Rent A Dress’ Shuen Chiu and Plush Porter’s Julie Woon on renting the perfect dress
Tips to know
Have you ever agonised over what to wear to a wedding or a party? That's where these dress rental services come in—they're here to solve the one question most of us think about daily. Here, we speak to the owners of two of the leading platforms around—Shuen Chiu of Rent A Dress and Julie Woon of Plush Porter—to gain an insight into the business, and how they maintain a work-life balance.
On how their business came about
Shuen Chiu: About three to four years ago, e-commerce was still relatively new in Malaysia and the market was more saturated with blog shops. It was a struggle to find quality evening dresses at an affordable price. It was also such a waste to buy these dresses only to wear them once. Hence, I knew it had to provide access to quality as well as a more sustainable and responsible way to shop.
Julie Woon: It started during my first pregnancy when I had a lot of time on my hands to ponder about the future. Being in the entertainment industry and with heaps of friends in the same line of work, we are constantly in need of dresses for work-related events. Hence, Plush Porter came about fairly quickly as I believed the market was new and underserved at that point of time.
On starting a business from the ground up
Shuen: Having not been in the fashion or tech industry before, it was a matter of researching the different ways to source and work with vendors. If we were focused on quality, the maintenance of the dresses and our services had to be top notch. 'Til today, we only work with reliable vendors who provide same day delivery, and specific dry cleaners with proprietary technology even though they are more expensive. We have seen how it has increased trust with our customers and increased the lifetime value of our dresses.
Julie: I definitely did a lot of reading and research. I found an IT company which was good at coding to create a customised website where customers could easily browse, reserve and pay for a dress. At the same time, I had to source for dresses. I went on my first buying trip to Canada, USA and Australia to look for designer pieces that would fit our Malaysian market and in a variety of sizes. Then, I had to find a dispatch company that's reliable and able to provide competitive rates as Plush Porter was solely an online business-the delivery fees would be hefty! During then, I learned that a majority of our customers would prefer to try the dresses in a physical store. As chance would have it, a friend who happened to be one of the owners of 176 Avenue in Bangsar, were keen to have Plush Porter onboard to complete their one-stop hub concept, and that's how the business grew.
On where they source their dresses from
Shuen: 80% of our dresses are sourced from the USA, and we get the items directly from the designers themselves. We also want to support our local designers and have a handful of them onboard. We truly only look at the quality of the fabric and workmanship when deciding what designs to get in, so we're always looking for more designers, whether international or local, to stock.
Julie: The dresses are sourced mostly from the USA or Australia. The designers would send me the lookbook of their upcoming collection and I would pre-order the designs that I think would do well in Malaysia and have them shipped in.
On their favourite designers in the showroom
Shuen: Badgley Mischka is one of the designers who I feel is really underrated. The quality and value for what you're paying for are really worth the price! We've never had to fix any of their sequins, and their fabrication and workmanship are really top-notch. Apart from that, a few of my other favourites are Monique Lhuillier, Michael Kors and Pamella Roland, Aidan Mattox, and Adrianna Papell.
Julie: I love Jovani's designs—they are really bold and statement-making. For a simpler and classic look, I like Australia's designer Elle Zeitoune.
On the process of renting a dress
Shuen: We do have showroom appointments since most people understandably prefer to try on the dresses first, but we would actually recommend ordering a 'Try On' service—order a few dresses, get them delivered to you and you get keep them for a day to try in the comfort of your own home. Once you've decided on the dress, you can then make your rental booking on our site. Our rental period is four days long because we want our customer to have peace of mind and enough time to receive and return the dress. Apart from that, we do provide hemming services if you need a particular piece shortened, but not anywhere else as our dresses come in standard UK sizes.
Julie: There are two ways to rent-online or through our physical store at 176 Avenue. If it's via online, simply choose the dress you like, choose the date of your event and select the option for self-pick up or delivery of the dress. Alternatively, customers can visit our physical store to try on the dresses and make the booking and payment directly at the store.
On their best and worst experience with a customer
Shuen: There are really so many amazing experiences with customers-each one of them gets a really personal service so we tend to build relationships with our customers naturally. However, the best would probably have to be when we had two customers in the showroom who didn't know each other, but were going through similar life problems. They ended up having a good heart-to-heart talk-it was really sweet and inspiring to see! The worst would probably be that one time when we couldn't track our customer down for the longest time and we needed the dresses returned for upcoming rentals. It was all sorted out in the end but that was a bit of a heart attack for the team!
Julie: One of our best experiences was when a customer was so happy with our service that she drove back to deliver us a box of chocolates. To me, any bad experience is an opportunity for improvement. If I had to name the least favourite experience, that would probably be a customer who came in to try out a number of dresses, threw them on the floor after trying and stepped over them with complete disregard to the condition of the dresses.
On styling tips for #BuroTurnsThree's Buro Mansion-themed party
Shuen: The best thing you can do is to style items that suit you and your personality—be authentic! We always ask our customers if they feel comfortable in a particular dress, because it's as important to feel great as it is to look great. Also, never underestimate the right accessory, or lipstick!
Julie: Go loud and proud! Don't be afraid to sparkle or wear something daring like a plunging neckline or a fully embellished dress. Don't forget to accessorise!
On what people may not know about the dress rental service business
Shuen: It's more data-driven and operational than people think it is. While there is a huge creative side to it, it really is about heat maps, clicks on dresses, traffic periods, and operational efficiency. Rent The Runway, the USD$800million dollar rental company in the USA describe themselves as a "fashion company with a technology soul", and we feel that really sums it up.
Julie: Not all brands are supportive towards the rental business as it may affect the image of the brand and sales of their dresses.
On how they maintain a good work-life balance
Shuen: It’s tough but I do have a strong network of family who keeps me truly grounded and grateful. It’s also a matter of work-life integration rather than a balance, because life is always about learning, spotting opportunities and creating them wherever you are or whatever you’re doing.
On how their business stand out among other similar platforms
Shuen: We have a very quality and customer-centric approach when it comes to our brand values and how we operate. For us, it's never just about how you look, but how you feel and who you are that we're focused on. It's about people who put quality, financial savviness and environmental care at the forefront—knowing that they're getting the best and still then spend on other things that matter like healthcare, skincare or experiences!
Julie: Customer service is important for us and we try to answer any queries at any time of the day (even past midnight!). Also, we pride ourselves in being a premier dress rental business—all our dresses are genuine designer labels imported from the USA or Australia only. And because we deal directly with the designers themselves, we have a first-hand pick on the latest designs that would befit the current trends in the market, apart from the variety of sizes ranging from XS-XL. Another differentiating factor is the all-in-one service that customers can get from our physical store at 176 Avenue. A customer could get head-to-toe ready at 176 Avenue by getting her hair and makeup done, eyelash extensions, eyebrow embroidery, waxing, manicure and pick up a dress for an event all under one roof!
On what's next for the business
Shuen: Offline retail, daily-wear subscription, and expansion into other countries apart from Singapore. Who knows? Stick around to find out!
Julie: Look out for our upcoming accessories, clutches and shoe collection.