A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
Always the bridesmaid? While it still emotionally sucks, at least it will no longer break the bank; that is, if Kelsey Doorey has it her way. Warning: Kelsey's idea will make you ask yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Ms. Doorey, Founder and CEO of Vow To Be Chic, believes that men have had it too easy for too long. When they are invited to join a wedding party, they simply roll into a tuxedo shop, rent a suit that (sort of) fits and off they go, fully equipped to sing bad karaoke and do shots at the wedding reception.
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Kelsey decided that women should be afforded the same hassle-free, economical wedding experience as men, without sacrificing their fashion sensibility. The result of her efforts is an online service that allows brides to select their bridesmaids' gowns, within a broad range of colors, styles and price points. The dresses are then delivered via FedEx, either directly to each bridesmaid's residence or to the bride, who can elect to hold a "fitting party" in which all the bridesmaids meet to try on their dresses together.
After the nuptials are over, rather than forcing the bridesmaids to jam an expensive dress they will never wear again into the back of their closets, they simply return their dresses to Vow To Be Chic via USPS. The gowns are then dry cleaned and readied for the next customer, in the spirit of the emerging sharing economy in which goods are communally used multiple times.
Curious to learn more about Kelsey's seemingly obvious, yet logistically challenging idea, I interviewed her during a rare break in her hectic schedule.
John Greathouse: Kelsey, for the uninitiated, what is Vow To Be Chic all about?
Kelsey Doorey: "Vow To Be Chic is the first company to offer designer bridesmaid dress rentals. We combine e-commerce and the shared economy with the bridal industry to bring an age-old tradition into the 21st century. Guys have been renting tuxes forever and now it’s the ladies turn. Our mission is to make the bridesmaid dress process cost efficient, convenient and fun."
Greathouse: Vow is no doubt pursuing a noble goal, but let's face it, many rental tuxes are not great quality, with an emphasis on durability rather than fashion appeal. How will you balance designer dresses that wear out quickly with sturdy, fashion-unfriendly apparel?
Doorey: "We are dedicated to carrying only top bridal designer dresses so we know that means fewer wears per dress than typical rental tuxedos, which can rent 100 times each! That said, we are working with our designers to create dresses in fabrics and styles that are more durable and will have a longer life. Our rule of thumb is that we won’t rent a dress that we won’t wear ourselves. Quality is definitely key for us."
Greathouse: Do you fear that renting bridal gowns online will take away from the bride's overall wedding experience?
Doorey: "Not at all, quite the opposite actually. Our brides have said that using Vow has made their experience less stressful and more fun. Men may not realize it, but tensions can arise when brides ask their friends to spend hundreds of dollars on a dress they’ll never wear again and we’ve heard of friendships ending over this! Our brides have loved getting the designer bridesmaid dresses they want and letting us manage the entire process, while our bridesmaids have loved saving money and time. The traditional process requires making appointments at bridal boutiques and driving to numerous stores on multiple occasions for selection, fittings, and pickup. Vow is much more convenient with everything done online and mailed right to their doorstep. We know many brides and bridesmaids are busy, always on the go, and used to shopping online, so we created Vow with them in mind. The bridal party can choose to collaborate as little or as much as they want, by hosting a try-on party or having each girl try on her own dresses at her own, for example."
Greathouse: How do you judge your success and to what extent have you met your goals?
Doorey: "We have hit our milestones months ahead of schedule and under budget, thanks to our amazing team. We keep our eye on a handful of metrics, but we’re focused on customer satisfaction. We want to ensure that we provide a service our customers value and that they love their full experience with Vow."
Greathouse: You have clearly come up with a compelling business model. Do you have plans to go beyond bridal party wear?
Doorey: "For now we’re focused on renting bridesmaids dresses and ensuring each customer has a wonderful experience. We will be moving into other categories based on customer demand. Over $50B are spent in the US wedding industry annually so there’s lots of room for growth and expansion in the wedding industry alone."
Greathouse: What is your ideal customer profile and how are you locating most of your customers?
Doorey: "We love all of our brides and bridesmaids and have found that we tend to have something for everyone in our collection, which is wonderful. This is a disruptive concept for the bridal industry so we need to spread awareness that bridesmaid dress rentals is an option and educate them on the process since it is new to women. We have been happily surprised by how viral our concept has been and how strong word of mouth has been. Thousands of bridesmaids signed up before our site was even live. The great thing about the bridal industry is that we know where to find engaged women and bridesmaid dresses are a targeted search since, let’s be honest, women grow up dreaming of being a bride, not a bridesmaid."
Greathouse: What is the best way for customers and potential employees to reach out to you?
Doorey: "The best way to reach us is to check out www.vowtobechic.com. Brides can signup there and potential employees can find our email there. We love finding new brides to work with for their big day and we’re always keeping our eye out for superstar talent to join our amazing Vow team."
Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I'll never tweet about tacky bridesmaid's dresses or that killer burrito I am about to devour - just startup stuff.
Image: courtesy of Vow To Be Chic