What was the turning point in your life when you realized that the world needed your service?
After completing my MBA, I was poised to embark on around the world trip when I encountered a packing dilemma. I realized I would have to bring clothes for beach days in Mauritius, dinners in Bangkok, and hiking Mount Everest in Nepal, all packed within a small carry-on bag! Faced with the impossible, it then occurred to me that there must be a way that I could rent a cool dress while I was in Bangkok. There must be a way for avid travelers to look great in each country without the burden of heavy luggage. Was there a way to simply borrow something from a fashionable local from whatever city I was traveling in, instead of being weighed down with endless pairs of shoes, coats, and dresses? Was it possible to simply rent them, wear them, look amazing, and then return it to the owner? That’s when the idea of Style Lend was born.
As a passionate warrior for the planet, I was inspired by environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. I have always been opposed to fast fashion and the extreme toll it takes on the planet, filling landfills at alarming rates and accumulating tons of waste. In the creation of Style Lend, it was important for me to establish a platform that encourages lending instead of discarding and renting instead of buying more to help alleviate some of the harm that fashion can bring to the environment. Style Lend was created as a way to offset the negative global impact of fast fashion.
Did your previous experiences or education affect your decision to start StyleLend?
I grew up in communist Albania for the first 10 years of my life, which taught me hard work, dedication, and enormous empathy for others. I started negotiating at age 10 when I began doing all the grocery shopping for my family. And at age 11 I was involved in many aspects of my parents’ businesses. But I had very big dreams for myself, dreams that only America could realize so I set off and immigrated to the US as a 15 year old.
At first, America was the biggest shock and disappointment but as I started to find myself in this new culture and country I began to realize all of my dreams one by one including working on my own VC backed startup. I consider myself so lucky to have had such a colorful life, to have lived in different political situations, have worked, studied, or traveled to 60 countries and learned 7 languages during my lifetime.
Because of my frequent travels, I found the need to borrow someone else’s closet when I landed in a city instead of dragging my luggage through numerous airports and TSA security checkpoints. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I landed in Paris and got to wear a stylish Parisian woman’s closet and experience culture through local fashion?”
What were some of the biggest struggles/hurdles when you were first starting your business?
It’s extremely difficult to be a founder and even more so a solo founder. I want
to say that this was not by choice. The benefit of being a solo founder has been that I put my vision to work and my company is not at the mercy of a co-founder leaving due to any disagreements or disputes. Founder disagreements happen all the time and they are the number one reason for company dissolutions. I can say that in this respect I do not have any headaches. However, by being a solo founder I have double or triple the responsibilities that one would otherwise have if I had one or two other cofounders. Having said that I would whole-heartily recommend getting anywhere from 1-3 cofounders because as the company grows you need more hands on deck, and what better people suited to be in charge of different areas than cofounders?
As someone interested in marketing, were there any creative marketing techniques that you used?
Digital first has been our strategy from the start since we know that the customer is digital and increasingly so mobile. So having a mobile app from the start was very important for Style Lend to reach its target audience which is millennials and Gen z. It is crucial for today’s startups to be digital first. It is proven now that e-commerce is the fastest growing segment in retail and it is not showing any signs of slow down. It will continue to grow and take over brick and mortar. So it is everything for a young startup to be digital and have a competitive advantage in that digital space.
What is your vision for the future?
In the future, I see rentals being 1/3 of all of the fashion industry. Currently, the fashion industry is a $4.5 Trillion dollar market and if we can get a third of that to be circular fashion through rentals I would have fulfilled my mission and the earth will be much better for it. The current consumption and extraction of resources without care of future generations it is not sustainable. When we rent an item we extend the life of that garment and we save water, carbon, and energy.
Do you have a message for any aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Anything worth doing has to start with a deserving problem. The desire to build companies isn’t enough to get you through the process. The only reason to do this is if you feel passionate about changing the world in a meaningful way. You have to start with a problem that really impacts people’s lives and then present a solution they actually want.
Remember it’s just as hard to work on a startup that is solving a problem in a small market as it is to work on a startup that is solving a problem in a big market. Do your homework and make sure you are working on a problem in a big market as this will be your life for 10-20 years if you are lucky.