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Hirestreet is June's Featured Business of the Month

Mon, 17 June 2019

Isabella West won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in November 2018 for her business, Hirestreet.
Hirestreet is the UK’s first high street focused fashion rental platform, where customers hire outfits for a fraction of the retail price. The rise of fast fashion, combined with social media induced pressure to constantly be seen wearing ‘new’ outfits, has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of clothing ending up in landfill. By introducing a shared approach to fashion, Hirestreet extends the lifetime of each garment, from being worn once or twice, to being worn over 15 times. Isabella estimates that this approach reduces the environmental impact of the outfit by up to 70%.
 
Initially, Hirestreet focused on renting garments from high street brands such as Missguided and Zara. However, customers requested more premium items, and a quality product that they could rent for the same price as purchasing on the high street (around £15-£35). Hirestreet currently has over 20 brand partners including French Connection, Lavish Alice, and Keepsake The Label.
 
Placing high importance on customer feedback, Hirestreet has developed its service to improve the customer experience, including flexible rental periods and delivery dates.
 
We caught up with Isabella to find out what’s been happening with Hirestreet over the past seven months, and what her future plans are.
 
What was the inspiration behind Hirestreet?
Hirestreet is a service I would use myself if someone else had built it first. As a twenty-something living in London, I found myself buying lots of new outfits - which I used to then love sharing with friends. Seeing the confident feeling the girls would get when they tried on an outfit they loved, and how grateful they would be at not having to splash out on it, made me realise the potential business case. This experience coincided with an increasing awareness of the damage that fast fashion is having on the environment, and as I educated myself more on this, I felt increasingly motivated to do something about it.
 
Did you always want to start your own business?
Yes definitely! My parents are both entrepreneurs, and I always knew I wanted to start my own business. I would describe myself as an ‘ideas’ person, so this part came naturally, however I am also quite risk averse, so I probably put off starting something for longer than I should have.
 
What challenges have you faced in starting-up your business?
I think the biggest challenge to starting was actually having the confidence to take the risk. I had to leave my job and move home, which at the time felt like big barriers to overcome. Also, the early days of being an entrepreneur can be really lonely - so just having the confidence and self-belief to keep going was also difficult. For me, the challenges have definitely been more mental than operational. 
 
What is your biggest achievement with the business?
The Team! I know it probably sounds strange, but I have worked as part of lots of different teams; some work and some don’t. The team we have at Hirestreet is fun, ambitious, motivated and deeply caring - I am lucky every day to have them. There is a sense that we can do anything with this business, and whatever happens we will have a laugh along the way.
 
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in November 2018. How have things changed for you since then?
Winning the Shell LiveWIRE prize was brilliant in terms of timing for the business. It enabled us to invest in new stock and test the demand for products with a higher average rental value, as well as signing up new brands like French Connection. Since November, we have seen a big jump in customer numbers, which ultimately was crucial in helping us to secure our seed funding round earlier this year.
 
What’s next for Hirestreet?
A lot! We have recently completed a fundraise which has given us the opportunity to make some pretty huge, and very exciting, expansion plans. As well as investigating the potential of a subscription service, we are also looking to expand into other areas of rental. We have some great new brand partners signed up which customers will start to see arriving on the site over the next couple of months.
 
What role do you think entrepreneurs will play in the transition to a low-carbon society?
I think entrepreneurs are essential for changing the status quo. Whilst we have seen a huge rise in the number of businesses prioritising low-carbon policies in recent years, there is still a lot to do. It is much harder for a large corporation to change an entrenched practice than for a start-up to come in and do the same function, but with a low-carbon approach in their DNA. 
 
What’s the most important personality trait to have as an entrepreneur and why?
The ability to focus. As an entrepreneur there are good days and bad days, and there is always so much to do. It’s essential to have a clear vision of where you want to get to. Being focused lets you prioritise tasks that will support your goal. Focusing on the end goal ultimately helps you ignore superficial distractions that come with the day-to-day running of a business, and helps you get there ahead of others.
 
If you could return to this time last year, would you do anything differently?
I would have raised money sooner. Rental is a hugely exciting and growing sector. We are very much at the forefront of the space, and our recent fundraise will help us to retain our first-mover advantage. However, the industry is definitely becoming more competitive, so there is constant pressure to stay ahead. We have a great team in place, and have started seeing dramatic growth in recent months (around 100% plus growth month-on-month). It would have been great to realise this performance sooner.
 
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Lots of entrepreneurs are full of ideas - the hard part is choosing which one to stick to. If you are at the stage where you have ideas, but nothing necessarily feels right, then don’t force it. Before I started Hirestreet, I knew I wanted to run my own business, and I had so many different plans written. When I started planning Hirestreet, I knew it felt different - and the difference was that I had so much confidence that I was the right person to give this kind of business a shot.
 
The other piece of advice I would give is that taking an entrepreneurial leap is naturally risky, however you can take steps to mitigate this. When I started Hirestreet, I was still working at the same time as building a minimum viable product that I could test. I think the ‘scare factor’ puts a lot of people off starting – so, I really recommend just taking practical steps to limit the risk and make it less scary.

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