How Fashion Rental App By Rotation Is Raising a New Generation of Investors
We caught up with investment analyst-turned-founder, Eshita Kabra, to find out more about joining the rental revolution.
If you’ve ever sat longingly looking at your wardrobe ahead of a special occasion, paralyzed by indecision, then By Rotation is the app for you. With over 370,000 users in the UK and 10,000 in the US, the fashion rental platform is here to make your dressing dilemmas a lot more manageable and even better, it’s here to help you to positively contribute to the fashion economy in the process.
Developed by an investment analyst turned fashion founder, the app is essentially fashion’s answer to Airbnb and exists as a peer-to-peer rental platform where users can buy and borrow clothing, shoes and accessories for special occasions and events. Founded by Eshita Kabra, By Rotation aims to offer a long-term solution to the fashion industry’s rising overconsumption problem, while helping to raise a new generation of consciously-minded investors who can earn money from their very own wardrobes.
“I thought it would just be side hustle money, I didn’t think that it would really make fashion such a contemporary asset class, but that’s what we’ve done, really,” Kabra tells Hypebae. “That’s something that I’m very proud of, this pragmatic audience that we’ve created, that is very, very intelligent, and sees fashion as something that they’re investing in, and being smart about,” she adds.
We caught up with Kabra to find out more about how the idea for the platform came about, how to use it to monetize your wardrobe and what she envisions for the future of fashion rental.
Read on for the full interview.
What spurred you on to create By Rotation? Where did the idea come from?
I first founded By Rotation as a side hustle. I was working full-time as an investment analyst at the time, and I was planning my honeymoon in India. I was thinking about all my holiday outfits and about how I would love to borrow some contemporary designer clothing for the trip, and I realized that there was a real lack of options in the UK and even Europe. It was a very first-world problem and was born from a genuine need of wanting to borrow clothes.
It wasn’t actually until the honeymoon, that I witnessed just how much textile waste there was in India. There’s a city called Dappar, kind of like a suburban hometown, and that’s where I’m from and I was just seeing textile waste everywhere. Rajasthan is known for being a textile hub and growing up as a shopaholic in Singapore, I just couldn’t help but feel that I was part of this linear consumption model problem. With a lot of the clothes, when you donate them, 90% of them end up in landfills, mostly in African and Asian countries, like India.
I had the idea for fashion rental after seeing how there was a gap in the market in the UK and the idea was inspired by other resale platforms like Vestiaire Collective and Depop but instead was about borrowing, because I just wanted to have something for a week or a weekend. As someone who’s not from the fashion industry and just had a regular desk job, I had no idea how much fashion contributed to carbon emissions. It’s not something that you think about because you’re always told that the bad guys are the oil and gas industry or the airline industry. That’s when I realised that By Rotation wasn’t just a nice idea that I had, but it also had the potential to be something that actually helps to reduce fashion consumption for good, because it makes people share what they already have with each other.
Definitely. So what happened in the gap between “this is something I want to do” and “I’m doing it”?
I was running ByRotation as a side hustle for the first six months, so I would work on the weekends and in the evenings, I’d go for networking events and also build the test platform. It was such an ugly website at first, really just a very basic marketplace that had listings and connected lenders and renters with each other. I was using the salary that I was earning at the hedge fund to pay for my senior developer, who’s now our CTO, and a marketing intern who is now our Senior Community and Brand Manager. I was using my day job to fund this idea that I had, and to bring it to reality within a period of six months. Eventually, I passed the amount of transactions that I wanted to hit and that’s when I decided that I was going to hand in my notice and give up my career in finance for good.
That was in October 2019 and then funnily enough, five and a half months later, we were all told to stay at home because of the pandemic. It felt like I was just getting started and we were on the cusp of something huge and I thought, “does this take us back to square one?” But interestingly enough, the pandemic actually was a time when a lot of people became much more conscious of their fashion consumption, they were looking through their wardrobe and realising they had amassed all this stuff that they don’t actually wear. The Marie Kondo-ing of stuff was actually good for us because people reconsidered their fashion footprint and started listing items on By Rotation. So we had a lot of pent up demand in April 2021 when we were finally allowed to go out again and since then, we’ve just been hitting milestone after milestone.
So the pandemic was more a time for you to retreat and hone in on what you were doing? What was it you did during that time where people weren’t actively renting then?
We really spent time educating the public as to why rental is a good thing and why it makes sense to share your items with each other. I think that was a really good time for education on our platform and from a commercial point of view, education is the most cost effective way of spreading our spreading our message rather than getting something like a brand endorsement from a very large celebrity, which as you know, would be very, very expensive.
Definitely, and not to the same effect. In general, do you think renting has since become accessible for everyone?
I think we have strived to make fashion rentals socially and economically inclusive but I also really think that fashion rental is a very cost effective solution to wearing new clothes. Zara, which is a very, very well known brand on this side of the world, now sells dresses that cost 80 pounds. That’s a lot of money. I remember back in university, 10 years ago, Zara dresses were maybe at the very most costing 40 pounds. I just think it’s surprising how expensive they are. They’re not actually cutting down the amount of production that they’re doing, or the number of styles that they’re pushing out every week, they’re just really profiting from what they’re creating and what they’re continuing to mass produce.
For us, if you look at our average order value, it’s about 55 pounds throughout the year. This is cheaper than some fast fashion and I believe that you’re actually getting access to quality fashion. Fast fashion, like Zara, for example, is not allowed on the app. Instead, you could rent a Reformation dress for that price rather than buy a new Zara dress for 80 pounds, which you’ll probably wear — at the very most — three to six times and then ended up donating to Oxfam, which is likely going to end up in an African or Asian country in the landfill.
That’s the thing, isn’t it. A lot of the fast fashion offering is also a direct copy of another brand or designer, so why pay for a fake version when you can almost pay the same for the real thing?
Exactly. And if someone else already owns it, then why not just borrow it from them?
Why don’t people just borrow? What do you think are the barriers to entry here?
We’re really still scratching the surface and it’s taking a while for that education piece to come on. We’ve got a lot of our early adopters and the early majority on the app but we’re still waiting for people’s moms and friends to join as well. It also seems that a lot of our user base tends to be in metropolitan cities so there’s still a huge demographic of people that don’t live in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester, who haven’t heard about the app yet and who might not understand that it’s actually a viable alternative to fast fashion. There’s still a lot of education we need and still a lot of market penetration.
If you think about Airbnb, that’s like the blueprint of what the sharing economy is, really, and that’s what we’re working towards. My parents still haven’t stayed in an Airbnb. My in laws, who are British and live here, I think they tried Airbnb, maybe about five years ago but it’s still in its early stages for them. I really think it’s about making it much more ubiquitous and that’s when it will really hit the mainstream, because it is a peer to peer business model, which is not standardised like, for example, checking into a hotel.
Yeah, that makes sense. It also seems like some people think you either wear fast fashion or you don’t, but there’s a transition period isn’t there, and a way to do both. What advice do you have for those who are hesitant to rent and haven’t tried it before?
I think the best thing to do really is just to try it for the first time. We’ve got a lot of tips and tricks on to how to do your first rental and we’ve also got some top lenders that are highly reliable, that have amazing wardrobes and a huge variety of items on their profiles, because they invest in high quality pieces. Then we also say that it’s not really about never ever buying fast fashion ever again.
It’s about trying it out and realizing this could be something that I do for my graduation day, or for my friend’s wedding that I’m attending or for my birthday. It could start off as just for a special occasion, and then once you see how easy it is and you find some lenders on the app that have the same style as you or are the same size as you, it becomes convenient for you. You’ll find all these tips and tricks if you continue engaging with the app, and saving items and following lenders, I think that’s really how we’ve seen some of our new customers join and very quickly become repeat rotators.
Along with renting and borrowing, there’s a whole other side to the app as the person lending out their pieces and making money from them right, which is almost a side hustle in itself now. Was that always a part of the plan?
I always thought that it would be a cool way to monetize my wardrobe and get use out of clothes that are just sitting in my closet. I didn’t think that it would amount to some of our top lenders who make £3,000 GBP a month. I didn’t think it could be someone salary or someone’s whole business, but we do have a couple of lenders that I’m personally familiar with, who do this now as a business. I thought it would just be side hustle money, I didn’t think that it would really make fashion such a contemporary asset class, but that’s what we’ve done, really.
Off the back of that, we created a feature on the app called the Lender Activity Dashboard. Essentially, it maps out how much money you’ve made on the app, month by month, and states which brands are your top listings. It shows you your return on investment and it’s such a great way for the women on our app to start thinking about their fashion consumption more in the context of investment pieces. That’s something that I’m very proud of, this pragmatic audience that we’ve created, that is very, very intelligent, and sees fashion as something that they’re investing in, and being smart about.
It’s amazing to see. Not too long ago, By Rotation was notifying its users on the trending brands and items and encouraging them to list pieces they had which fit that criteria. It feels like that element of the app is growing and really helping people to make those investments and feel reassured that what they’re buying into has longevity. It’s almost like raising a new generation of investors, isn’t it?
Exactly. We’re making it really off the back of what we’re seeing our customers and users doing on the app. There’s no agenda, it’s not like a brand has paid us, we’re showing you real time data and analytics based on how people are behaving on the app. The data and analytics side of it is something that’s really exciting and interesting for us. A couple of weeks ago, we also posted on social media and sent a newsletter out to all of our lenders saying these are the trending brands to invest in that are doing well for rentals, these are the colours, these are the particular dresses that we’ve seen are doing really well.
Our audience loves these educational pieces of content so it’s something that we’ll be pushing even further. Just ahead of the festive season, we do By Rotation Unwrapped, similar to Spotify. We’ve been doing it for two years now and essentially, it shows you how much money you saved during the year, how much money you’ve made, what was your top most rented listing, and your carbon emission savings from rotating rather than buying new and that’s something that our community is really excited to learn about.
I can imagine, it’s all so interesting. Initially, By Rotation started as rental only and recently, you introduced the opportunity to purchase. Tell us a bit about that.
It felt like a natural progression because we had learned from some of our top lenders, that they were getting requests from people who had rented items as to whether or not they could purchase them because they liked the rental so much. In some cases where the lender was open to it, they asked us if we had a resale system and that’s, we realised that actually, this could also be another concept we introduce which is to try before you buy.
It makes sense if someone is experimenting with a style and realize that they really love it after the rental. I, myself personally, have sold more than 10 items on the app now and often they’ve come from people renting the item already. It’s a good way to test the waters and figure out if it’s something you’d be open to selling if the price was right.
Definitely. How do you see the app developing in the future? What are the goals?
We officially launched in the US about three months ago, starting in the state of New York and now we have lenders in more than 28 different states. Our focus there is really to ensure that Americans across the 50 different states can easily lend and rent with each other. We’ve had a few Americans already coming to London come to us with an empty suitcase and just rent their whole wardrobe here.
The way that I see our app growing and developing in the next three to five years is that By Rotation would have over half a million listings in the UK and you’d be able to pick up from someone who lives three streets down, maybe even the same evening. I mean, that’s even quicker than next day delivery by retailers, so again, another convenience aspect that comes with sharing rather than buying new.