Traversing from a career in consulting and manufacturing to dress rentals, Shuen Chiu founded Rent a Dress partially out of boredom and driven by the desire to make good quality fashion accessible. A problem statement came about from attending weddings – it wasn’t economical to spend so much on a dress only to wear them once and it was frustrating finding quality pieces on a limited budget.
“Quality is an essential part of our business value system and culture. Whether it is customer service or the products, we are always trying to improve ourselves”.
RAD started in 2013 and launched in the second half of 2014. Customers gets to choose from various styles from RAD’s collection that ranges from local designer brands to international brands.
She admits that her biggest challenge is the struggle with leadership and building a team. As an individual it would be easy to see and a problem and solve it, spot an opportunity and grab it. However, in a business a strong team is needed to follow up and support on every vision and opportunity.
“It grew larger than me, and when I had to manage team I felt like is everyone is slow or is it just me? At one point I almost lost my whole team. In terms of leading and managing, it didn’t come naturally to me. I saw it as a second chance to build a team and improve.”
Shuen sees the rise of other dress rental businesses with similar business model positively as it makes dress rentals a norm. When RAD first started, the team had to do a lot of communicating and marketing and convince people that the dresses are cleaned and will reach the customers on time. “Getting the dresses to the customers at the start was crucial as we were the only one with that concept.”
RAD focuses on quality assurance with zero tolerance for late delivery. All delivery services they employ are same day deliveries.
“If it’s just a lunch date, you can send a backup but if it’s something important like a wedding dinner or a company gala dinner you can’t do that. People are counting on you. if our delivery partners can’t get it in on time, we send it ourselves.”
When dresses are returned to RAD, the team takes note of the dresses‘ conditions and takes pictures of any damage and gets the minor ones mended. Every item are thoroughly checked before they are taken to the dry cleaners. When major damage is found, the customers are notified on the same day.
RAD selects partners who are just as meticulous and detailed with clothing as they are and that includes the dry cleaners too. This practice ensures that each dress goes a long way. There are dresses that has been rented out over 150 times and counting. The wear and tear of each dress varies from brand to brand and usually corresponds to their price range. Dresses with beadings tend not to last as long when they are not of very good designer brands and goes out 20-30 times before they are retired. The team keeps an archive of materials, designs, and fit of dresses for analysis. Some dresses may look plain and simple, but it goes out a lot of times because the fit is amazing.
When RAD first took off, it was more of a Malaysian thing. With the business growing, so did the possibility of expansion. In the United States, dress rentals can be run from warehouses that stores, dry cleans, and mend the inventories under one roof. Southeast Asia is a lot more fragmented where every country has its own regulations and languages and requires understanding how imports and exports work. In this sense, a network of operation centres in different countries would work better than running from a centralised warehouse.
Making fashion sustainable is one of RAD’s long term goals and making dress rentals a norm is a start. Fast fashion produces a lot of waste and produces unsustainable consumer habits. She hopes the rise of dress rentals would put a push on the fashion industry as to how they view their supply chains.