Could Dresst disrupt the fashion industry?

The subscription rental startup brings a no-waste message to Canadian women with a model popularized in the U.S.

Dresst co-founders Laura Bryce, CMO, and Kelly Pigeon, CEO.

There’s a future, envisioned by a growing number of companies, in which shopping is less a matter of purchasing products than renting them.

It’s a mindset that has come to the fore as access begins to trump ownership as the ultimate consumer need, says Kelly Pigeon, co-founder and CEO of fashion subscription business Dresst: borrowing exactly what you need, when you need it, while avoiding the cost and waste that comes with owning things ad infinitum.

The subscription model has already infiltrated things like meal kits, snack businesses and even razors. And now Pigeon, the former global lead of the Band Aid brand at Johnson & Johnson, hopes to disrupt the women’s fashion industry with Dresst.

Launched in March with co-founder and CMO Laura Bryce (an outgoing VP at FleishmanHillard HighRoad), Dresst allows customers to rent three clothing items per month for a membership fee of $100. At the end of the month, the items are returned unwashed and customers pick three new pieces – leaving the closet decidedly less cluttered.

Its value proposition is based on offering a selection of items from high-end, contemporary designers with an average retail price of around $200 and $300 per item, Pigeon says. That would peg the monthly value of rented clothes at between $700 and $900 – a bargain for its core audience of office-working women looking to regularly switch up their outfits.

In launching their venture, currently only available in Ontario, the founders took inspiration from the U.S. market, where demand for subscription rental clothes is fast-growing. The category leader, Rent the Runway, was recently valued at $1 billion, and more than half of its revenue comes from everyday clothing rather than event-based rentals.

In Canada, consumers have access to clothing subscriptions through brands like Frank and Oak and even Amazon. But most demand that you ultimately buy the clothes that is delivered to your door. Outside of Chic Marie, a subscription business launched by Marie-Philip Simard of Montreal in 2015, the company faces few direct Canadian competitors at the moment.

Dresst has yet to make any major hires. However, it has attracted the interest of angel investors who have taken on an “active role” in advising the founders, according to Pigeon. The group includes Jeff Smith, global chief transformation officer at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies in the U.S. (and a former president of the company’s Canadian operations). It has also received the backing of Gemini Waghmare, the tech entrepreneur who sold UXP Systems to Amdocs for $80 million in October last year, as well as Jay Deen, formerly of UXP, and Kavi Maharajh, part of the founding team at Quickplay (acquired by AT&T in 2016). 

The latter three investors are coaching the founders on the entrepreneurial side of the business, having already successfully scaled a sold a startup, Pigeon says.

In addition to seeing potential in U.S. firms like Rent the Runway and wanting to help customers cut costs, Dresst was inspired by growing demand for sustainable options.

On average, women throw away an estimated 81 pounds of clothing every year, and the resource-intensive textiles manufacturing process has become the second biggest polluter of clean water in the world, according to one study.

But like most companies whose model demands repeated shipments to and from the home, it continues to face other sustainability challenges. It’s the reason the company has launched exclusively in Ontario, where it currently has its only distribution warehouse. To ship across the entire country right now “would kill our entire environmental story,” Pigeon says. “We’ll only start serving [other] provinces when we’re able to ship from a warehouse nearby. It’s not a perfect solution, but I think it is an improvement versus what we have today.”

Looking ahead, the company is focused on generating word-of-mouth awareness – it currently boasts seeing 100% of its customers return for at least a second month – and working with Toronto-based fashion influencers, such as Jill Lansky and Sara Koonar, to drive customer acquisition.

Pigeon says having led the Band Aid brand gave her a peak at the “big macro trends” shaping the landscape and the confidence to try and disrupt a massive industry.

“Frankly, the sky is falling,” she says. “All the big CPGs are either losing top-line or losing profitability, top retailers across the board are having a hard time keeping up. And it’s really these disruptors who are eating up all the growth. As I was looking at that landscape, that was a big part of what inspired me to become one of these disruptors.”