High-end designer merchandise for rent helps create a stylish community

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There are a lot of people in the United States who would love to carry a thousand-dollar handbag or wear a designer gown. But there are far fewer who can afford to purchase either on a regular basis.

And of those who can spend more than $1,000 on a single fashion item, many might feel guilty about how few times they use their purchases and don’t want to see these valuable items languishing in a closet.

Although local services exist to allow people to rent high-end apparel and accessories from other fashionistas, a website now allows it on a national level. Chicago-based DesignerShare first launched in 2017 and relaunched a few months ago as a peer-to-peer platform to allow people to rent fashion items that may cost more than $1,000 purchased new — at rates typically between $50 and $150 per week. Of that amount, the owner keeps 75 percent of the fee; DesignerShare keeps the remainder as its commission.

“Our mission is to create a stylish community of designer wear that can be shared,” says Sarah Perkins, DesignerShare’s CEO and co-founder. “We allow women to become entrepreneurs as well as look and feel great in what they wear.”

FASHION ADVISORS

The site offers a range of high-end women’s clothing and accessories, the most common being luxury handbags. “We originally thought it would be more dresses that were rented, but the market has determined that handbags will be our most popular item,” Perkins says. “It is a size-less product, and bags can cost thousands of dollars but be rented for around $100.”

Most of the fashions being rented are from well-known designers such as Chanel, Gucci and Christian Dior. But the platform has also introduced new designers to its rental market. “We have represented some unique global designers that a lot of people have not heard of,” Perkins says. “It is a way to get their designs known in the fashion world.”

Perkins says her typical customers are between 25 and 35 years old and live in an urban setting. “These are women who love and covet the finer lifestyle but either cannot afford to purchase high-end items or just want to expand their wardrobe,” she says.

DesignerShare’s policy provides a 100 percent refund if items do not fit. It also has fashion advisors who help renters if they don’t immediately find something they like on the website. “We have people who reach out to us and tell us about an occasion they are going to and ask for suggestions about what they should wear,” Perkins says. Women who reside in the Chicago region can even visit with a style consultant at DesignerShare’s office.

When shoppers can’t find something in particular they’re looking for on the site, DesignerShare representatives often contact someone who has offered similar fashion before who might have the requested item. For example, if someone asks for a particular dress in a size or color not represented but the advisors know someone else has rented out similar items or designs in that size, they would contact them to see if they have something else that would fit the renter’s needs.

DesignerShare often works with consignment stores that rent out high-end fashion items while they continue to attempt to sell them. “This helps reduce their overhead costs,” Perkins says. “They can decide to rent an item and make some money before they sell it.”

“We have represented some unique global designers that a lot of people have not heard of. It is a way to get their designs known in the fashion world.” — Sarah Perkins, DesignerShare

Every item is professionally cleaned after it is rented; the cost of the cleaning is split between the lender and the renter. The site has a $5 lender protection plan to cover small rips or scratches that can be easily repaired; renters must pay for more costly repairs.

BUILDING A NETWORK

Using the DesignerShare platform is quite simple. Those wishing to rent an item go to the website and choose the product category: mini, midi, maxi or gown-length dresses, for example. They are asked for color and size preferences and can request a preferred designer as well. Then they are shown options and the rental price.

Rental prices are set by owners of the items, who also write product descriptions and upload photos. Items must be valued at $200 at a minimum. Once an item has been requested, the owner has up to 12 hours to decide whether to accept or decline the request.

Persons wanting to rent items can also message the owners of the items if they have questions requiring fit or descriptions.

Although DesignerShare does not reveal how many users it has worked with, Perkins says the number of transactions on the site doubled in the eight weeks after its launch earlier this year. The site has some 650,000 items in stock.

DesignerShare has paid for promotions associated with search sites and such social media sites as Facebook in order to get the word out about its website. But Perkins says the best means of promoting the service is simple word of mouth. “Women get excited about our service and tell their friends to help us build our network,” she says.

Users have incentives to refer the service: People who refer a friend via social media or email can get $30 off their next $50 rental.

Beyond paid ads, the site has benefited from social media postings. When renters post pictures of themselves on such sites as Facebook and Instagram, they often encourage others to check out the site to find similar fashions.

Although DesignerShare is currently devoted exclusively to women’s fashions, menswear could be added soon. Perkins notes that men often need high-end suits or tuxedos for a special social or work occasion — such as a formal event or even a job interview. “Men’s clothing is very size-specific, so it is easier to make sure men can find items that will fit them,” Perkins says.

And men may also like to try out styles different from what they have traditionally worn. “You can reinvent yourself by renting a style to try it out before you buy,” she says.

Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based business writer with extensive experience in covering payment and finance issues.

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