It has been over a decade for Fashion Stylist Shilpa Bhatia since she forayed into the world of renting clothes and accessories. The Clothing Rental, that started off as a clothes renting website is now present at two locations in Bandra and Worli in Mumbai and rents clothes all over the world.
In conversation with this correspondent Bhatia shares more about her journey, the reason she decided to start it and how much the industry has progressed in the last 15 years.
From running a clothes renting website to having an offline stores in Mumbai, how has the journey been?
The journey began quite organically. Back in 2005, I noticed a need for high quality fashion clothing that could be affordable and we launched the rental concept when not many international brands existed. We hoped to make fashion affordable.
How did you come across the idea of renting clothes? How receptive an option is it in India?
Noticing the trend of raw materials and labour costs going up with time, we realised good quality would cost a lot more than it did in the past.
In past buying heavy weight pure silks was fairly common, however, over time the fabric weight started dropping and finding 100 per cent silk or cotton became trickier. Noting this trend, we felt there was a need for good quality clothing. However, how does a normal person wear the fancy stuff without burning a hole in their pocket?
Also often, the need for the outfit is only on one occasion with very low chance of repeating the same outfit. A good suit for men can cost anywhere from 20-30k and unless you have a need for this suit on a regular basis, we don't see our clients wanting to wear it more than once or twice a year.
However, renting it for INR 3000 for an event, once in a year, is a far more economical option.
As for receptivity, we have been around for over a decade. Initially people hesitated to wear an outfit possibly worn by someone else, however even in luxury PR, one piece is often worn by multiple celebrities. Noticing that a piece was worn by a celebrity and now can be worn at an affordable price, many have started opening up to the concept.
Who are the majority of consumers for you?
The wedding industry is a big customer; occasion wear is one of the primary reasons for fashion outfits to exist.
Economically it seems like a wonderful idea, has the audience caught on?
Yes, we've survived over a decade; we must be doing something right.
Has it ever happened that rented garments are not returned? Is that a pertinent issue?
We've had very few occasions where a client has run away with a piece and refused to respond or pick up our calls. We keep improvising to prevent such issues.
What are the rules for a person who wants to rent clothes?
We ask the customer to pay the rent and a refundable security deposit. For certain customers we request ID proof and other documentation if we have any concerns.
What has been one of the most memorable moments in your journey?
Seeing our merchandise on a big banner Bollywood production was a great moment. I went to watch a movie with my family and I was like ..,"that's mine, that's mine...that's mine". I guess I must have annoyed everyone else sitting around me, but I was super proud to see what we've created.
What has been one of the funniest moments when it came to customer interaction?
There was a time when a customer came and told my manager, they were my friend and asked for a discount.
I was sitting right there and certainly didn't know them and she looked right through me, so certainly she was no friend of mine.
What are the challenges you face while dealing with the customer's interpretation about the product and services?
Educating and explaining the process to make a customer understand the concept is extremely time consuming. Often a customer will expect you to refund the deposit and the rent amount claiming they returned the piece so now we must return the money too.
Then there are some who expect the million dollar service and will bargain to take it free. We meet all kinds, since we've opened our doors to retail the Indian consumer in general is extremely ill mannered, they use tactics to bring the product or service down to gain a freebie.
What are your future plans?
Our future we plan is to stabilise and have an organic growth. There have been way too many changes in past few years, from multiple competitors, demonetisation, GST and overall suppressed demand. In such times, I believe staying calm and building strength is more important than going all out on expenses and scaling.