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The sharing economy that’s brought new currency to spare bedrooms and cars for hire is turning private closets into cottage industries.

Harvard College graduate Julia Gudish Krieger has created a rental market for personal wardrobes through VillageLuxe.com.

The invite-only online platform allows users to rent designer items from one another for a fee. If style is the litmus test of friendship, then the site could help enhance users’ social circles as well as increase their wardrobes by connecting with women of similar taste across Manhattan.

“Women in Manhattan are focused on fashion and entrepreneurship,” Krieger said. “What we wanted to create is a tight-knit community across a neighborhood and a city in a supersafe and socially integrated way.”

“We’ve been quietly building the site in the last year,” Krieger said. “We’re making sure we seed Manhattan with incredible pieces. We have 3,500 items. We’ve let 4,000 women onto the site and have close to 7,000 on the waiting list.”

Krieger’s “aha” moment came when she observed her younger sister borrowing her shoes, handbags and dresses ad nauseum. “I wished I had more friends who are a size four and have better closets than me,” she said.

Prior to launching VillageNext, Krieger worked at Insight Venture Partners, where she tracked the increasing popularity of companies that were monetizing latent assets such as Airbnb and Uber. She recognized women’s wardrobes as an untapped niche and a highly liquid asset.

“There may be a woman who wants to rent a bag from a stylist two blocks from her apartment,” Krieger said. “This is a high-end demographic. It’s not that she can’t buy more, she wants access to more choices.”

Krieger said the advantages of renting through VillageLuxe as opposed to selling to consignment shops or online resale sites include having full control over the rental prices. And if there are items a user is not yet willing to part with, she can rent them out until she’s ready to let go.

Users can shop by apparel type or browse through Killer Upper East Side Closets, which lists a Louis Vuitton Le Fabuleux handbag for $150 a week, an Alexander McQueen leather fringed dress for $150 a week and Charlotte Olympia sandals, $50 a week.

“There’s a member’s closet full of Azzedine Alaïa,” Krieger said. “It’s vintage Alaïa and she listed all of it. These are really incredible pieces. They’re things she’s not wearing this week and not wearing next week.”

By signing up through Facebook, members can see if they share mutual friends. Reviews of both lenders and renters are “further contributing to a trusted community,” Krieger said.

Lenders with just a few items to list can shoot the items themselves. “You can look up Chanel on our site and see what other people are renting things for,” Krieger said. “If you have more than 30 pieces, we’ll send a photographer for free to shoot and upload the images with suggested prices.”

VillageLuxe takes 12 percent each from lenders and renters. Renters pay an additional $10 for dry cleaning. Krieger said that both sides review each other. Lenders can write reviews about renters who damaged items and renters can complain about sellers who list products as being in good condition, but actually arrive frayed and worn-looking.
VillageLuxe was beta tested last year. Last week, the company launched its official Web site and fully integrated iOS app. Krieger said the site could open up to the general population in six months. “We know we’re leaving money on the table,” she said. “We have thousands of people on the waiting list. When we do open it up in general, you’ll still be able to accept or reject people.”

In terms of logistics, renters have several options. The most common form of delivery is picking up the item directly from the owner. Some users leave items with the doorman.

“It’s about the lender deciding what they’re comfortable with,” Krieger said. Beyond direct pick-up, there are Uber Rush and courier services. VillageLuxe offers shipping with trackable insured labels e-mailed to lenders.

Early lenders at VillageLuxe included women with enviable wardrobes such as Gilt cofounder and chief executive officer of GlamSquad Alexandra Wilkis Wilson; celebrity stylist Samantha Myer; model Tiiu Kuik, and Intermix’s Lilian Garcia. “The initial group of women began to invite their friends to join, which expanded both the vibrant community and the luxury items available,” Krieger said.

“We’ll probably go to Los Angeles next, then Miami, Dallas and Chicago,” she added. “Beyond the metropolitan cities, we see this as something that for sure is going to be international with London, Paris and Asia. We have a very big vision for what we’re building.”

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