Christine Hunsicker had an idea to bring the sharing economy to apparel. Airbnb’s success had convinced her that consumers would embrace clothing rental: if people were willing to lay their heads on strangers’ pillows, she thought, they’d certainly be willing to wear clothes someone else had worn.
Tuxedo rental had long been the norm, and women had always passed along maternity wear and kids’ hand-me-downs. Fashion rental would give retailers a way to participate in the sharing economy and make better use of their brand equity and clothing assets, she thought. She just had to find a way to make it go mainstream.
So, in 2011, Hunsicker founded two companies, B2C fashion rental site Gwynnie Bee and B2B company CaaStle, which offers an infrastructure platform that now powers fashion rental not just for Gwynnie Bee, but for Vince, Rebecca Taylor, American Eagle, Ann Taylor and others.
She says some of the biggest retailers are getting into the sharing economy because fashion rental is a great complement to retail. In an interview with CNBC in May, she noted that rental can add 25% to the bottom line. She also says that it helps retailers:
- Reach new consumers, particularly younger, digitally native shoppers.
- Gain a bigger share of wallet, 150% bigger in some cases.
- Engage more deeply with customers, who tend to interact with rental sites at least several times a month to see what’s new and add items to their queues.
Rental makes fashion more fun, Hunsicker says. It lets people experiment with their wardrobe without having to worry about whether they’ll wear something more than once, so it encourages people to try bolder colors and patterns. And for younger consumers especially, rental is a way to wear dozens of their favorite designer’s pieces in a year without breaking their budget.
To hear which kinds of retailers Hunsicker says should offer fashion rental, listen to the episode.