Anna Bance, co-founder of luxury dress hire website Girl Meets Dress, is what I like to think of as the fairy godmother of the fashion industry. Her innovative business idea gives every woman the chance to have their own ‘Cinderella’ moment, attending that special occasion in their dream designer dress, without having to spend thousands.
Like all the best ideas, the website offers a simple solution to a common problem – the dreaded ‘what can I wear?’ dilemma, so we caught up with Anna to find out more about the inspiration behind Girl Meets Dress and why she’s passionate about making high-end fashion accessible to all.
Firstly can you tell us a little bit about the concept behind Girls Meets Dress?
Girl Meets Dress is a disruptive eCommerce business with a mission to democratize luxury – believing that everybody deserves a Cinderella experience. We provide millions of women the ability to rent designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of the retail price, allowing them to look and feel, beautiful for all of their special occasions.
The idea of collaborative consumption is now making a big impact around the world, whether it is somewhere to stay (Airbnb) or a car (Whipcar) – and now designer clothing.
What was your inspiration for setting up the website?
The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French Luxury brand Hermes - and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists… I thought to myself "wouldn't it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?” When we looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when setting up the site and what advice would you give to other women hoping to start their own business?
When we started, ensuring we have a full team in place while bootstrapping was no easy feat. We were lucky to find so many hardworking and ambitious staff to stick with us and the vision. Becoming knowledgeable in so many different areas is challenging but it definitely helps to have 2 co-founders with complimentary and different skill sets. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market – which is the first step to seeing if there is demand.
How do you pick the dresses and designers that you stock on the website and make sure they are fresh and up to date with each season’s trends?
We buy our inventory in the same way as any other shop does. Our relationship with the designers is very important and we look to expand the variety of brands from every country in the world. Currently we have over 150 UK and International designers stocked. As with any multi brand retailer, the clothes are bought from the designers at the start of the season, and then sold (or in our case rented) until the following season. At the end of the season we sell the remaining dresses, or decide to keep the best performing dresses for an extra season, depending on customer demand. Then the new season’s dresses are bought and the cycle repeats.
How important is the role of social media in building your customer base?
Social media is a great way to connect with your customers on another level. We often ask our Facebook fans to “like” their favourite dresses on the site – it’s a great way to see the reaction and gauge a better understanding of what our customers want. Our customers are extremely loyal and our members rent once or twice every month!
Describe your average Girls Meets Dress customer
We are growing at over 100% and our customer demographic is very varied and exciting, ranging from a 14 year old girl off to her school prom, to young professional women who have 5 weddings this summer +various social occasions and need a different fabulous dress to each... to Mothers of the Bride looking for that perfect look on the big day. It is a fun concept and hopefully I have answered their prayers by giving them a new way to shop – a fun and affordable way to wear the best dresses in the world.
Why do you think the perfect dress is such an important part of a woman’s wardrobe?
Rental is a way for consumers to extract all the value without none of the headaches; women can now easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest and buy only in those classic pieces which will stand the test of time. The proliferation of social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, has a lot to do with an increasing social pressure which has heightened the growing desire for people to make a statement with their fashion and for a women’s inherent desire not to wear the same dress twice. Celebrities have always been borrowing dresses for special events, and now that everyone is a mini-celebrity in their own world, all women can have access to this luxury.
Do you have a favourite designer or a favourite dress on the website?
My current favourites for versatile party dresses to wear in the day and then straight out at night are Alice + Olivia and Rachel Zoe.
How would you describe your own style?
A dress, with tights and boots in the winter or flat pumps or wedges in the summer. People always ask if I am wearing a dress from the website and most of the time I try to live the brand, more often at night than day so it’s important to wear dresses that can be transformed easily.
What tips would you give to women trying to find the perfect dress for an important occasion?
If you’re after a dress and you want it to be perfect we have an extremely popular service called the Advance Try on, where, if your event is over 1 month away you can receive and try on the dresses now to choose your favourite. That dress is then re-delivered for the event date free of charge.
Find out more about the service and shop for your dream dress to hire at http://www.girlmeetsdress.com/