The model for how women purchase clothing is essentially broken. Because it is an ever-changing status symbol and subject to trends, fashion is not exactly like any other goods.
For example, with furniture you buy a new couch or a bed and then you have one, you don’t need another one or a different one two weeks later. Not so with dresses or shoes. In fact if many women, myself included, had their way, we’d never wear the same thing twice.
But spending $$$ on something you’ll only wear once isn’t really economically feasible, for even the 1%ers among us.
“I feel like I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear,” says 99dresses founder Nikki Durkin, ” I’m a twenty-year-old girl, I don’t have a lot of money but I like to look nice. And if I have this problem and all my friends have this problem, then let’s just create this Infinite Closet.”
Durkin realized that the technology existed to solve her dilemma and built clothing swap community 99dresses in her native Australia. The Infinite Closet idea caught on through word of mouth and the site saw over 4k dresses uploaded over four months. Durkin decided to shut down the Australian site and give the US market a go — So she applied to Y Combinator, and got accepted.
To participate on 99dresses, users upload a dress that they may be tired of, but that somebody else might appreciate. Unlike other clothing swap services Poshmark and Threadflip, 99dresses is aiming for the Forever 21 and Zara set, not necessarily the well-heeled worshippers of Lanvin, Balenciaga and Prada.
Also unlike its competitors, 99dresses doesn’t use any actual currency, so women who upload dresses must sell them for “buttons.” In turn they can use these buttons to buy other dresses (sortable by size), and can also buy extra buttons for a dollar each if they’re short of a needed amount. The company currently monetizes by selling these buttons.
An item never actually leaves the Infinite Closet, and simply is taken out of circulation when you “buy” it. Ostensibly you could buy a dress, wear it once to a party, and re-upload it for someone else to enjoy (The seller pays for shipping and handling). “It’s guilt-free shopping,” says Durkin, “prolonging that rush of never having to wear the same thing twice.”
While the service is limited to dresses at the moment, Durkin tells me that she plans on rolling out other categories of clothing in the next one to two months. Durkin also is currently talking with colleges around the US, and hopes that individual campuses will adopt the 99dresses platform for themselves. No plans to include men are in the works, because men “consume fashion differently than women.”
The site currently has an inventory of over 500 dresses and Durkin is focused on building up that inventory. She says the site was so beloved in Australia that women still email her asking when it will be back up, “I’ve proven the model in Oz.”
99dresses allows users to trade the fashion items with other users. The site started as a post-HSC project for the founder, Nikki Durkin, in a collaboration between herself and Pollenizer, around December 2010, Pollenizer and 99dresses parted ways. In November 2011, it was announced that 99dresses / Nikki would be participating in a YCombinator Program (source).