constantly update your closet. Chicago fashion blogger, Caitlin Patton shared in a recent blog post, “Personally, I don’t have the time or money to be spending thousands of dollars on new clothes just to take pictures in…”
It goes beyond photo shoots – sometimes it’s having a nice bag for a corporate event or an interview that can help give women a confidence boost.
Sarah also eluded to other times you want to look your best for – “like when you see your ex for the first time, you’ve got to turn it up.”
My Experience Renting a $19K Birkin Bag:
I rented a Birkin Bag – something I learned about from Gilmore Girls about and was like – who can afford a $19K Birkin bag?
Well, for two weeks, I got to be that person. And I couldn’t believe it. It’s fun to play dress up when you’re a kid – I use to make clothes out of sheets and wear clip-on earrings. But to actually play dress up from a dream closet as an adult was surreal.
I got to take it with me to visit my family in Boca Raton, Florida and then on a mini vacation to Orlando Florida for Mickey Christmas. And then I went to the Bahamas and took it with me as I had a few drinks with friends at the Bah Mar Resort. It was really nice to dress up my casual sundress and beachy vibes with a designer purse. But it also felt weird. My entire life and business worth cost less than this bag – so I tried to only take it out to classy places.
Let’s be real, a Birkin bag costs anywhere from $12,000 – $223,000, according to Fortune. I am so not used to walking around with something so valuable – it was a gift as much as it was a curse. There’s something different about renting an item from a person rather than from a company. It’s like when you spill coffee on your sister’s shirt – you know she’s going to be mad because it’s her favorite shirt. Well, I felt that liability when I rented this handbag.
The best part of my experience was customer service. I was speaking at a conference in the morning. Sarah had texted me about renting a bag. I literally got off stage and she found me a Birkin bag. On top of that, I was only home for an hour to grab my luggage and get to the airport. DesignerShare was able to work out all the logistics and deliver the bag on time so I could catch my flight.
The service was so personal and fast-paced. DesignerShare acts as a middleman between the borrower and the lender. They coordinate drop-offs by hand – without a scheduling app. They partner with Lyft to drop off and pick-up the luxury item and then they partner with Tide Spin for dry cleaning to return the item in the best shape back to the lender.
DesignerShare Empowers Women to Be Entrepreneurs:
What’s great about DesignerShare is that the women lending their items are like entrepreneurs. DesignerShare can help women take photos and they offer a suggested pricing model, which is 10 percent of the original worth of the item. But ultimately, a lender can deny or accept a request and they price their goods.
Lenders enjoy putting their closet to good use and earning money when they’re not wearing the items. We all can’t wear all our clothes at the same time.
To learn more about DesignerShare, you can visit their website here.
DesignerShare had an office at 1871, an incubator in Chicago. 1871 offers events regularly and spaces for start-ups, you can learn more about their weekly events here.
Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.