The Vue Podcast: Leaders in Retail | Eshita Kabra-Davies

2019 is the year that sustainability stopped being a buzzword for fashion and instead became a core value. As fashion companies across the world put their heads together to do better for the earth, Eshita Kabra-Davies, a former finance professional, saw a solution for fashion’s sustainability problem in the most unlikely of places – Airbnb. Eshita is the founder of By Rotation, a peer-to-peer lending app which she calls “the Airbnb of fashion”. Founded only 6 months ago, By Rotation has been featured in the likes of Vogue UK, Guardian, Business of Fashion and boasts of a strong and tight-knit community. 

Tune in to The Vue Podcast and listen to Eshita talk about

  • How she founded By Rotation
  • How rotation is different from renting
  • The perfect retail experience for today’s consumer
  • Why community is the driving force behind By Rotation
  • How her background in Finance and Investment Banking has helped her in her new journey as an entrepreneur

 

Here’s the transcript, to make your experience easier:

 

Akshara Subramanian:  Hi everyone. Welcome to a new episode of The Vue podcast. Our podcast series on leaders in retail. The fashion industry has seen a gamut of apps and websites that offer alternative ways to build a wardrobe without buying new clothes. The fashion rental concept pioneered by Rent the Runway has been adapted by retailers across the globe, including Urban Outfitters, Bloomingdale’s and Express. sites like threadUp, Yerdle, Depop and The RealReal have also brought the secondhand clothing market online with peer-to-peer selling. You could almost argue that these brands are removing some of the stigma associated with carrying a used designer bag or buying a dress being worn by someone else. And in that way, we have a podcast guest that’s championing this very model in UK. Meet Eshita Kabra-Davies, the founder of By Rotation, which she incidentally calls the Airbnb of fashion. By Rotation is an open marketplace for users living in London. Anyone can join to lend or rent their clothes with some loose guidelines. No high street items and clothes must have a value of at least a hundred pounds. Before funding By Rotation Eshita worked as an investment banker on credit strategies, hedge funds and portfolio management companies. Welcome Eshita!

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Hey Akshara, Thanks for having me on the podcast.

Akshara Subramanian:  Fantastic. So what you are doing with By Rotation is very exciting. The rental market is clearly blowing up. So why did you start this company and what is the problem were you looking to solve with By rotation.

Eshita Kabra-Davies:  It came from a personal experience, kind of a first world problem if you ask me. I was planning my honeymoon last year in November, and you know I had the spreadsheet open where we were planning our routes for how we were gonna get around Rajasthan, which is  where I am from and where I was born as well, and where we were going to stay, where we were going to eat. And, I started looking on Instagram for the kind of outfits I could wear to take cool photos because it’s all about outfit of the day and all those photo opportunities, especially in a beautiful place like Rajasthan. And that’s when I started thinking about all these influencers and celebrities and people just wearing clothing just for the sake of one photo. And I guess I was also part of that group where I felt very guilty about it when I went to Rajasthan doing my honeymoon and saw the amount of textile waste that was in my homeland. And that made me feel like I was part of the problem. And I just had to change myself and also find a way to get other people to share their wardrobes and be a part of the solution.

Akshara Subramanian:  Right. So can you tell us then, how the idea came about? So when you came back from your trip in Rajasthan, how did the idea of the whole peer-to-peer model come about? How did you execute the whole thing? And tell us a little bit also in your own words, what By Rotation is really all about.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Yeah. So I guess when I started looking more into fashion rental and how we should stop buying so many new clothes just for the sake of that one photo. I started looking at obviously Rent the Runway, which has unicorn status as of early this year and started thinking about how there are a lot of fashion rental companies that have inventory – be it sort of your physical boutique store that’s on the High Street or existing sort of fashion rental companies online that seem quite outdated with all the stock they had as well. And that’s when I start thinking about how I’ve been staying in Airbnbs on my holidays and how I usually always take an Uber rather than a black cab because it’s more cost effective. How? I don’t really mind sharing. And that’s when I start looking into companies such as Fat Llama which I think was started in the U.K. three years ago where the tagline is basically rent anything. And then I started thinking about what if I could share my clothing with my friends and maybe even strangers and also make money on my wardrobe and be able to rent from their wardrobes directly. And then we had a lot of news flowing in from the sustainability movement, especially in the U.K., thanks to the extinction rebellion that started last October. And now we’ve also got Greta Thurnberg, who’s made a huge noise about it. So I think we’ve been lucky in that we started at a time where everyone’s become more conscious about the environment and especially in the fashion industry as well – we’ve all heard about the collapse in Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza collapse six years ago. And I think people were talking about it then. But I think that continues to be a lot of exploitation of the workforce in countries that are producing all this textile. So I felt like all of it sort of it just made sense and it seemed to be a win win win. How we how we position By Rotation is that it’s for the pragmatic individual who loves fashion. They’re style conscious but at the same time they become more and more aware of their environmental footprint. So I guess the ideal user of By Rotation or Rotators, as we call them, would be someone such as myself. So I did actually build this product for myself. And we’ve got our big core values in community and sustainability where we’re open to everyone. We don’t have any waiting list or subscription fees. It’s for all genders. And we’re actually rolling this out to the rest of the UK. And, well, hopefully one day globally. So it’s very it’s kind of a way to do good for the planet. Your wardrobe and wallet at the same time.

Akshara Subramanian:  Absolutely. I completely agree with you in that the new generation of shoppers are obviously a lot more conscious.I just I think I read in a Nielsen report, that a good 30 to 40 percent of consumers, even in the US, are willing to pay a lot more for brands that are transparent and more environmentally friendly and sustainable. So they’re clearly a lot more concerned about wastage and usage and impact. So what kind of responses are you getting from your shoppers around the By Rotation concept itself. What is it that they love about by rotation?

Eshita Kabra-Davies: I think it’s so far it’s we’ve got an amazing traction, not just in press, but also in our users. We’ve grown a lot in the past five and a half, six months that we launched. And it’s been amazing to see how many people have talked about their mindsets shifting.  You’ve got a lot of people saying, oh, I never knew there was such a thing. But now that I think about it, it just makes sense. And it’s everyone’s sort of like putting two and two and sometimes it takes a while to get them around to do a transaction. But as soon as they see something that they like on it we’ve seen a lot of transactions go through with people saying, I’m a first time renter, could you explain more how this works? But every one so far have had a great experience. And I think people are coming around the fact that  they are living in other people’s beds when they stay in Airbnb and they are taking other people’s cars when they take an Uber. So it kind of just makes sense to also do that with fashion, which tends to be something that we consume. It’s one of the things that we spend most of our household income on, at least in the U.K. and I think U.K. in particular has a very big problem with fast fashion. And in this side of the world where there are a lot of retailers and even E-tailers, such as ASOS , Missguided, Pretty Little Thing, all of these that create very cheap clothing such as a one pound bikini made by workers is in developing countries, as they call it and  people don’t realize the real and true cost behind all this clothing. So I think in a way, I always I almost feel like By Rotation is a great way for people to stop buying so much fast fashion and instead put that amount towards renting a quality piece of clothing that they just need to sort of wear for a particular event or a particular amount of days and not have to hold onto it. So, yeah, it’s been a very convenient and accessible concept, which I think a lot of our audiences has resonated with.

Akshara Subramanian: Right. That’s interesting. And I’d like to talk to you a little bit about how does the process of rotating work? Let’s say I have a dress that I’m not really fond of at the moment, but it’s also a designer piece. So I could potentially earn from it. How does that process work? Do you take a picture and send it to someone in the team? And similarly, how does that work with renting for a brand?

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Yeah. So we actually very we’re always sort of describing our UX, Rent and lend under two minutes and we say that because our mobile app just launched three weeks ago and I think you might have seen that it was covered in the Business of Fashion and Vogue and The Guardian, amongst the recent ones.

Akshara Subramanian: Congratulations on that.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Thank you. Yeah. I didn’t quite realize what a big deal it was, but yeah. Turns out it’s been great in terms of credibility again. But yeah, I mean it takes under two minutes to rent an item or list an item. So all you’d have to do is either go to App Store or go to Google Play, download the free app and create a profile and you can list an item. You know, just very similar to Vestiaire Collective or Depop if you’re familiar with those apps as well. Then it’s a very sleek and clean sort of way of making listings and equally renting is pretty much the same with an Airbnb sort of elements where your advised to communicate with the lender and tell them what you’re going to use the item for and also discuss how you’re going to make the exchange, which is usually in person or through Royal Mail truck delivery or through our On-Demand courier partner within London.

Akshara Subramanian: And how different is renting from rotating itself? What’s in it for the brand and what’s in it for the peer-to-peer renting solution? 

Eshita Kabra-Davies: You mean like brands that are doing rental themselves?

Akshara Subramanian: Right.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Yeah. So I think with with Urban Outfitters and now they’ve been talking about Ganni also doing a rental service. I think for them it’s really about ensuring that they always have repeat customers. And I think from what I understand with Urban Outfitters is that you can rent and then you also have an option to buy, although I might be wrong. So I think the focus really isn’t that much on sustainability, whereas when we talk about peer-to-peer, it’s very much about using what you already have or using what someone else already has rather than sort of going out and buying new or subscribing to new seasons and trends that Ganni might be putting out through their rental service or Urban Outfitters might be putting out through their rental service. So I guess I think the whole thing that we do differently is that we don’t buy any inventory or stock whatsoever. And I think that really plays to our benefit because, well, firstly, from my point of view, it’s capital light. And I guess for the others, for our potential renters, they see much more variety of different brands of different sizes on there. So if you’re a subscriber of the Urban Outfitters rental service or the Ganni rental service, you would only see from the brands that are under Urban Outfitters or all the Ganni clothing. So we have much more variety in that sense as well. And yeah, and again, we’re very much based on community, which I think maybe is something that even rent the runway doesn’t quite have because I feel like Rent the Runway. It’s all about dressing in a more cost effective manner, whereas we are really about finding a way to bring the renters and lenders together and think more about being conscious about what we’re consuming.

Akshara Subramanian: Right. that’s interesting. You talk about community, one of your customers. I think Florence Van Der Spek, She started out with renting a piece from your site and eventually went down to help out with your PR, so it’s obvious that your community is at the core of By Rotation. But do you anticipate any challenges as you expand? How do you think you can scale a more intimate community of Rotators into a global movement?

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Sure. There’s definitely a question about scale, But I like to think of it sort of as like a snowballing  effect. Like we do want to have ambassadors in different cities, In different organizations to help us build a community within them rather than sort of me always having to have a presence and trying to like meet each person individually and get them on board with the By Rotation concept. I’ve spoken to people about this in the past and they’ve likened it to the Tupperware effect. Back in the day when there were Tupperware parties. So that’s how we want to build it. we do want to still have a very personal element to it. And I think how we do that, as well as we make our customers, our users, our Rotators feel very much as a part of By Rotation, by including them in conversations, by including them in our community events, by featuring them on our social media platforms and market panels. And I think they love that. They love the feeling that they’re part of a movement. And I guess one brand that does that really well is Glossier.  That would definitely be one of my inspirations behind our company anyway. So that’s what I kind of want to do. I want to keep it organic. I know everyone uses that word a lot, but I do want to have that that human element to it and show how it’s not just sort of a fashion house or a designer brand. We’re a community of people. And at the end of the day, we’re very much like Airbnb, where we’re a platform that’s connecting a lender and a renter. That is our main service to provide a platform, to create a community that has those two and connect them.

Akshara Subramanian: Right. I think, you know, even with Glossier, I think one of the reasons we’ve been really excellent at creating this community because of just how they look at the community itself, they’re not calling themselves a beauty brand. If you see their bio on Instagram, they’re talking about they’re creating a beauty ecosystem. So it’s always about the people. And even feedback and things like that around the product are very transparent in that, If they  couldn’t create like a milky jelly cleanser in a smaller size initially, but there were a lot of people that were being stopped at the airport and the product would be thrown away. And they were like you asked. We listened. And now we’re going to bring you a smaller size that you can carry on your flights. So I just think they’ve been I think because they’ve been so connected to their community, that’s kind of how they’ve grown it. And  I can see that that’s something you can completely do with By Rotation.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: I hope so. Yeah.

Akshara Subramanian: Yeah. But I think what might be interesting is if you could tell us of any interesting anecdotes or stories that have happened in the last five, six months that really touched you or things that make you feel like you guys have really connected with your Rotators.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Yeah. So there’s definitely one I remember maybe like three months ago where someone was renting one of my pieces. And when I met them in person and we realized we were quite close to each other because I was still working at my firm back then. We realized we were working close to each other. We met during lunch break. And she started talking to me and saying like, oh, you know, what do you think about this concept? And is this your first time renting your items out to anyone? And I said, oh, I’m actually the one who created it. And she was very excited about it, which is great. And so she took a few photos and she sent them to me. And when we met up for her to return the item to me, when I opened the bag when I got home later that night, I saw that she had given me a card. I still have that card, actually. Basically, the card said something like, it’s amazing what you’re doing. And this takes guts. And keep going because I think you’re onto something. So that was really nice to have people who I didn’t know at all who had just tried it as a customer and really thought that this concept was something that could work. And  that they had a good experience. So that was a really nice sort of memory. And I still keep that card because it’s kind of nice to like, It’s not all about getting some big names or influencers or whatever to support you. I do really think that our end customer is the paying customer. And this is an example of that. And I’m glad that they loved it because it was someone who is also working in finance, had a very similar background to me. And that’s exactly how I thought that this product would be for someone who’s a working professional who likes fashion, who has disposable income, but doesn’t want to spend it all the time on new fashion trends or on payday. So it’s kind of a nice way to sort of, get my proof of concept again. And then another one definitely was when someone in New York rented a dress from someone in Manchester. And these two people, we didn’t know either of them and they didn’t know each other either. But they rotated, as we call it, between each other. She had worn her dress to the races a few months ago, and this renter was also going to wear them to races in New York. So it it was kind of cute to see, you know, her getting inspired by what she wore to the races and, you know, thinking, oh, I could also wear this to the races that I’m going to. And yeah and now we have photos of both of them, Two women who look different, who style their outfits different. But they both wore the same, Nadine Merabi dress to the races. And it’s just kind of nice. And we always get quotes from them. And they had a smooth transaction, which is great for us to know that the Royal Mail truck delivery that we’ve advised our Rotators to use does in fact work.

Akshara Subramanian:  That’s a really nice customer story, right. And at the end of the day, these are the kind of stories that matter like how the end experiences and how the end customer feels about the product.

Eshita Kabra-Davies:  These days it’s all about the micro influencers. And that’s your family and friends. And I guess that’s what we’re really after. We’re after like word of mouth, where after people being very proud to share that they rented their item and they rented it through our app.

Akshara Subramanian:  Right. And I also think that this is way bigger on the authenticity because it’s coming from a place of genuine satisfaction with the product as opposed to just always asking people to pay, to write about a brand or a service.

Eshita Kabra-Davies:  That’s exactly what I want. And I think, again, going back to Glossier, I think they do that really well when they show their customers on their marketing channels. People love that.

Akshara Subramania:   Right. And I think I think they’ve done really interesting things even with just their team. And the diversity that they bring in with some different types of makeup for different skin types and everything. Yeah, it’s amazing. So you’d mentioned that the person who had left the card for you was somebody who is kind of an ideal By Rotation customer, someone who kind of has a professional career but also loves fashion etc.  I want to talk a little bit about your career in finance itself. So how do you use your experience in finance to guide you in this new venture? Do you believe that it’s an asset that can be helpful in making more strategic business decisions?

Eshita Kabra-Davies:  Yeah I think that’s an interesting question. And it does come up quite often, obviously, in conversations with potential investors and press and well even sort of people that we’re meeting day to day to get on board of using the app, I think it’s definitely been a huge asset because I’ve been able to use the commercial side of it, which is, you know, financial modelling, analysis and negotiation. I mean, that’s a really big one as well. And I think another big part of it, when I was sort of making recommendations to our portfolio managers and our traders, I always had to sort of pitch an idea and essentially sell a trade recommendation to them. And, you know, I think that’s sort of really built up my confidence as to how to convince people to do what I want without straight up manipulating them. And I guess that’s been very useful when I’ve been meeting people and trying to convince them to give By Rotation a trial, even though they know nothing about me, nothing about the company. It’s only six months old now. So I think that’s been very useful. I would definitely say a big part of what I built in the past six years during in my experiences working as an investment analyst would definitely be the confidence. I do feel very comfortable speaking to people of all backgrounds, Be it cultural or like age or from different industries. I think that’s been very useful in sort of building me up. And obviously I do think that the background and the training that I received made me hardworking and diligent  always sort of determined to reach my goals. So I definitely think there’s a work ethic that I built through my experience which I’m not sure I might have been able to do so if I were always sort of working for myself. So, yeah, there’s a discipline that also came along with it.

Akshara Subramanian: So I think that kind of brings us to our last question as a founder how would you define a great retail experience? Is it about the touch and feel of a product? The store experience, the merchandise, hosting little Pop-Up community events or how convenient the model is?  What keeps shoppers coming back for more in your opinion and especially in your experience in the last six months? 

Eshita Kabra-Davies: So I think it’s definitely been great on the press side because we’re so young and sometime and the concept is so new people can be a bit hesitant at first. But I have to say a lot of the press that we’ve been getting, it’s been getting a lot of goodwill to us, which has really gotten people who were users of the platform, but hadn’t listed their own items. They had just rented items to now begin to start listing their items as well. So there’s a confidence that’s really that we’ve really gotten on the back of all this good press. And I would definitely say the second thing would definitely be the community events. What we really saw and have understood is that people love meeting each other and I think definitely as you get older, as you get busy in your work life, in your personal life, a lot of people sort of want this connection and they want to be able to meet other people outside their work and their personal lives. And I guess that’s what we’ve created with our community. We do some nice events where the Rotators can meet each other in person. They can also try on some of the clothing that people have listed on the platforms if they’ve brought it along with them. So it’s kind of a nice get together. You know, it’s free. It’s in central London. And we want to do more of this when we expand to different cities within U.K.. So I think those have been the key things for us. It’s word of mouth. It’s press and it’s really getting people together. So I guess that brings us to maybe like the physical side of it, since it’s a completely online only mobile app, only platform, We do want to have a bit of a physical presence, but that doesn’t mean we want to have like a pop up or a physical store.

Akshara Subramanian:  Yeah, I think it’s interesting to have a combination of both because these community events that you guys are doing kind of brings the Rotators together and gives them a feel for what By Rotation is all about, and I think like you said it gives them a sense of belonging and community and to meet people with like minded interests or things that they might like. And I think that’s also a very important element that sometimes I feel like brands can discount to really build a community of people that can interact and engage with just the brand itself as a platform to do that. And I also feel like they might want the convenience option of being able to do things online where they can go back home and make their own decisions after coming to a community event and trying on things.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: I totally agree. I think it’s great because this generation, especially the new generation, we know a lot of them have low attention spans so I almost feel like you have to keep things exciting for them all the time. And that’s where these pop up events and these community events, they’re really useful because they’re not always there. They’re effervescent, you’ll be able to come at  different community events and there’ll be different things going on. They’ll be different people, they’ll be different clothes, they’ll be different activities and panels. So I feel like it’s good to keep things mixed with them and offer them a new experience each time.

Akshara Subramanian:  Absolutely. Well, thank you so much Eshita I think we’re at the end of our podcast, I had a wonderful time chatting with you.

Eshita Kabra-Davies: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Akshara Subramanian:  I think I got to learn a lot about By Rotation, what you’re trying to create in the rental space. And it’s just great to know how you started your whole journey. So more power to you and we’ll definitely be rooting for you and watching By Rotation as you guys keep growing.

Eshita Kabra-Davies:  Thank you so much for the support.

Akshara Subramanian:  For all things around AI, Retail and a new era of shopping tune into The Vue podcast at Vue.ai to get the scoop. Until then bye bye.

About The Vue Podcast

Our podcast features the true champions of retail – We’re interviewing CEOs, CTOs, Investors, heads of product, heads of innovation, merchandisers, buyers and all the other people that are shaping up this billion-dollar industry. The conversations highlight the state of the retail industry today, the potential for personalisation on scale, AI’s role in the future of retail, deep-rooted process and operational inefficiencies within companies and how AI can change the way brands operate. We’ve featured some amazing change-makers from Milaner, Ashley Stewart, Macy’s, Nasty Gal, USPL, Yoga Club, Tata Cliq, Mercado Libre and will continue to feature leaders in this series. Subscribe to our podcast to understand how these decision-makers are influencing worldwide fashion retail!
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You may also want to see more episodes of Leaders in Retail:

The Vue Podcast: Leaders In Retail | Elisa Rossi, Milaner
The Vue Podcast: Leaders In Retail | Eileen Rizzo, Ashley Stewart
The Vue Podcast: Leaders In Retail | Jordana Guimaraes, Fashinnovation

 


Akshara Subramanian is the Head of Customer Marketing at Vue.ai and Mad Street Den. She loves crispy tacos, salted caramel and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. Parsons NYC graduate and Contributing Writer for Vogue India. Believes she will retire on a beach someday.