Lending a touch of style
Through her online clothing rental platform Ms Paris, Shanghai woman Xu Baizi is offering style-conscious women a way to look good without breaking the bank
Following in the footsteps of sharing economy giants such as Airbnb and Uber is Xu Baizi, a Shanghainese entrepreneur who runs Ms Paris, an online fashion rental platform that allows women to pick from a staggering selection of more than 10,000 designer dresses.
Capitalizing on several converging trends in China such as the sharing economy, the widespread use of social media and the growing need to look good at important functions or highprofile parties, Ms Paris offers people a cost-effective way to be stylish.
After all, according to Xu, women on average purchase 64 articles of clothing every year, with half of them being worn just once or twice.
“When we typed ‘I have nothing to wear’ on Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter), we got more than 4 million results,” said the 34-year-old, a fashion lover who once had 25 tableheight boxes of clothes that still had their tags on.
Xu estimated that women of her age usually attend five to six weddings every year, in addition to dozens of company galas as well as business or private cocktail parties.
“Every girl wants a brand new look for a different occasion. Nowadays, the virtual audience on your WeChat have become equally important,” she said.
Ms Paris, which stocks designer brands including Vera Wang, Diane von Furstenberg and Marchesa, allows customers to rent clothes at between 10 to 20 percent of the item’s retail value. A strapless Valentino gown on Ms Paris can be rented for 359 yuan ($54), almost the same price as, if not cheaper than a Zara dress.
Customers will also have to place a refundable deposit of between 500 and 1,000 yuan. Each dress on the platform is leased a maximum of 10 times, after which it is put up for sale.
Ms Paris is the first startup project by Xu, a Columbia University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in operations research who had always yearned to add a feminine touch to the male-dominant tech industry.
Before starting this start-up, Xu was working at several investment banks and had helped a number of tech companies venture into overseas markets as well as go public.
Xu admits that Ms Paris, or nushen pai in Chinese, was partly inspired by Rent the Runway, one of the leading clothes rental platforms in the world that was launched in the United States in 2009. Rent the Runway currently has more than 5.5 million members and is valued at around $800 million.
Since its launch in March last year, Ms Paris has been enjoying tripledigit growth in the number of visitors and orders, and currently has an impressive membership of more than 100,000 people, more than the combined total of several of its competitors. Up to 80 percent of the platform’s members are based in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
Earlier this year, the company received $300 million in a funding round led by China Growth Capital (CGC). Xu said that the money would be used for inventory maintenance such as dry cleaning and increasing brand awareness in new markets.
The brand’s success, Xu said, was down to its positioning.
“The most popular clothes that are rented on the platform are those that retail between 2,000 to 4,000 yuan. This range is more than accessible for middle classes in the US, but in China, it’s between an affordable purchase and a luxurious investment,” she said.
Xu also noted that the biggest challenge for her at the moment is raising awareness about her brand and having more people try her services.
“Before I started, my biggest concern was that people might not return the dresses. But this has only happened less than five times out of the hundreds of thousands of dresses we have leased,” she said.
According to Yu Yue, an investor from CGC, the “cloud closet services” offered by Ms Paris actually competes with the soaring fast fashion business instead of just similar players in the industry.
“People nowadays care more about how they look on their social network postings instead of what they have in the closet,” said Yu. Xu Baizi,
Xu Baizi, the founder of Ms Paris, which currently has more than 100,000 members who rent fashion items from her online platform.
Ms Paris received $300 million in funding recently.