Designer Wardrobe is a thriving online business that grew out of a single Facebook group. Today it has in excess of 40,000 members, a community built around friendships and offers a totally unique op-shopping experience.
By Glenn Baker.
Let’s face it, if you’re female, aged between 18 and 24, and passionate about shopping for designer-label clothes, then you’ll find the Designer Wardrobe website simply irresistible.
It’s an idea that couldn’t fail – host a clever technology platform for the buying, selling or renting of pre-loved designer clothes; make every step of the process simple and painless, and the people will come. At last count, over 40,000 to be exact.
So how did this raving success story all begin?
Wind back the clock a couple of years. Auckland-based hairdresser Donielle Brooke was 25, working at a top Auckland salon and shopping up a storm in her spare time. It wasn’t unusual for her to blow her entire paycheck on clothes, and top designer labels at that. The fact that the salon was based in Takapuna’s The Department Store with designer clothing right under her nose didn’t help either. “I literally had no savings,” she recalls.
Then came the bombshell. Donielle was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. To treat the energy-sapping disease meant taking five months off work. In order to raise enough money to pay off her debts she started a Facebook group in order to sell her rather extensive wardrobe of designer-label clothes.
It only took a few weeks to wipe out the debt, and by selling more clothes there was even enough money for a trip to Europe a year later!
Having also long been a fan of shopping for secondhand clothes on Trade Me and eBay, Donielle was now hooked on the idea of an online marketplace for trading pre-loved designer clothes.
Before long her group was pulling more than 10,000 members, but for it to become a serious business it needed its own tailored platform.
Enter Aidan Bartlett – a junior buyer at Warehouse Stationery, an ex-musician and a bit of a whizz on websites and technology. Donielle and Aidan have known each other since they were 11.
Aidan got excited by the potential of the business, which was appropriately named Designer Wardrobe, and came on board to help develop the site – which was fairly basic to begin with.
Then one day Aidan read about the Lightning Lab business accelerator programme. The two young directors decided it would be a great way to quickly move the business to the next level. They applied and were accepted.
“Because Lightning Lab is a tech start-up incubator one of the stipulations for the programme was to have a technical developer on your team,” says Aidan. “So we recruited Jarrad, who was working for a digital agency in Christchurch at the time. He resigned from his job, drove up to Auckland on a Sunday and started with us on the Monday.”
The programme was a full-time three-month commitment earlier this year; a challenge that meant a lot of late nights, but the now growing team were learning heaps about business management.
“It helped us figure out a real plan to see where we could go with [the business], and how far we could take it,” says Donielle.
At the end of the course Aidan pitched the business to a gathering of 200 investors. Several came on board. Designer Wardrobe is now a team of five with offices and real prospects. Business opportunity validated. Job done.
Where they’re at today
Designer Wardrobe has come a long way in a very short time. The site now has in excess of 40,000 members – with the base expanding beyond the core 18 to 24 age group. Live listings total more than 10,000; there’re more than one million hits per month; clothing rentals make up almost 20 percent of listings; and there’s even a cult following in Australia.
Both Donielle and Aidan love the fact that the platform is two sided. “It’s about buyers and sellers and their interaction,” explains Aidan. “Designer Wardrobe is also a social experience. Watching the online community grow is really exciting to see.”
“Many friendships have been made,” adds Donielle. “People even run their own businesses by renting out their clothes through the site – that’s cool to see.”
There’ll never be a shortage of designer clothes either. Donielle explains how, through exposure in social media, young women do not want to be seen in the same outfit more than once. “Designer Wardrobe is great for them because they literally just sell that item and use the money to buy something else.”
It’s also a plus for New Zealand’s designer stores, she says, because the overall spend on top brand first-hand clothes goes up.
Top of the priority list right now is developing the rental platform further, and making the ‘Valet’ service as seamless as possible. Valet allows members to request a pre-paid shipping kit to have their clothes sorted, photographed and listed online. “It’s like an online op-shop,” says Donielle.
She’s especially excited about introducing their iPhone app early next year – which gives members instant notification if a garment has sold or been rented without having to log onto the website.
As for marketing strategy – it’s all about leveraging their social media presence, says Aidan, and they partnered with PureSEO to optimise their Google ranking.
“Generally our focus is on building an amazing product so members tell others to sign up and try it out,” he says. “It’s really important that we build something our members love, rather than just like.”
Aidan’s advice for other start-ups is to know your brand and target market and build original content around it. Applicable written content and photos original to each social media platform are key, he says.
Above all, Designer Wardrobe is a community, just as it was in the beginning.
Donielle explains how she has always regarded online users as her friends, and the intention is to bring their thousands of users on the journey with them.