Renting the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Here at CanadaFashionLaw, we love legislative and case law developments that affect the fashion industry but we also love looking at new business models within the fashion industry.  We love outside the box thinking!

At the recent Annual General Meeting for the Toronto chapter of Fashion Group International, I was fortunate to break bread with Lisa Delorme, co-founder and CEO of Rent Frock Repeat, a new player in the Canadian fashion world.  From a business-model perspective, Rent Frock Repeat is interesting on two counts: first is that it introduces the concept of renting evening wear to Canada (something that is well-established in the US and European markets); second, it throws out the traditional brick and mortar model and is making its mark in the e-commerce world.  Online dress rentals – who would have thought!  Ever eager to learn more about the fashion industry, CanadaFashionLaw took this opportunity to interview Rent Frock Repeat on their experience in their launch into the Canadian fashion world.  We hope you enjoy!

Walk us through Rent Frock Repeat’s inception and development.

Kristy Weiber and I were invited to a wedding and simply did not want to put out money AGAIN for a dress that would be worn once or twice and then take up precious real estate space in our closet.  We came across a US website that rented cocktail dresses and we thought it was a brilliant solution to our dilemma but quickly found out they didn’t ship to Canada.  We had always been thinking of opening our own business but we didn’t know exactly what and this seemed like the perfect fit for us.  This was in May of 2010, by August of the same year we were incorporated and May 23rd 2011 we launched http://www.rentfrockrepeat.com

The business model is largely internet based.  What challenges are specific to the e-commerce world, as opposed to the brick and mortar model? 

For our merchandise specifically it still comes down to women wanting to touch and feel the clothes or simply try them on.  When we sat down to map out exactly how we would overcome this challenge we asked ourselves how we could not only provide peace of mind about the fit challenge but provide even better service than a regular bricks and mortar store.  Our solutions included sending a second size for free, letting women narrow their selection by body shape, showing the dress on models that are not only different sizes but different shapes (pear, straight and narrow, hourglass, apple…) and providing pictures of how a woman could style the dress in different ways (classic, edgy, bohemian, feminine).

What challenges are the same?

Whether you are operating an online business or have a chance to meet your customers face to face the challenge is to earn your business.  We love this particular challenge because it all comes down to service.  Are you really listening to your customer’s challenge?  Are you giving them what they need and not what you think they should buy (or rent)?  Are you solving a problem or filling a need?  At the end of the day you need to make a profit and that is why we spend so much time on the business model and scale but we also know we can’t get there if we are not all about service.

You’re a relatively new company and yet you’ve had some fantastic exposure.  What’s the secret to your success?

We are fortunate enough to have a product that is visually appealing (who doesn’t like to see pictures of beautiful women in gorgeous dresses), a business model that is fairly unique and have provided a product that may have been financially or geographically out of reach.  This story resonates with the fashionista who lives in a rural area and currently does not have access to high fashion and with the fashionista student that currently does not have the financial means to shop the designer lines she would like to wear.  It is fashion democracy and I think people (including the media) like the idea that we can now all be on the same playing field when it comes to fashion.

Who is your target audience?  Has this changed from what you first imagined?

Our target audience is women who have a busy social calendar and are less concerned with having to own things and are more focused on looking and feeling their best.

In simple terms your company rents dresses but in reality it encapsulates more than that – it’s a vehicle to create Cinderella moments for your clientele.  Have there been some standout moments for you?

Yes, and as excited as we are about being able to attend NY and Toronto Fashion Weeks, meeting directly with many of the designers and being surrounded by beautiful dresses (we must admit, it has been a plus to be able to go into the RfR closet if we need something fabulous to wear to an event), we are most excited about the stories we hear from our customers.  We have received countless Thank You notes in our return packages with comments like “I never thought I would ever be able to wear a designer dress, thank you!”, and “I fit right in on the red carpet and didn’t have to choose between paying the bills or a new dress to do so.”  But, our favourite story to date was the evening we dressed the winners of the Dr. Roz’s Healing Place “Victory Over Violence” Gala.  These three women had experienced a rough start to their lives but were being recognized for making the brave first step of reaching out to Dr. Roz and eventually implementing the tools they were given during their time at the centers.  On the night they were recognized publicly all three were wearing RfR dresses and they told us this was their Cinderella moment.  We were thrilled to be a part of it!

Why do you think that Canada has been such a receptive audience to your company?

Unfortunately our small population in Canada makes it difficult for us to have as many options as others do when it comes to shopping.  Just think of the options Americans have with Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bloomingdales, Barney’s, Lord and Taylor, Macy’s (I could go on and on and this is just their department stores).  We see all the commercials and so we are exposed to so much but we don’t have many options ourselves and need to think about the duty and delivery charges we would incur to have things shipped to us (and that is if they even offer the service).  So when a new company makes the items we want available in our own country we get excited.  We have to admit that we are pretty stoked about Target coming to Canada.  We want the new Jason Wu darling day dresses he is putting out too!

Your company has a program that raises money for the charities.  Can you elaborate on this? 

Our motto is “Rent the dress, Donate the rest” and the good news is that this is open to anyone who is throwing a black-tie or gala event to raise funds.  We provide the charity with a unique promo code that they provide to their guests and for every dress rented with that code we will take 10% and give it back to the charity.  What is even greater is that we are hearing women are now able to attend more events because they aren’t spending as much money as they normally wear on their wardrobe (which can be the most expensive part of the evening).  We also recently donated 5% of every rental from November 25, 2011 to January 2, 2012 to the YWCA Rose Campaign.

What do you love the most about being an enterpeneur in Canada’s fashion industry?  What has proved most frustrating? 

Kristy and I have always been weekend warriors when it comes to fashion.  We worked our regular jobs during the week (and sometimes through the weekend) and then read fashion magazines and went shopping in our spare time.  So when we landed in NYC for our first round of buying we had to pinch ourselves.  Honestly, for anyone that loves fashion how can that not get your heart racing?  As for frustrating… not to sound like a Pollyanna but nothing.  Sure there are aspects of our jobs we like more than others like our buying trips over paying the bills and boxing the shipments but nothing that frustrates us.  We are thrilled and over the moon that this is what we get to do every day.

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Elle’s Creative Director Joe Zee Talks Fashion Business with CanadaFashionLaw

If you know Elle magazine or the spin-off reality TV show, The City, you probably know Joe Zee.  Amicable, knowledgeable and dynamic, Joe Zee has launched a new reality TV show, “All On The Line”.  The second season airs in Canada on Sundance Channel Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. EST.  Season one will air Mondays at 8 p.m. EST beginning January 2 on CosmoTV.

In “All On The Line” Joe Zee acts as a fashion guru consultant to help struggling designers save their business.  Here at CanadaFashionLaw, we love the business and law of the fashion industry and so this TV show is of great interest to us.  With a spring in our step and a shimmer from our newest bubble gum pink lip gloss, CanadaFashionLaw was delighted to be invited for a one-on-one talk with the guru himself.  We hope you enjoy the interview: 

You’re no stranger to reality TV, what kind of impact has it had on your personal brand and that of Elle magazine’s?

I think that reality TV is a genre.  Although it was probably a dirty word when it first launched on air, it has become a really big component of television broadcasting.  It is going to open up the parameters of who you are.  From a personal brand perspective, I think that a lot more people understand what I do, who I am and what I can contribute.  For Elle, it certainly helps us expand to a broader market – to people who may not just be reading magazines but to those who love fashion and watch it on TV.

How did All On The Line come about?

Sundance Channel and the production company, Authentic Entertainment, came to me with the idea of the show.  I wasn’t entirely sure what it was so we all sat down and talked about it and shaped it into something that I was so proud and happy with because it was genuine and authentic.  It’s something that I feel has never been done on television.  We’re not portraying Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty.  It’s not red carpet and glitz and glam.  It’s really about the nitty-gritty, hard, blood sweat and tears tough day in day out aspects of what being a fashion designer is about.  Yes you can have that dream – but it comes at a price.  It’s not easy.  There are a lot of things on television that make it seem easy.  People don’t understand that there is so much “business” involved.

How do you offer grounded criticisms without stifling the designer’s creativity?

Being honest!  If you watch the show, I’m brutally honest.  I’m not going to be their mother and sugar coat something.  They have people in their lives to do that – they don’t need me for that.  They have to understand what it is that they are doing and if you miss the mark just a little bit, you may as well stop doing it.  It’s a very crowded industry.  You’ve got to be able to service it.  I’m never mean (I don’t think), I just want to be honest in a critical way that will help them.

One of the biggest self-induced hurdles that I see as a fashion lawyer helping emerging or established fashion designers is that they do not view themselves as a business from early on.  Do you agree?

Absolutely!!  There are so many fashion students that have been so attached to the show and are now starting to realize that they need to have some sort of business training.  They can’t just draw, drape, cut and sew.  Once you’ve done that, what’s next?  You have to understand the business aspect.  We don’t live in a world where you can sketch designs from your ivory tower and think that your dress will end up in every store.  You’ve got to figure out how to make that work.  This show is starting to help people re-evaluate.  Being a designer means being a business person.  People haven’t thought that before.

And the designers don’t think to outsource that business acumen either.  If you’re going to focus on the creative aspects, at least surround yourself with trust-worthy people that have a good business aptitude, be it from a financial, legal or consulting background.

Yes.  But they have to get “you”.  They can’t just be a good business person.  They have to know how to take the creativity of who you are and make it into something successful.

On one of your episodes, there was a successful business person backing the designer, but the business person had no knowledge of the fashion industry itself.  How necessary is it for the financial/business/legal minds to educate themselves on the nuances of the fashion industry?

It happens ALL the time.  I think that there are designers who don’t understand the nuances of the fashion industry.  It’s hard – how can anyone entering into the industry know the nuances of everything going on.  So they have to learn but unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time for the learning curve.  You have to make your business successful and it has to happen right now.  You don’t have seasons and seasons to try.  That’s the problem with all these designers.

Is it a “learn on the job” situation or are the fashion education institutions geared towards helping the designers appreciate the practical business aspects of the fashion industry?

I think that for a lot of them, it is a “learn on the job” scenario.  That’s why I recommend designers take apprenticeships and be designers for bigger companies to see how that all works.

Do you think that there is opportunity in Canada for fashion designers or is brain drain to NYC, Milan or London necessary to be successful?

I think that’s what the fashion world gravitates to.  If you want to have global representation, then you have to be in those markets because that’s where all the international editors and retailers are going to be.  It’s very hard to get global representation in smaller markets because you are just not going to get the eyeballs.  This is for no other reason than the editors, buyers and retailers can’t be all over the world every day.  But that’s not to say that Canada can’t have a fashion scene and develop really great talent here and put Canada on the map.  But that needs to be done in a consolidated way within the country.

With the Asian markets emerging as a dominant player in the fashion industry – how is this going to affect the business of fashion and influence fashion designs?

Asia is big for the luxury brands.  They are all expanding there like rapid fire because they want to be there first.  Asia’s not the place that’s bringing in the heavy dollars yet but it is the place that will bring in the heavy dollars soon.  Everyone wants to be there when it does.  I think it’s going to change the world of fashion because we’re going to see the designers in the world of luxury shift their focus to target that market.  Everything trickles down from the luxury market so if the Louis Vutton’s, Prada’s and Dior’s are doing something to target the Asian market, we’re going to see that trickle down effect throughout the fashion market.

Why do you think the luxury goods market has not been as negatively affected during this recession?

They have held their own, but they are also a small percentage of the business.  If you really think about it, luxury ready to wear consumer products is really under 10% of the business.  They really deal in everything else: accessories, fragrance, licensing, beauty.  They have held their own because the people who are true consumers of those luxury brands are not the people that have been affected by the recession.  While shopping may not have happened as aggressively, it certainly has still happened.

What are your thoughts on the US’ move to amend the copyright act to protect fashion designs – what will be the effect?

I haven’t been following it as closely, but I know that it’s a fight that has been going on and it’s a fight worth fighting.

  

Women Helping Women Through Clothes

As Toronto’s LG Fashion Week kicks off this week, CanadaFashionLaw eagerly clasps her fashion week industry passes in anticipation of a week full of runway shows.  (I love my job!) But before the festival of fabulousness commences, CanadaFashionLaw wants to pause for a cause.  CanadaFashionLaw recently became aware of a great organization, Dress For Success, that aims to help women launch their career through the gift of clothes.  In the interview belowCanadaFashionLaw hopes to tap into the season of giving a little early.

Tell us about your organization and what it aims to achieve.

The mission of Dress for Success Toronto is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Our programs include the Suiting Program, which outfits women in professional attire for job interviews and employment; the Dress Rehersal Program where clients go through a mock interview and feedback session and can get assistance with resume/cover letter writing; and the Profesional Women’s Group, which offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workplace.

How has the response been in Toronto?

The response in Toronto has been extremely positive.  Dress for Success Toronto serves job-ready women by referral only through our community partnerships with over 300 non-profit organizations.  Clients come to us from domestic violence agencies, homeless shelters and job-training programs. We work together with our referring agencies to provide delivery of services designed to elevate the lives of low income women and their families.

The concept goes way beyond clothes.  Women helping women really seems to be a central theme.  Can you share any success stories?

Latoya was introduced to Dress for Success Toronto in 2009 by a government employment centre.    She came to use our services and was encouraged to sign up for mentorship, assistance with resume writing and once she landed a job, she was invited to join the Professional Women’s Group, a group for newly employed women that have used our services that offers monthly workshops, networking and support.  When I asked Latoya about what this organization means to her, this is the response she gave:

A suit will last a year a two but it’s the lessons and support we receive that will last a life time and help us to better integrate and become successful in our lives and career.   Dress for Success is a driving force in my career development.  Getting a job is just the beginning, you have to start over, re-qualify and work your way up. This can be very demanding, difficult and challenging at times. I am better able to balance both personal and work life and cope with a new culture through the workshops and support I receive at Dress for Success.  This is more than just about suits; it is part of my survival. I may have received suits on my first visit but it’s the encouragement, support, joy and fulfillment that I receive that keeps me coming back.

What are the biggest challenges that your organization has faced?

Our biggest challenge is that people think we’re just about the suits!  The Suiting Program is an important part of what we do; however, our other programming is also essential to helping women become self-sufficient by addressing their social and economic needs in relation to work.  For example, the Professional Women’s Group offers women ongoing support as they successfully transition into the workforce, build thriving careers and prosper in the mainstream workplace.  Funding to support all the other programming we do is essential in order for us to fulfill our mission.  We can’t run our quality programming on clothing donations alone.

There is a lot of buzz about your organization’s Fundraising Gala on November 2, 2011 at the Bata Shoe Museum.  Can you give us the scoop?

It is Dress for Success Toronto’s inaugural Fundraising Gala!  The theme of the night is “Most Memorable Shoes” while guests are having a “Heel of a Good Time!” Attendees will enjoy refreshments and hors d’oeuvres while watching a fashion show featuring the EDIT by Jeanne Beker denim collection and Ron White Shoes, complemented by the original fashions of GISH (Girls in Skirts), Sarah Stevenson Designs and MINK, talented local Toronto designers.

There will be signature cocktails, and “innovative interactive entertainment” for guests to enjoy.  We also have a special guest appearance and book signing by internationally renowned Canadian fashion icon, Jeanne Beker!

More information about the event, including ticket sales, can be found on our website: www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto

How else can people roll up their sleeves and help out? 

Dress for Success Toronto has several opportunities for individuals to get involved.

We take donations of new and gently used professional attire at our 188 Lowther Avenue location in Toronto.  Individuals interested in donating to us can go to our website for more information (www.dressforsuccess.org/Toronto) or e-mail us at donate@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.

We also have several ways an individual can volunteer!  Volunteer roles include stylists, merchandisers and career services.  Anyone interested in volunteering with us can e-mail volunteer@dressforsuccesstoronto.org.  With the help of our volunteers, we can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of low income women, their children and future generations.

Through a $100 donation, you can give one woman access to the whole suite of Dress for Success programs.  We all know how good it feels to put on the right outfit when headed out to a big meeting or event – first impressions are key, so imagine if you didn’t have this ability!  Your $100 donation can make this difference.  Holiday season is just around the corner and helping one individual take the steps back into the workforce can make this a happy holiday season with hope for the future.  Donations can be made online through our website (www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto)