LAKEVIEW — When Lakeview resident Sarah Perkins was studying marketing at Santa Clara University in California, she found herself constantly lending party dresses to her friends; Perkins didn't want to wear the same dress to every outing, and her friends didn't want to buy a dress they would only need once.
It was the perfect symbiotic relationship, and it inspired Perkins' startup, DesignerShare.
DesignerShare is a website that allows Chicago women to either lend or rent designer clothing.
Lenders set the prices, but the suggested guideline is to keep the cost of renting a piece of clothing for one week to 10 percent of the retail value.
DesignerShare allows users to lend or rent designer clothing at a significant price reduction. [DesignerShare]
Perkins said DesignerShare has garnered more than 500 users since its launch six months ago, with close to 600 pieces of clothing and accessories available.
"I want to say only about 10 percent of our users are lenders," Perkins said. "We're just finding these women who have treasure troves for closets — sometimes up to 50 pieces each."
Those signing up online to be a lender are able to upload photos of their pieces to the website and set prices. They'll be notified when someone has requested to rent a piece, and the lender has the authority to approve the request or not.
The pieces are delivered by DesignerShare, dry cleaning costs are split between lender and renter, and the lender keeps 75 percent of the rental fee.
Perkins said the idea behind DesignerShare is to make designer clothing and accessories accessible for every woman because, for better or worse, a woman's success in the world often depends on how she's able to dress.
"The reason I was buying clothing over and over again, and women continue to do so, is there's so much more scrutiny placed upon us because of our appearance compared to men," Perkins said. "So, through DesignerShare, we're trying to show that fashion really should be accessible for all of us."
DesignerShare's philosophy is "fashion feminism," a term she said some friends and colleagues discouraged her from using for fear of alienating potential customers.
But Perkins wasn't swayed. Feminism is important to her, and it's an accurate descriptor of what she's going for with this business, which is focused on size inclusivity as well as ensuring women of varying economic backgrounds can dress to impress.
"I think everyone who has worked with us would call themselves a feminist," she said.
Eventually, Perkins plans to expand DesignerShare beyond Chicago, but she said this was the ideal city for the business to get its start.
"I think the biggest difference here in Chicago versus something like New York or L.A. is that we're going to be a little slower to go to those places because they're so saturated," she said.
"We just want to be known as the friendliest fashion company you'll ever meet. There's just too much cattiness around this industry, usually, and we just want everyone to feel great. That means when you're working with us, we're going to go above and beyond."