Essentially an Airbnb for high-end dresses and accessories, Style Lend is a peer-to-peer marketplace where women can list and rent items for a fraction of their original retail cost. Most women can relate to having at least a couple items in their closets that cost a lot of money, but get very little wear: That one special occasion dress, or designer handbag. These kinds of items stick around because they aren’t quite candidates for consignment. She loves them and wants to keep them, but the truth is that they stay in the closet 95% of the time.
How it works
Much like Airbnb, Style Lend’s purported edge is in the convenience and assurance provided by its added services. For the dress lender, there are two levels of Style Lend’s service: DIY, where the lender gets 70 percent of the rental cost, and “on demand,” where the fee is split 50/50 and Style Lend takes care of details like the dry cleaning before the items are returned. Lenders can also pay $5 for insurance that will handle issues such as small stains, broken zippers, and ripped fabric.
Style Lend CEO Lona Duncan came by TechCrunch headquarters to explain the service and show us the kinds of dresses it offers in person. You can watch that in the video embedded above.
Duncan says that Style Lend is meant to be a win/win transaction: The dress owner gets to monetize the “investment pieces” in her wardrobe and show off her taste to the Style Lend community. The borrower gets to sport a stylish dress or designer purse at a fraction of the price it would take to own it. The site is meant to be a true marketplace, where renters are also borrowers, and vice versa.
The dresses in Style Lend’s “high end designer” category have an average retail value of $2,155, and cost $120 per week to rent. Style Lend requires that each dress on its site have a minimum retail price of $150. Dresses at that “cost-conscious designer” level are rented out at an average price of $30 per week.
Right now Style Lend is only in San Francisco, but it plans to roll out in New York City and other metro areas in the coming months. The company is currently in the winter 2014 class of Y Combinator, which is scheduled to hold its Demo Day next week.
The bigger picture
Fashion may seem like a frivolous space, but it’s a massive industry that has a big impact on the world.
Nowadays, more and more women want to keep up with trends and experiment with different looks. But many can’t justify investing a lot of money on items that they’ll wear only a couple of times. That’s led to the rise of disposable “fast fashion,” which has negative repercussions on human rights and the environment.
If it takes off, Style Lend could help to counteract this shift by encouraging women to buy fewer, better things. If a woman knew that she could share an item with others and make money on it, she might choose to buy the $200 silk Amour Vert dress that’s responsibly made in the U.S., instead of the $40 polyester Forever 21 dress that’s made in a factory with questionable low-cost labor practices. It’s an optimistic vision, but Style Lend has the potential to make it a reality.