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Rent a dress!
Vinaya Patil | Wednesday, 19 April 2017 AT 09:23 PM IST
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Shilpa Bhatia, who founded The Clothing Rental, speaks of the rising trend of renting clothes and tells us about her journey with the enterprise.

Want a new designer suit for that friend’s wedding but not interested in buying it because you will never wear it again? The Clothing Rental is the answer to many such people now wanting to rent outfits as opposed to owning them.

Is this an expanding space? “Yes,” answers Shilpa Bhatia, the entrepreneur behind The Clothing Rental. “Fortunately, in a country like India, we never have a dearth of occasions. With so many festivals, parties and grand wedding ceremonies, people constantly need fancy clothes. So yes, it’s a space with huge potential for growth,” adds Bhatia, who has been in the industry for almost two decades now.

How does it work?
Speaking of the how it all began, Bhatia says that she used to work as a fashion and costume stylist for ad shoots, music videos etc. “My job included a lot of running around, trying to fetch the right clothes, seeing to it that they fit into the director’s demands and the producer’s budgets,” recalls Bhatia. In 2005, she came up with a personal directory for the kind of clothes often required and where to fetch them from.

“I began with a small office in Bandra and a loan of Rs 10 lakh from my father. I was looking at it only as a small investment for my own shoots,” she explains. But soon enough, Bhatia began to be approached by other stylists too. “Even my competitors began to come to me for clothes. ‘Go to Shilpa for that outfit’, they would say.  There would be times when I wouldn’t be hired as a fashion stylist but my clothes would be used for shoots. So I was happy,” she says.

Next, Bhatia wanted to pursue another design course in New York. “I have that urge of going back to school every few years,” she laughs. Around the same time, in 2009, she happened to meet an angel investor who suggested some modifications to her business — including the current name. Bhatia implemented the suggestions and left for New York, remotely running the business from there, applying the newly-learnt techniques to her enterprise and seeing successful results.

Bhatia now owns a huge stock of clothes, in various designs and sizes, categorised under women’s, men’s and Indian wear. “I am not into mass buying. For instance, I wouldn’t buy a particular design or size in many colours. We instead use several permutations and combinations while deciding what to buy. We keep studying the demographic and the clothes hired, and buy accordingly,” she elaborates. The Clothing Rental thus has a collection of many sizes in men’s clothings, but has certain sizes in particular designs when it comes to women’s dresses. “Because we know which age group of women opt for what dresses,” she says, stressing on the fact that her enterprise believes in going by the trend than by the big brands.

Challenges and competition

With running a business come challenges, agrees Bhatia. “We charge a deposit amount for every item that we rent. This amount is usually much lower than the cost of the item. There have been instances when a customer has said that s/he will keep the outfit and that we were free to seize the deposit,” she narrates. Such instances are rare but the team has become more conscious in distinguishing genuine customers from the shrewd ones, who are then politely denied services. Apart from this, there are also times when customers soil a costume and do not take responsibility for it.

“People are aware of renting costumes like the ones used for fancy dress competitions. But something like this still doesn’t have enough exposure. The real challenge lies in that,” she points out.

When asked about pricing, the stylist-entrepreneur says that she believes in perceptive pricing as opposed to her competitors who use percentage pricing. “We gauge the demand and price goods instead of saying ‘This is 20 per cent of the product’s original price’,” she explains.

Future plans
“Had you asked me that question a couple of years ago, I would have said, ‘I plan to open some more stores’, but not anymore. I believe we are already doing good business and I need to fine tune it further, instead of going big on branches and stores,” says Bhatia. However, she definitely sees The Clothing Rental as a much bigger brand five years hence.

“The middle class is increasingly becoming a large customer base. So we are building on catering to their needs,” says Bhatia, who advises her staff to ‘lay the red carpet’ for their customers. “It’s these middle and higher middle class consumers, who value our services more, even if they do not bring huge one-time revenues,” she concludes.

The author can be followed on Twitter @vinaya_patil

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