23 Oct Dutch fashion rental business learns from the best
Now, when we fast-forward time, I’m determined to get WAUWcloset off the ground together with my enthusiastic management team. With this new start-up in the fashion rental business, I want to contribute by making fashion a force for good.
This guest column is part of the fashion rental editorial series and written by Hanh Vlooswijk-Lu. She’s the founder of fashion rental start-up WAUWcloset.
For almost ten years I’ve had my own wholesale business in the fast fashion industry. When I realised how polluting this industry was, I decided to make a career change.
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With WAUWcloset, we want to build a circular alternative to mass purchases. Through a rental model, it will offer women access to an endless wardrobe for daily wear without having to buy the clothes or accessories. Women have the convenience of trying before they actually choose to buy garments or even not to buy them at all. They will receive personalised advice and do not need to worry about washing, repairing, or storing their wardrobe – WAUWcloset takes care of it all. And by using artificial intelligence, the aim is to personalise the experience for women and motivate designers and brands to create garments in a more circular way, suitable for long term extended use. So, we don’t have to replenish landfills further.
In the Netherlands, the fashion rental business is still very niche and not broadly used. Whereas in the US, fashion rental is more accepted with many different fashion rental service companies like Rent the Runway, Le Tote, NewYork & Company, Infinite Style by Ann Taylor, Express Style Trial or American Eagle Style drop. Rent the Runway was founded more than 10 years ago and started with renting out designer dresses, which you would wear for special occasions. Although they’ve come a long way, they are now the success story in the fashion rental industry. Also, other countries are rapidly catching up. Like Y-closet, one of the largest fashion rental platforms in China.
Learning from the best
Making WAUWcloset into a success, we decided to learn from already successful fashion rental companies. How are they running their business? That’s why I and another managing partner travelled to China last month and visited Y-Closet.
“In the Netherlands, the fashion rental business is very niche. Whereas in the US, fashion rental is more accepted.”
Y-Closet was founded in 2015 and currently has more than 15mio. registered subscribers. Unlike Rent-the-Runway (main focus is still occasional wear) , Y-closet aims to serve customers with daily wear and distributes their garments from four warehouses with cleaning facilities across China. I visited one of their warehouses and cleaning facilities, 120km north of Shanghai. I have to say, it was a pretty impressive experience. So, not to hold you in excitement any longer, here some ‘mind blowing’ facts’:
- Y-closet has managed to raise a so-called ‘series C’ fundraising round with several investors like Alibaba group and Softbank financing an accumulated amount of several hundred million US dollars.
- The massive storage facilities keep 600.000 pieces of garments in rotation.
- The cleaning facility is built according to the newest high-tech standards. Each garment is electronically tagged and the sorting and warehouse system with large hanging conveyer belts makes the sorting, washing, and drying process very efficient.
- Y-closet cooperates with one of the largest dry-cleaning companies of China in order to clean their garments. This facility alone could manage to clean more than 10.000 pieces a day with a capacity of 30.000 pieces a day.
- Even though the cleaning process is fully automated, the order picking and packaging is still manually done with more than 100 people.
Pictures of the facilities of Y-Closet, made by Hanh
“Order picking and packaging is still manually done with more than 100 people.”
We are back from our China adventure, processing everything we have seen and learned. We realise it’s good to learn from global best practices. At the same time, when building a fashion rental business in the Netherlands, we have to keep in mind what is feasible here. And what are the exact Dutch or European consumer and market needs? We can combine the lessons learned from the US and China with the knowledge we have about circularity here, locally. This provides an amazing opportunity to build a new rental fashion business based on combined knowledge and new insights. Ultimately, to make fashion more circular. Because, don’t we all want to look and feel good?
We’re all struggling
Everyone loves to look beautiful, but we’re all struggling. The fashion industry is struggling to hold on to this beautiful image, while more and more people know it’s one of the most polluting industries in the world. People are struggling, because they start to realise their clothing does not match their values. And last but not least, the garment producers and retailers recognise that the way they manufacture and sell clothes is not sustainable for the future and needs to change.
In order to make this change happen, we need many initiatives like the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week, Circular Fashion Games, Sustainable Fashion Gift Card etc. We also need strong partnerships, because we cannot do it alone. Therefore, I’m looking forward to jointly make fashion a force for good – and I’m wondering: What Are U Wearing?
> Visit the WAUWcloset website
About Hanh Vlooswijk – Lu
Being a refugee from Vietnam, Hanh always had the desire to return some of the good that was given to her. After studying finance, she had her own wholesale business in Germany in the fast fashion industry. Later, after she realised how polluting the industry was, she started working at the sustainability department of Rabobank. Now she runs WAUWcloset together with her management team.
So, if you are a company in fashion or an individual interested in making a significant step towards more sustainability in the fashion industry, Hanh would love to work with you. Jointly we can make fashion a force for good.
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