She Talks With Isabella West, Founder Of Hirestreet

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Every once in a while there is a business that captivates society...Apple, ASOS, Monzo etc. We love all things new at She Talks Magazine. And more importantly, we love all ideas that are set to disrupt society, so without further ado let us introduce you to Hirestreet. Hirestreet is an outfit rental platform where consumers can rent outfits from their favourite high street brands including Rat & Boa, Topshop, Zara, French Connection, and many more. We were lucky enough to speak with the founder Isabella West and ask her the questions you're dying to know. 

Where did the entrepreneurial bug for Hirestreet come from? And what was the turning point i.e. the thing, person, or event that made the idea that made you go for it?

Growing up with two sisters I have always known the benefits of sharing clothes - I know that it doesn’t matter if the outfit isn’t ‘new’ - if it’s ‘new on you’ then you can still feel great. When I was 17 I introduced the idea of a SwopShop to school, and throughout my university life I was effectively running a ‘free rental’ service amongst my friends. I have always believed in the concept of a shared wardrobe, but it wasn’t until I moved to London and the logistics of sharing with friends became more complicated that I began to think about the potential business case. 

As the daughter of two entrepreneurs I had always wanted to start my own business. In 2017 I was working for Selfridges in their Global Strategy Team researching the future of British retail and rental kept popping up as a trend to watch. I remember feeling that I was perfectly positioned to act on an idea I had loved for years and as though it was ‘now or never’.

Tell us more about your business model

Hirestreet is the UK’s first high street focused fashion rental platform. We introduce a shared approach to occasion wear - which basically just means we buy dresses from brands which customers then rent from us. 

It’s a simple model - our customers tell us the items they would like us to stock, we buy them and instead of just one person wearing that outfit and feeling amazing - 10 different women will wear the same dress and have that same feeling.

For customers who are both financially and environmentally aware it’s a great solution. Most of our dresses are around £15 to rent for 12 days (they would retail at around £100) - this means that customers save c.£85 per outfit, and avoid the guilt that can come with buying an outfit and wearing it once.

What are some obstacles that you had to face in order to make Hirestreet a reality?

Honestly, at the beginning there were some really huge barriers to overcome - from finding a logistics partner to dispatching and cleaning all the dresses, to raising money to buy thousands of garments but looking back I think the hardest (and yet the most important) obstacle to overcome has always been my own self confidence.

Being a founder is a lonely life (before you build out your team), and there are some really big challenges. I remember going to hugely important meetings and feeling like an ‘imposter’ - I always thought I would be laughed out of the room for having this crazy big idea that I could change how people shop. I think at the beginning the only real risk to Hirestreet becoming a reality was me - my belief and willingness to persevere.

In the first couple of months, on days when orders were slow I would often worry I had made the wrong decision. I would miss my friends in London and I would hate the fact that I had no salary so didn’t have the ability to just go and do the things I used to love doing.

All I can say now to anyone debating starting their own business is just that its 100% worth persevering - there are always going to be ups and downs so it’s just about finding a support network who keep you motivated when times are tough.

It’s two years from now, and we’re having yet another conversation about Hirestreet. What will the brand have achieved between now and then?

At the minute Hirestreet is focused on occasion wear - the kind of outfits you might wear for weddings, balls or the races. In the next two years we are looking to expand our range of products to include the likes of workwear, accessories and outerwear. This will make the service much relevant for every day fashion and will give our community members the opportunity to embrace rental in all walks of life.

Our goal is a subscription service - we are currently working to build our stock base and customer understanding to the point whereby we can offer members a clothing subscription model that integrates seamlessly with their everyday life. I hope in two years’ time we will be discussing how far Hirestreet has gone in changing the fashion-purchasing behaviour of millions of women across the UK.

What is one thing you have learnt about the industry that you didn’t know before starting Hirestreet?

As a business we are operating in a completely new market in the UK - there wasn’t a ‘best practice’ competitor out there that we could learn from and there was so much we didn’t know but we had to just jump in and test the reaction.

Since day one we have been a brand that is built for our customers - the biggest surprise has been just how willing those customers have been to help us develop. We have just launched a new website, and I think at least 75% of the new features were ideas from customers, not to mention the fact that all of our new stock buying is voted for by our community.

I think the key thing I have learnt is that you could spend a lot of time building the perfect business plan on paper, but you’ll only start actually developing as a business when you get the idea out there and start to see trends in how customers use it.

In your words, how would you describe the impact Hirestreet has on society (environmental and social)?

Hirestreet is empowering - we give girls the same confidence that comes from having a gorgeous new outfit, at the same time as helping them to save money and reduce their environmental footprint. The most amazing part is that girls are now really proud to say that they have rented their outfits - we have started to see a community forming of rental advocates who believe so much in what they are doing that they spread the word to others.

In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe, the World Wear Project estimates that on average we throw away £70 worth of textiles per person annually - however our data indicates that this is reduced by at least 50% for Hirestreet customers. According to forecast customer numbers by this time next year our amazing Hirestreet community will have saved £500,000 of textile waste - something I think they would all be very proud of.

What would you say to someone who wants to start a brand like Hirestreet?

It took me a long time to start Hirestreet, I had the idea of a shared fashion service when I was 17 and it took me 7 years to actually turn that into reality. I was always making excuses that it wasn’t the right time; I think that was because I was scared to take the risk but looking back, I just wish I had started sooner.

Big ideas always seem daunting, but the best advice I can give is to try and strip everything back and work on a very small-scale version of your idea to begin with. In doing this, you can start to test the idea without taking a huge risk to your everyday life. For me I started renting my own clothes to a network of friends of friends whilst I was still working my day job. Once I understood more about which aspects of the idea people liked I had a base from which to start growing the service, and I also had a proven concept that I knew had potential before I took the big leap of faith to actually leave my job and work full time on it.

My advice would be don’t wait - go for it, and if you are making excuses to delay because the idea seems too ‘big to handle right now’ then strip it back to basics and launch a version you are comfortable managing and then learn from it before you scale.

Thanks to Isabella for her time. If you want to find out more about Hirestreet, check them out at 

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