Suit and Sweet is a rental start-up that aims to make designer work wear available to women at a fraction of the retail cost. Think ‘Rent the Runway’ for women with interviews to take and meetings to attend. Beyond just fashion, the company also intends to provide a more holistic approach to helping women in their professional endeavors: they’ve partnered with make-up artists, stylists and career specialists to arm their customers with the necessary tools to ace their next interview, client meeting or any other business engagement that they might have on their schedules. Ultimately, most suits will be donated to organizations that help empower disadvantaged women by providing them with career apparel.
Today, we hear from Suit and Sweet co-founders Christine Short and Hannah Levenaron, two women who’ve been there, done that, and who know what working women – and soon-to-be-working women – need..
Tell us about service.
Suit and Sweet is an online walk-in closet for career women. Our customers choose from a wide selection of current designer attire, renting the clothes they need for interviews, client meetings, and other business engagements
How is it different?
In addition to providing a practical and easily accessible road to professional attire, Suit and Sweet, the only online rental service dedicated to women’s professional wear, further extends the traditional clothing rental concept by partnering with make-up artists, stylists and career specialists to arm our customers with the information necessary to ace their next interview, client meeting or any other business engagement. We tell our clients, “You build your resume, we’ll build your look.”
Moreover, to continue the cycle of “women helping women,” at the end of each season, most of our suits will be donated to organizations that help empower disadvantaged women by providing them with career attire.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Our domestically-based audience consists of women who are currently undergraduate or graduate students, as well as career women in their 20s to early 30s in metropolitan areas.
Per 2013 National Center for Education Statistics data, there are approximately 10 million women enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs. The NCES expects the number of women enrolled in these programs to increase 16% by 2020 from where they stood in 2009. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately another 10 million women in their 20s – 30s working in metropolitan areas of the United States. This brings our overall audience tally to approximately 20 million.
A study by Brother UK Marketing and Communications in 2012 found that the average working woman spent around $6,500, or nearly 20%, of her yearly income on career apparel. This would mean that our audience of 10 million working women between the ages of 20 – 34 spends approximately $65 billion on work clothing every year.
To illustrate what this could mean for a young business professional, owning a full cost designer suit runs, on average, $800. Renting a different suit, say, four times per year from Suit & Sweet would average $400. And that $400 savings could be applied not only toward daily necessities, but further education and retirement funding, as well.
There is a growing trend towards the shared economy as well as collaborative consumption. What do you see the as the long-term vision for the space?
One thing we know about Millenials is that they love to share, and don’t mind (actually prefer) not owning things. A perfect storm of economic and demographic factors has altered the landscape for Gen Y, thus shifting priorities from ownership to access.
We envision that the shared economy will continue to expand, especially for large-ticket items, such as housing and automobiles. We believe this will also be true of high-end fashion. While not traditionally considered large-ticket items, designer fashions are something that most Millenials either cannot afford, or are not willing to plunk down the cash for. Not only is price a factor, but Gen Y would rather not commit to own before they have had the option to try something; this is especially true of fashion, as styles and trends are constantly changing.
What is the Suit and Sweet business model?
Our business model is based on buying inventory directly from designers at wholesale prices and making the items available to our customers for a fraction (usually 10 – 20%) of the retail price. Users visit our site (www.suitandsweet.com) to search our inventory of suiting separates, and select the items they want to rent for a 5 – 10 day period. A flat shipping fee of $9.95 is applied to all orders. At the end of the rental period, customers place their items in the original packaging, attach the enclosed return shipping label and drop off at their nearest UPS location. We handle all the dry-cleaning and garment care.
Not only will customers benefit by renting, but the designers themselves will, as well, by building brand loyalty with consumers who are early in their careers. We help designers target a demographic they typically wouldn’t have had access to because of the affordability issue. By introducing their brand to a younger audience who will soon be cash-flow positive, they will be cultivating a new customer base.
Why is your team the right one to get the job done?
Suit and Sweet consists of founding members, Christine Short and Hannah Levenkron, both of whom have backgrounds in financial services. Christine has worked in equity research for nearly eight years, valuing S&P 500 companies based on their fundamentals, while learning the ins and outs of financial statements and business operations. Hannah has spent the past few years working in the investment advisory space, providing branding strategies to help market investment portfolios.
But beyond business attributes, we are our customer, and our friends and peers are our customers, and because of that, we have endless feedback from which to improve. As career women themselves, Christine and Hannah envisioned the Suit and Sweet concept during their business trips out of the country, for which they did not own any attire that they liked or felt comfortable wearing. There had to be a more economical and efficient way for women to dress for their most important professional events – and love what they wear
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within the next 6 months?
For the next six months, we have three main goals. First, we are investing in inventory, hoping to offer additional sizes and a greater variety of styles. Second, we are looking to hire a CTO and commit more broadly to the technology, specifically a virtual fit technology that allows users to see a depiction of themselves in an outfit to help them with sizing. Third, we are looking to partner with a career-counseling firm to provide greater access to career preparation services. As we implement these changes, we will be making trips to local college career fairs in the spring, giving soon-to-be graduates an alternative to buying suits for upcoming job interviews
If you could speak with one investor in the New York community, who would it be and why?
There are several investors we would be grateful to have the opportunity to speak with. The first name that comes to mind is Joanne Wilson, whom we met briefly at a recent Tech@NYU event. We would love to speak with Joanne more at length about our venture as she is well known in the community for her support of women-run businesses and has invested in fashion tech startups, such as Le Tote.
Why are you launching in New York?
Both co-founders started their careers in New York. The city is the inspiration for Suit and Sweet, where both career achievements and dressing the part are equally important. New York City not only has the greatest number of working women in our target audience, but it is also home to a number of top schools, a key to our North East college job fair roadshow. The Silicon Alley community has also been an integral part of our development thus far, and we’d like to continue to be a part of this space as it grows.