In 2015, Kirsten Kore was looking down the barrel of her future at two potential career options: take a big promotion at the real estate agency she worked at, or quit, take a big pay cut, and dive into the world of startups for the first time.
Naturally, she took the second option.
Kore is the co-founder of peer-to-peer dress-sharing marketplace Designerex, which allows women to rent out their unused dresses to other women for a fee, providing an alternative to buying a new dress every time another event comes around.
Like many founders, Kore’s idea for Designerex was sparked from her own experience after she was faced with the prospect of shelling out $1,000 for an awards night dress.
“I was questioning if this was really a good purchase because I was only going to wear this dress once, so I was chatting with the girls in the office and I found out you could rent dresses through people on Facebook,” she tells SmartCompany.
“So I rented a dress from a girl, and found it wasn’t very secure, I had to email her my credit card details. And that’s when I had the idea for Designerex.”
The rise in dress-sharing has been fuelled twofold by social media, says Kore, as not only has Facebook provided a rudimentary platform for women to swap clothes, but it’s also driven the constant need to be seen in a different dress at each event.
The Designerex platform removes the social media aspect completely, and makes the process much more secure, as Kore and her co-founder Costa Koulis built the online marketplace from the ground up, choosing to use the same programming language as other famous sharing-economy startups such as Airbnb.
“We’re both non-technical founders,” Koulis says. “We knew tech was going to solve this problem, but we didn’t know exactly how.”
The ‘chicken and the egg’ issue
Both founders believe it was only a matter of time until the sharing economy infiltrated industries such as fashion. Kore says fashion has a number of “underutilised assets”, but believes the onset of the sharing economy was slowed due to the difficulty of building a two-sided marketplace.
However it’s a hot area for millennials, who Kore and Koulis believe are more focused than ever on improving their spending habits, leading the rise in platforms such as Afterpay.
“In 2015 I tried to justify that initial $1,000 purchase, and I came up with a better solution, which is a key part of adopting the sharing economy,” she says.
The two are currently in New York overseeing the launch of their startup in the US, which they claim makes them the only company in the dress hire industry to head global. Currently, Designerex is growing 100% year-on-year and has over 11,000 dress listings live on the site.
Koulis says the company’s involvement in Austrade’s Landing Pads program went a long way to kickstarting its growth in the States, providing them with the resources and connections to help get them off the ground.
Acquiring new users in the US marketplace is a focus for Designerex, with the inherent dual-market “chicken or egg” issue being something the startup has planned to combat.
“The problem with needing both renters and dress owners is that you can be left with one side of the marketplace without the other if you launch all at once. We didn’t want to launch with zero users,” Koulis says.
“To overcome this we’ve launched the platform in early-access mode so people can list dresses but not rent them. This technique is applicable to a lot of different two-sided marketplaces.”
$1.2 million raised
So far Designerex has raised $700,000 in seed capital and is currently $500,000 deep into a second seed round. Both the founders work full-time on the business, saying it’s non-stop work to keep developing features and building out the site’s backend with the help of some developers based in Nepal.
“We’re even thinking about implementing AI into the platform through optimising dress selection and pricing,” Kore says.
As a young founder, 29-year-old Kore says the best thing founders can do is “just get going” and start developing their business as quickly as possible. She also advises founders to network wherever possible, as you never know when a meeting will open up a door.
“It’s about persistence, learning from your mistakes, and learning from adversity,” she says.