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

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI THE BUND - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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,

Peo­ple nowa­days care more about how they look on their so­cial net­work post­ings in­stead of what they have in the closet.”

a Shang­hainese en­trepreneur who runs Ms Paris, an on­line fash­ion rental plat­form

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

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