MILAN — A new rental service has bowed in Milan with a clear formula that looks at international competitors, including Rent the Runway, but aims to become an accessible source of high-end fashion and to build a community around itself.
Hesse was launched this month by a pool of fashion professionals and entrepreneurs with different skills and backgrounds, spanning from fashion-tech to marketing and communication, artistic direction, and product development.
They include Marcello Gamberale Paoletti; Giorgio Racagni; Alice Volontè; Mattia Scaltrini; Nicolò Zambello, and Manuel Turchetti. All invested personally in the start-up, now in its bootstrapping phase, with support from bank institutions.
Based on a three-tier subscription model — priced at 49, 99 and 149 euros — the app provides fashion and accessories from 98 brands offered for rental.
Unlike other similar services that provide several items as part of a subscription package, Hesse only offers one piece per month. Customers subscribe to the service, rent the fashion piece, and can then decide to swap it for something else in the same tier after 30 days or keep it, renewing the subscription.
An additional service dubbed “rental to own” allows customers to redeem ownership after a given “redemption time” which is based on the products’ acquisition value and other variables, such as them being in- or off-season fashion pieces or having already been rented several times. It de facto likens the service to installment payment platforms.
“This kind of service was missing in Milan and Italy, which represent key destinations for high fashion,” said cofounder Gamberale Paoletti. “Our ambition is to challenge the perception that fashionistas cannot be mindful of sustainable principles… [Hesse’s] business model provides a chance to upturn this idea,” he said.
According to Racagni, the app has an inclusive approach to luxury shopping, allowing fashion enthusiasts to embrace high-end items they would hardly afford at retail prices and opening up the market to a broader audience, combating fashion’s elitism.
“The first goal was to have a varied assortment,” said Gamberale Paoletti. He explained that supply comes from Maltempi, an Italian multibrand retailer, as well as showrooms and wholesalers.
The goal is to forge more ties going forward, including with luxury brands.
“Before linking with brands, we need to achieve greater volumes,” the entrepreneur said. “We’re clearly convinced that this business model is much needed in and complementary with the fashion industry, so we believe that as Italy’s first movers we may trigger brands to embrace it,” he said, explaining that Hesse could in due time be selling their tech expertise to third parties aiming to launch rental programs.
According to Racagni, the fashion business is still skeptical about rental and anchored to a traditional model whereby as per current policies, not even unsold stock can be paid for and recirculated via a service like Hesse.
“When we have broad shoulders, we’ll be knocking at brands’ doors,” he said. “Hesse was also intended a solution to unsold stock.”
As a start-up with a still restrained inventory (each item is available in one piece per size) and currently available only in Milan, business growth and scalability are still hard to predict. The most immediate target is gathering 50 active users by the end of the year, and 1,000 adopters by the end of 2023.
“Our growth needs to align with supply,” said Gamberale Paoletti. “The goal is to keep our clients engaged, which is why product redemption is attached to subscription renewal, for example. It’s about valuing them as recurring clients rather than one-offs,” he said.
For the same reason, Gamberale Paoletti in the future expects to flank the existing service with a date-to-date rental option.
Furthering its eco-minded business, Hesse has teamed up with Blink Last Mile, an Italian start-up dedicated to same-day delivery with a time window service which only uses cargo bicycles and electric vehicles for its operations. The company has also linked with Mama Clean to do laundry and sanitize returned items.