Rentable fashion is disrupting the traditional retail model. Co-founder of Girl Meets Dress Anna Bance describes the advantages of borrowing over buying to Alistair Crane.

What was the thinking behind Girl Meets Dress?

Girl Meets Dress is an e-commerce business building a ‘wardrobe in the cloud’. I previously worked as head of UK PR at Hermès. Working in the fashion industry, I knew celebrities borrowed dresses for special events, and we would regularly receive these sorts of requests from women, journalists and friends. If they had a party to go to, I noticed how women wanted that feeling you get when you put a new item of clothing on for the first time. But they also wanted to experiment – and not feel guilty if they only wore the item once before it was left in the back of their wardrobes. Together with my co-founder Xavier de Lecaros Aquise I launched the business in 2009 and it was the first company to rent luxury fashion online. On a basic level, Girl Meets Dress gives millions of women the ability and access to rent designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of the retail price. Rentable fashion also has the added benefit of being a more sustainable option to counteract fast fashion. Today, Girl Meets Dress has a selection of 4,000 dresses from over 200 designers from more than 30 countries.

What about your job most excites you?

It’s exciting to observe how consumers are becoming increasingly more interested about rentable fashion. It’s a good time for us as a business: more clothes-hire services have launched in markets around the world and the industry is getting more excited about hire. Rentable fashion has been heralded as the retail trend to watch this year.

Please could you explain why this concept has such lasting appeal?

There are several reasons why shoppers prefer renting, and it comes down to the promotion of smarter choices. We are not asking women to stop buying clothes altogether; instead, we are offering an additional way for our customers to dress and build their wardrobes. Around half of the money women spend on clothing is fast fashion, but by renting clothes you are substituting the 50 per cent of your wardrobe items that are worn only two or three times. This means you can save the money spent on disposable items, for other more important things in life or clothes that might last you for 10 to 20 years. Shoppers today are also inundated with choice, and as a result, they don’t necessarily want to commit to just one item. With hiring, you can be more experimental with various items, all safe in the knowledge that you’re making smart choices.

What changes have you noticed in the fashion-retail landscape since starting GMD?

The recession mindset predominated shopping habits when Girl Meets Dress launched in 2009, which meant there was a lot of emphasis put on where people spend their money. In the years since launching, companies such as Uber, Spotify and Airbnb have rattled the business world by dramatically altering consumer expectations through the sharing economy.

How do you use social media to engage with your audience?

The majority of our customers are wearing our rented dresses for a special occasion, so they are proud to share their photos with us. We love seeing how incredible a beautiful dress makes them feel, and our in-house stylists are on hand to help customers find the perfect options for all occasions.

How do you want the GMD customer to feel when they wear one of your dresses?

We hear so many of our clients’ stories about the challenges or big life events they are facing, so we appreciate it’s not simply about the dress – it’s about how that dress makes them feel. There are women who have never worn a dress before or those who don’t feel comfortable wearing a dress. Helping women look and feel their best is hugely rewarding, and we love receiving feedback from our customers. Girl Meets Dress wants the convenience of hiring to replace the way women resort to buying even cheaper fast-fashion items online. We offer designer brands and quality-made pieces at the same price.

What do the next five years have in store for GMD?

We are listening to our members, and adding services that make hiring the best option for them. Our Infinite monthly subscription membership is growing very quickly. And for customers wishing to book dresses for an event in a few months’ time we have our Advance Try On service, where several dresses are delivered immediately and the wearer can then choose their favourite option. We are also moving into traditional retail with a new Keep it Forever model, selling pieces to customers at a discounted price. Our London showroom has also been a huge success, and we welcome customers to book an appointment with a stylist so they can try on as many dresses as they wish.