The changing shape of the fashion industry has seen many take a more conscious approach to what they buy. Making this shift all the more possible has been the designer rentals market, giving women the ability to rent and return clothing at accessible prices. For Designer Wardrobe, what started out as a Facebook group where members could buy, sell and swap clothing, quickly grew and evolved into a fully-fledged ecommerce platform, followed by physical stores. Opening a store in Newmarket earlier this year, Zara Overton caught up with founder Donielle Brooke to find out how it how it all began.
You’ve accomplished a lot since Designer Wardrobe started in 2013, growing it from a Facebook page, to an ecommerce platform, now, with physical stores. What originally inspired you to create Designer Wardrobe?
I always had the idea in the back of my mind – I would often buy secondhand items online and felt the online process quite uninspiring. I wanted a marketplace that had a curated feed of fashion items as well as a tool for people to use so that they can be smarter when shopping, I am minimal by nature and don’t like the thought of having so many clothes in my wardrobe unworn. I prefer to sell so then I can buy and I would often swap dresses to wear out at events with friends.
That was my way of figuring out rental – it was so long ago that I didn’t see any businesses like this and didn’t think to do it myself. At 25 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and knew it was time to get started on my idea – I needed to get on top of some bills and my lovely designer items were my most valuable items at that age! So, I started a Facebook group and from there I could see if other women felt this was needed in NZ. It began as “Buy, Sell and Swap” and over time I realised rather than swapping dresses people could rent them off each other too. When I launched this on the Facebook page we had an influx of younger ladies starting their own rental businesses – I knew we would do our own one day, but it would take time as I wanted to do it right. The thought of renting items on a Facebook page or from my house didn’t feel right. I wanted to make sure that when we did, our rental business was inline with designer’s brands – and now our stores are!
What initially sparked your interest in fashion?
My mum was a model from 18 until her mid-40s and she is very passionate about fashion (and so is my Dad). I wasn’t as interested when I was younger as I have two brothers and was a bit of a tomboy, to be honest! Mum suggested when I left school that I should try out hairdressing (as I loved art) – so I started hairdressing and ended up working at one of the top salons in NZ, Stephen Marr, a company in the heart of the fashion industry.
There I would do the hair of designers, models, photographers and many more amazing people in the fashion industry. I learnt so much! At the same time, I started my own jewellery label with my business partner at DW – Aidan Bartlett, the brains behind the tech side of DW. He joined DW when I decided I wanted to turn my Facebook page into a real business.
How does the designer rental process work?
It’s easy – you can book online or in-store and you’ll have the dress for a 4-day period. You can rent right from our store, or when renting online you can have it delivered or “click and collect”. Our stores are all walk-ins, we don’t do appointments and have our lovely stylists to help you find the perfect outfit! You don’t need to do anything – we do the dry cleaning as we are partnered with an eco- friendly dry cleaner (Regal). Additionally, we have our “Rip & Stain Protection” which keeps you covered for peace of mind just in case there’s any accidents at your event – which is of course very rare! We have so many beautiful dresses to choose from – it’s perfect to rent when you have an event like a wedding or a ball.
The way people shop continues to change and many consumers tend to be moving away from buying and purchasing a special occasion dress that will only be worn once, to now renting outfits for events, as well as everyday wear. What do you think has led this shift?
We’re seeing that too – I think this shift has been led by people being more thoughtful when it comes to spending and the part we are playing to help our environment.
You recently opened a beautiful new store in Newmarket. What made you decide to open here?
We felt Newmarket would be the perfect location for most of our members as it’s easy to get to from all locations in Auckland. We found an amazing space that fit with the vision we had for what our flagship store should look like, and just went for it!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different for me – today I am the buyer/brand manager and do social/EDM marketing at DW and also do things like this interview. This morning I had a meeting with a new ambassador, did a photoshoot for DW, went over the new homepage for NZ and AU with the development and design team. Then, I had a look at new dresses to buy and before the day ends I am going to go look at new furniture for our new North Shore store opening next week! It is always mixed and fun.
Sustainability has been a huge buzzword over the last few years and we’re seeing consumers become more conscious of their purchases and the life cycle of a garment. Has this trend become evident as Designer Wardrobe has grown?
It’s something we live and breathe at DW and our members have always been passionate about sustainability. By the nature of what we do (renting and a pre-loved marketplace) we can help our members be more sustainable with their fashion consumption while reducing textile wastage and saving money. It’s certainly a wider trend and it’s really exciting to see people talking more and more about this.
Designer Wardrobe has gained a large following on social media with people sharing their rental outfits. How has social media impacted the way you work?
DW was born on social media – thanks to our Facebook group we created our very amazing community back in 2014! Essentially we were (and are) a community before being a platform as well. As Instagram took off, we introduced rental and we knew it would sit well on this channel. Since then we have also created an Instagram for marketplace (the pre-loved buy and sell part of DW). We always try and encourage our members to tag us in images and we love teaming up with ambassadors who are passionate about DW too. As a young entrepreneur, what advice do you have for someone wanting to start their own business? I think it’s important to ask for advice, reach out to people for help and even see if people you might know would be interested in joining you on your venture! DW is a success because of all of the people involved – not just the amazing team but our investors and also our community. I often see people trying to do a new business all on their own and to me, it’s about everyone owning a part of the business with their skills that they are amazing at rather than one person trying to do it all.
During lockdown, we watched many of our favourite series and listened to podcasts. Do you have any favourites?
During the lockdown, I made a conscious effort to relax and laugh due to the stress of getting through these harder times while owning a business that is event-based! So, Schitt’s Creek was my go-to! Highly recommend it for those that haven’t had a chance to check it out.
What has been your biggest challenge running a business?
The pressure of making sure we achieve what we all set out to – with my idea!
How do you decide what garments to add to your rental offering? Do you follow trends?
First of all, I look at our most popular events that people rent for and when that is. For example, right now because it’s winter and it’s ball season, I spend lots of time looking into styles, colours, cuts and what people are wearing overseas. From there, when I buy from our ball season designers I always look out for the dresses shapes or fabrics that they have used and from there if they are similar to past dresses that were super popular and flattering, I know it will be a winner! We have lots of data to back it up – I also look at something that is fun, bold and not something someone may wear more than once! This is just one process I have of many to find the perfect dresses to offer.
It’s 10am on a Sunday morning. Where will we find you and what are you doing?
I will be with my amazing partner Blair, out to breakfast, or on a walk. Even though we do live together, we love Sundays as it’s our time to catch up and take a moment to breathe. After a busy week for both of us, a lazy Sunday is just what we need!
If you were going to invest in one luxury item for your wardrobe, what would it be?
I always invest in a luxury bag, and when I feel like I need a new bag – I will sell my old bag to buy a new one!
How do you unwind away from the office?
I enjoy taking life easy out of the office, dinner dates with loved ones, long walks, beach days. I enjoy a simple life away from the office.
What do you see the future of the designer rentals market looking like?
Before lockdown, we soft-launched rental consignment – this is when our members might have items in their wardrobe that they might want to rent out, so we do it all for them! Once accepting the dresses, we shoot the items, list them on our site and market them on social – from there the member will be able to make a small income off their dresses. I have some friends that want to buy a couple of dresses for events and will then pass them onto us for this service! I’m super excited about it – when events pick up, we will be talking about this much more. We also want to continue strengthening our relationships with the amazing designer brands we work with.
What’s next for Designer Wardrobe?
Other than opening a new store on the North Shore, launching rental consignment, and updating our website – we are launching our Buy & Sell in Australia! So many exciting times ahead for DW!