Ever look into your jam-packed closet and wonder why you still have nothing to wear? Newly launched borrow and lend site, Kookopa has this age-old dilemma solved! Now instead of consigning your closet, you can share it and make money in the process. Or if you’re just looking to occasionally update your closet without spending a bunch of money, you can borrow pieces from other women with a like-minded sense of style or body type. That means you could be renting everything from Theory to Céline without breaking your bank. We sat down with former financier and co-founder Claire Allison to find out how it works.
How did you come up with the idea for Kookopa?
I was grabbing drinks with one of my longtime best friends, who was graduating Columbia business school the next day and she had just come back from this whirlwind trip to Peru and we were talking about her graduation the next day and she said, “My family is flying in for it, it’s a big deal and I haven’t thought about what I’m going to wear.” She didn’t want to have to go out and buy something. She wanted to borrow something. So she said, “I have this great idea that it would be really useful if all of your closet was online so I could tell you what to bring today.” I thought, “Yes, that sounds great for you but why would I do that? I love you, but I don’t love you that much!” We started talking about this idea within the sharing economy. Could we match one woman with another woman who is her size and who shares her style? Could we give girls like me a reason to put their closets online for a new way to monetize them?
When did you start putting the idea into motion?
We met for brunch a week after our first conversation. She was about to move back to Kenya and I was working in finance, but we both thought this was a really good idea. So we did some market research tests by basically going around to women in New York and asking them what they thought. We got really good responses so we decided to go for it. We launched the website in November of last year and its really growing.
Why is Kookopa better than consigning?
We take 20% versus the 50% that consignments take, so you keep 80% of every rental and you rent it out for 10% of the retail price. If you rent it out 10 times, you’ve pretty much made your money back, and you have the option to wear it again. I’ve never sold anything on consignment, because you get nothing for it. On consignment I get 10-15% of what I paid for it. It’s just not worth it.
Wow…and you live in New York City?
Yes, it’s not a good idea. My husband has been forced out into smaller closets in the hallway! I think Ikea storage beds have saved my relationship. It’s amazing how many things are stuffed in there.
Can the lender choose how much they put it up for?
Totally. We give them recommendations like based on what we are either seeing it rent for or what we think is a fair price, but at the end of the day we can’t tell a lender what emotional attachment they have to that piece.
Once you lend, are you lending to everyone signed up on the site?
It is open to anyone, but the lender does have the opportunity to say yes or no to any rental for any period of time. For example the lender may plan on wearing it at that time. But at the end of the day most of the items people put up are pieces they aren’t really wearing. Like most women, I probably wear about 10% of my closet and that’s being generous, so its not really the stuff that I’m rotating throughout my closet. It’s the piece that I bought to wear to a wedding or gala or that red leather jacket that I thought was genius at the time and had frills and everything, but I look at it and think, “I’m never going to wear this.” So it’s pieces that you’re not really wearing but you don’t want to get rid of because you spent “x” amount of money on them or you had some sort of memory of this piece that you don’t want to get rid of.
Do borrowers have to return items dry-cleaned?
We handle all the shipping and the dry-cleaning.
What is the lending process like?
When lending, a woman can either choose a DIY or a White Glove service. For the DIY service we will tell you how to take the pictures and we’ll edit your pieces so they fit the site. If you do the White Glove service, we send the lender a pre-paid bag to put their clothes in to send to us. We photograph and list the items and then send them back with a lender kit. The lender kit includes the bag and cards need to ship the items when they are rented. When the borrower is finished with the piece, we get the item back, dry clean it, make sure it is in good condition, and then send it back to the lender ready to wear.
How does borrowing work?
To rent an item a girl selects a piece on our site and rents it for five days, two weeks, or even a month. We have a monthly subscription for everyday pieces like say, a leather jacket you want to wear this month. We built this company around being the customers, being a lender and being a borrower, so we wanted to make it easy and hassle free.
Is there a price for the White Glove service?
If you choose the White Glove service we charge 40% and if it’s a DIY we charge 20%.
What happens if a borrower doesn’t return a piece to a lender?
We’ve never had that happen, because they know they’re not just renting from a rental company. They know it belongs to another girl. However, if someone doesn’t return the item or it gets ruined, the borrower’s credit card is charged for the full retail amount and we give that amount to the lender.
How many people do you have using the site?
We’ve got around 1,200 people using the site now, which is great. It’s growing and we are posting new things everyday.
Is it women around the country or is it only in New York?
Most of the items are from New York women, but we’ve got a few in Virginia and DC. We ship all over the country and we are definitely growing outside of New York.
What kind of merchandise can we expect to see?
For the price of a J.Crew dress, you could get three designer pieces every month through our subscription service. It could be a Jimmy Choo bag, Valentino shoes, or a Smythe blazer. You just refresh your closet every month. It’s great! Every time I see something new go up on the site, I want to add it to my list.
What kind of women are using the site?
Women go through changes in their life. My partner and I were both in finance before and had a lot of suits. Because we don’t need them anymore, they are perfect to lend to girls coming out of school, who need to look great their first day at work. This is a way to look the part without having to break the bank or going into debt to do it. We had a girl who was a lender already on the site and she just had a baby. She was the cutest pregnant lady ever and she wore the most adorable shift dresses from Vince, Theysken’s Theory, and Derek Lam. After she had her baby she didn’t need to wear them anymore, so she just put those up on the site. Its great for women going through different stages in life like pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight loss or travel.
What was it like quitting your finance job to start your own business?
Scary. It’s still scary, but it’s great. Finance can be interesting work, but it’s not yours. When you start your own business it’s your baby. It’s a really fun experience. When there’s no regular paycheck or safety net for you to fall back on, it’s scary, but I think if I hadn’t had the courage, I would always wonder.
How far into the business were you before you quit your finance gig?
Day one. You can’t start a business part-time.
Even before you got funding?
It’s all self-funded. We have done it all ourselves.
Do you consider Rent the Runway as a competitor?
We love Rent the Runway. If they hadn’t done what they’ve done then we could not exist. The difference is they have to buy and hold inventory, so they’re very limited by a certain buying force or customer. They’re very targeted towards who they’re looking for because they have a certain amount of space for that inventory. We don’t have inventory that we hold as a company. We can cover everything from suits for work to shoes, jewelry, and even ski gear. I put my ski boots on the site, after I discovered I hate skiing! I have all of this ski gear that I bought to wear in Vail. I wish I could have rented it from somebody else.
What’s the most expensive item on the website?
We have a $4,500 Zac Posen gown that rents for around $450 and a $2,500 knee-length Céline leather jacket that rents for around $250.
How long can you rent it for $250?
This being the piece that it is, just for five days. But we also have pieces like a $4,000 Luca Luca dress and jacket or a Jimmy Choo bag for over $1,000 that you can rent for a month under the subscription plan.
That’s a good deal.
It’s great for when you go to all of these winter events and you have a fabulous dress on, but don’t want to put on your boring old black coat. You don’t necessarily want to buy an evening coat, but now you can rent one. We also have a Roland Mouret gown that retails around $3,500 and you can rent it for $90. It’s just a great way to monetize it and get something back for it.
What does the subscription entail?
You pay a styling fee of $25 per month and you get three designer pieces delivered to your door. You can try them on and the pay $50 per piece that you want to keep for the month. So it’s $1,500 or $2,000 worth of clothing that you get every month.
But you can also rent piece by piece, correct?
Yes, it’s up to you. You can do a five day rental, a two week rental, a month rental, or for the subscription you get three pieces for a month.
Seema, my co-founder, hates dealing with fashion. It’s hard for her because she’s five feet tall. She’s this tiny little person, who says nothing fits her. She had a wedding and she had to wear a long dress. She bought one, tailored it for her and now anyone who is five feet tall can borrow her dress and know that it’s not a problem. You know if you buy anything online its like, look it’s on a six-foot tall model and looks awesome, but doesn’t help me. These are real clothes that fit real women.