Wardrobe, a new peer-to-peer digital marketplace to rent women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, is offering a new twist to the sharing economy.
The mobile platform, available to download on the App Store, allows users to rent out pieces from their own closet that they rarely wear to other users. To facilitate rentals, Wardrobe has secured partnerships with 12 environmentally friendly dry cleaners in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Users can pick up or drop off their rented items at these Wardrobe Hubs. The partnership, with Next Cleaners, the city’s largest GreenEarth dry cleaner, allows for a consistent experience and doesn’t rely on items being packaged or mailed. Each piece is guaranteed clean, and users aren’t required to meet face-to-face to exchange.
The dry cleaner serves as the middle man.
According to Adarsh Alphons, chief executive officer and founder of Wardrobe, “We put the fashion authority into the hands of our users and offer them a platform for exchange that addresses all of the problems with borrowing clothes — convenience, cleanliness and value.” He expects renters will offer up rare, vintage and couture pieces, in addition to branded apparel, footwear and accessory items, and likened it to “a scaled up version of borrowing from your best friend’s closet.”
Alphons came up with this idea while attending an elaborate wedding ceremony in his hometown of Manimala, India. Many of the congregants, including himself, were wearing dressy clothing, and he began picturing his own closet back in New York, where most of his clothes remained untouched. He wondered whether people would be interested in borrowing pieces from others instead of purchasing clothes. He tried to figure out whether the idea could be scalable in a world where renting out your home to strangers via Airbnb is common practice.
The idea of peer-to-peer borrowing via an app isn’t new. In 2016, Tulerie, an app that connects apparel owners with short-term borrowers for luxury apparel, launched. It has one seed investor from an angel round and is currently considered fully funded. As reported in October, Tulerie has been in beta-testing mode and is now available as an invite-only platform.
Asked about competing apps such as Tulerie, Alphons said, “Unlike other apps on the market, we have developed partnerships with sustainable dry cleaners to create a seamless exchange from the owner to the renter. Our platform is a solution to the problems that arise from renting clothes: users can avoid the hassle of shipping costs, packaging and things getting lost in the mail, each piece is guaranteed clean, and renters aren’t required to schedule a face-to-face meeting to exchange – all of which adds up to a convenient and dependable experience.”
Prior to starting Wardrobe, Alphons founded ProjectArt, the nation’s largest art school for kids. He partnered with public libraries in the largest urban cities around the country. Today, ProjectArt — a nonprofit — is available in 44 libraries and provides year-round visual art classes for children and studio space for emerging visual artists. Alphons is chairman of ProjectArt.
The Wardrobe app itself handles the logistics of the exchange. After a piece is rented, the renter brings their piece to the Wardrobe Hubs and has it dry cleaned. (if it’s not already cleaned). The user then picks up the piece at the Wardrobe Hub, a location close to their home or job. The dry cleaner uses GreenEarth cleaning technology, which is a process using liquefied sand, or silicone, which is non-hazardous and nontoxic to the environment or to people. When silicone is released into the environment, it safely breaks down into sand, making it safe for the air, water and soil, as well as one’s clothes. Recyclable wardrobe bags are provided to users picking up items after the item is rented on the app, and then sustainably cleaned beforehand.
The way the process works is users upload a clear photo of themselves wearing the item they would like to rent on the app — showing front, back, side and close-ups — and choose the price at which to rent it, as well as for how long. Wardrobe officials suggest rental prices based on the retail value, but users can choose to rent their items at whatever cost they would like. Cycles for the rental start at one week, and pieces may be rented for multiple weeks. All pieces are approved by Wardrobe officials based on brand, quality and the description being uploaded. The user provides information about the item such as a description (they can say something personal about the item, if they wish), brand, fabric, style, size, rental fee, and how long they’re interested in renting for, and the renter can chat with each other via the app. Alphons said after an item is rented, they will collect data, such as whether the item is true to size, or runs tight or loose.
The app, which is in public Beta right now and available to download, has such items as a Gucci XL Marmont bag, renting for $200 a week; Emilio Pucci flats for $30 a week; J. Crew dress for $16 a week, Rixo London dress for $40 a week, and a Mansur Gavriel bag for $47 a week.
Brands on the app rotate based on the users renting on the app. So far, there are more than 300 designer items on the app from such companies as Gucci, Christian Dior, Alice + Olivia, Kate Spade, Diane von Furstenberg, J. Crew and Frye. Fast fashion is not permitted on the app since Alphons said Wardrobe is committed to sustainability. In addition, the merchandise has to be legitimate, no knock-offs, and in good condition, he said.
According to Alphons, users can engage with one another by following their favorite closets, messaging with others and highlighting items that they would like to revisit another time. The app has features that recommend personalized closets based on users’ interests, algorithms that build connections and trust within the user community, geo-location based services, as well as end-to-end encryption to ensure all user data is protected. Alphons believes the app will also become a social meeting place for people to discuss clothing and make connections. “People want to find each other, and they will follow you,” he said.
Wardrobe takes 15 percent of the cost of renting the item. There are also some fees on the renter’s side such as dry cleaning the item for rental and a wardrobe service fee, which includes item insurance, 24/7 customer service, platform maintenance costs and the costs to messenger items between the different Wardrobe Hubs. The renter pays for the rental, which includes the dry cleaning fee when they return it. The average rental cost is $45 per week.
Alphons said if an item comes back ripped, there are sewers at the dry cleaners who can mend items. At the end of the rental, both the renter and user rate the experience. A person also has the prerogative to refuse to rent an item. “If you get a bad review, no one will rent from you again,” Alphons said. The same thing if a user abuses an item. No one will allow that person to rent from them either.
Alphons noted that the user is able to try on an item on at the dry cleaners, and if it doesn’t fit properly, they don’t have to rent it, without any cost to them. Customers aren’t allowed to do any alterations on the garments. Alphons said he’s starting in New York but has plans to expand around the country. Eventually Wardrobe will add door-to-door delivery.