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Borrowing Magnolia, a new e-commerce business that launched July 1, offers pre-worn wedding gowns to prospective brides for sale or rental at a fraction of the original prices.

The three women behind Borrowing Magnolia, Ashley Steele, Cali Brutz and Stephanie Olvey, saw a hole in the wedding gown market and sought to fill it. They knew the biggest asset of many brides — the wedding gown — is folded away in a box in the attic. At the same time, many young brides-to-be can’t afford to buy their dream dress.

“We’ve seen how the modern bride and her needs are really changing,” said Steele. “It’s not so much of an heirloom industry any more. People don’t care about having these things that they’ll look at once every 20 years.”

Borrowing Magnolia, a white-glove rental service, gives brides-to-be the opportunity to borrow or buy a pre-owned wedding dress. The site handles all of the details, including shipping, steaming, cleaning and storing the dress. For $99, three dresses are shipped to the future bride to try on at home. The initial try-on fee is applied to the rental or sale price of the dress.

Borrowing Magnolia offers a “change-your-mind guarantee,” allowing brides to switch their dress up until two weeks prior to the wedding, at no extra charge.

“We have almost 200 dresses in our collection already,” said Steele. “We centrally reached out to our own networks we have established with our preexisting businesses.” Steele and Brutz, who are sisters, in 2005 founded Once Like a Spark photography, a national wedding photography collaborative. Olvey is the founder of Fortique, an online marketplace for creative services.

“We don’t take ownership of the dresses, but we do take possession and handle every detail,” Steele said. “We lean toward the higher end in terms of designer gowns. We haven’t had to seek those out. We were overwhelmed by the number of women who were eager to capitalize on their dresses.”

Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Galina, Jenny Packham, Claire Pettibone, Amsale, Pronovias, Jim Hjelm, Rosa Clara and Christos, are among the labels Borrowing Magnolia stocks.

The price of buying a dress depends on the original value of the dress and its condition. “The decision is made on an individual basis,” Brutz said, adding that the rental price is usually 30 percent of the original price. 

Borrowing Magnolia intends to ramp up quickly. By the end of the first year, the company expects to have 800 dresses in its inventory. “We’re rapidly on our way and ahead of track,” Olvey said. “We believe 60 percent of our business will be in sales and 40 percent will be rentals. There’s a large market for women looking to purchase pre-owned wedding dresses.”

The company is expanding into other sartorial needs of brides, including veils, jewelry and shoes. “We have already begun collecting accessories,” Brutz said. “A lot of women when they give us a dress say, ‘I’ve got a veil that goes perfectly with my gown.’”

Borrowing Magnolia is considering adding a brick-and-mortar element to its business. “We would consider something like a showroom scenario where our storage area for dresses would double as a place where women can try on dresses. Having a dress site, our shoppers aren’t limited by their geography. A bride in the tiniest town can have access to most highly regarded dresses. The store would likely be in Washington, D.C.”