A pioneering Newcastle firm which aims to reinvent the fashion retail sector has been recognised for its work with a high profile award.
Isabella West, winner of the Young Business Executive of the Year award for the North East, established Hirestreet three years ago to revolutionise the fashion market by encouraging shoppers to rent clothes rather than buy them.
Now the company has triumphed at the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards 2021, winning the Recommerce Award for its focus on affordable pricing.
The business adapted at speed to stay competitive during the pandemic, reducing its minimal rental cost to just £1.50 a day, while also introducing more casual pieces to remain relevant to a lockdown lifestyle.
Ms West said: “I was remarkably shocked to win – and the judges’ comments made it for me. They recognised changes we made as a team, saying we are making more sustainable fashion choices accessible to more consumers.
“We now go up to size 24, have changed our online images and use a variety of models. This was done because we care about it, but it’s nice they recognised that.
“There is often a conflict between affordability and sustainability. I launched Hirestreet to directly compete with fast fashion, not because it was the most profitable sector of the rental industry, but because it would be the most impactful.
“Many people have questioned that decision – myself included – and every time Hirestreet was left out of ‘rental roundups’ because we weren’t ‘exclusive’ enough, I wondered whether we should pivot to become more ‘high end’.
“The last three years have been a journey to understanding who we want to be as a business and what part we want to play in the future of circular fashion.
“Rental is something everybody should be doing. If it takes the pandemic to realise what we’ve been saying for three years, brilliant.”
Ms West said the pandemic enforced swift changes at the firm, while some of its core collections of holiday, party and wedding wear were left on the hanger in lockdown.
The previous summer had seen 1,000% year-on-year growth, but summer 2020’s figures were flat – although they did hold steady while the economy was largely open in warmer months.
She said: “For Hirestreet it’s not been a great year – the dresses that make the best investments for us are for occasions, so we were in a conflict as didn’t want to expand into areas temporarily off the back of Covid, into sectors that might not perform well in the future.
“We dipped our toe into smaller collections, like jeans with nice tops and outerwear in winter, with coats when the pubs were open.
“All in all, it’s been a super interesting but challenging time.”
The biggest pivot for Hirestreet came following with discussions with retailers and resalers of excess stock, who said they wanted to work with the rental sector but would only go so far, to keep customers coming back and buying.
Using her experience as a trends expert with Selfridges, Ms West analysed consumer trends and designed a new platform to make rental accessible to all retailers.
Zoa is the UK’s first white label fashion rental platform, which gives fashion brands the opportunity to add rental of their clothing as an option alongside buying.
The platform, managed by Hirestreet.com, goes live soon. The firm looks after all the tech, customises websites and rental settings and uploading of stock, and it can all send garments to its warehouse and look after all cleaning and customer service.
Ms West added: “It’s going live at the end of this month with the first brand to use the tech platform. We’ve joined up with certain retailers for a pilot phase.
“I can’t say who they are but we’re working with a menswear firm, mens’ suitwear and skiwear. I love data and the cool thing about being a rental for multiple brands is that you always start to see trends emerge.”