Thanks to technological innovation, consumers can rent virtually anything with a tap of their finger, from cars to homes to movies. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it provides a sense of instant gratification.
It’s also sustainable. As many consumers look to be more green, it only makes sense to, so to speak, share the wealth. After all, how many pairs of Jimmy Choos does a girl need?
Capitalizing on the sustainability trend, Brentwood-based children’s clothing rental platform Stylette is giving parents a way to dress their kids (aged 6 months to 10 years) in the latest fashion while avoiding the guilt that can come with overconsumption.
A recent study from market research company Research and Markets forecast the retail rental industry to rise at a rate of about 11% between now and 2031. Rent the Runway, Style Lend, and Lending Luxury are some of the major players in the online clothing rental industry targeting adults. But what about clothing for children?
In 2020, health and wellness entrepreneur Sheena Jongeneel was pursuing her master’s degree in business administration at Pepperdine University. At the time, she was dealing with the challenge of her toddler growing faster than her budget. She was paying a good deal for clothes that in a few months would no longer fit the youngster. As a solution, she co-founded Stylette with fellow mother Kim Kreuzberger.
Stylette customers browse the company’s catalog of clothing and accessories, including dresses, hair accessories and suits (most items cost less than $100 to rent), find their desired sizes and select a five-day or 10-day rental period. After the rental period is over, they send the items back or purchase them through Stylette.
Stylette’s clothing brand partners include Nelly Stella, Tutu Du Monde and Luna Luna. The startup buys clothing from these companies at wholesale prices, but plans to partner with companies on a commission basis, a system that would give brands a portion of the rental price in return for supplying Stylette with its pieces. “That’s something that I have proposed to a couple of brands that we don’t carry right now, to bring them on board and then just give them a cut each time something is rented,” Jongeneel added. Stylette currently has a warehouse in Gardena in which it keeps its inventory, but also orders pieces that parents want on a demand basis.
Jongeneel, who had previously spent several years working in the health and wellness industry, felt it was time for something new. It was 2019, and while finishing her degree she secured her first investment of $50,000 through an accelerator program from Santa Monica-based business management consultant company Expert Dojo.
“That took the idea to an actual product, built relationships with the top kid’s brands, which took some time,” Jongeneel said. “Then we bought inventory to put up on the website and start testing the model and building the website. So those times allowed for inventory, to build the website, and to also custom-build some of our technology for the platform
The company plans to close its seed round next month. Over the past year, Jongeneel said Stylette has transacted about 300 rentals without any advertising and hopes the next round of funding will allow a mass-marketing campaign. She said the company would also like to implement a subscription model.
“That’s something that’s definitely in our grand vision, and we’re actively fundraising now to be able to scale to subscription,” Jongeneel said.
Cristel Russell, a professor of marketing at Pepperdine University, has conducted an abundance of research on the secondary market, or the buying and reselling of products.
“I was looking more into the technology, products like information technology, company equipment or even the resale of cars,” Russell said. “Some people might not think of clothes as having a similar cycle.”
Russell used the purchase of a home as an example. Most buyers don’t shy away from buying a house just because it had been lived in, or “used,” before. However, clothing is more personal, so most consumers would typically shy away from paying for apparel that has been worn by someone else. However, Russell said that, today, people, especially the younger generation, are more open to buying used clothing or renting clothes, especially children’s items. The cost of owning versus the cost of borrowing is to blame.
“The cost of ownership is not just the original purchase. Many of these fancy dresses or outfits you have to dry clean, and you have to store them in a particular way,” Russell said. “The cost of buying plus the cost of owning and maintaining and cleaning and storing, there’s a huge cost that people don’t necessarily think of when they buy something. But if they start to think about it, then maybe with a company like Stylette, a rental fee might not be such a bad deal.”
She added that there are two extremes. On one hand, a large segment of the population will hop on the clothing rental trend right away because they will immediately see the value. The other group, also a large one, would never rent attire, especially for their children.
“And then usually in the middle, it follows the classic diffusion curve,” Russell said. “I’m sure this is going to grow crazy because there’s a whole generation now that is very comfortable with thrifting, and they don’t think (negatively) about sharing.”
Russell said that a move toward a circular economy, in which people buy and resell products, could make companies such as Stylette successful.
“We’ve definitely tested the model, and we’re getting traction and orders. People are renting,” Jongeneel said. “There’s space in the kids’ market because no one really has done it, but of course the adult space has been tried and tested, and it’s doing really well. So, it’s just a matter of time before this also takes off in the kid space.”