One of the latest Irish businesses to join the fashion rental market, STUDIO Dress Rental was set up by entrepreneur Sarah McCarthy. She shares some of her key learnings since starting her own business with us here.
Tell us about you and your brand/business
My name is Sarah McCarthy, and I am the owner of STUDIO Dress Rental. My background is mainly in HR but over the years I have tapped into various areas within the fashion industry. I have loved fashion from a very early age and in 2016, I came across an evening course in Personal Shopping and Image Consultancy at Dublin Institute of Design led by Laura Jordan. I found this course extremely interesting and practical. Once the course finished, I offered complimentary personal shopping appointments to women in Dublin where I guided them through the colours and styles that suited them over a coffee in The Westbury Hotel. Our next stop was Grafton Street where we would apply our learnings to our shopping. I learned so much about what Irish women like and what we feel comfortable wearing and this has certainly stood to me.
In 2020, I completed an MSc in Strategic Management where I focused my thesis on consumer behaviours and attitudes towards the sustainable fashion industry. Studies found that women did want to shop more sustainably but didn’t know how. It was evident that education is the key to the revolution. During this time, I felt ready to create my own rental business and then the pandemic arrived! I put plans on hold and then in May 2022, I decided that it was time to launch.
Now to tell you a little about my business. STUDIO is an online fashion rental business that is waging a war on fashion waste by providing a smarter and more sustainable alternative that is better for the community and the environment. People will soon be provided with a platform where they can rent, lend and buy occasion wear. The platform acts as a marketplace for renters around Ireland and encourages fashion lovers to make an income out of their favourite dresses. We bring the dream of working in the fashion industry to life! We want retail businesses around Ireland specialising in designer dresses to get involved too by renting out their stock using our platform. We have focused on developing a platform that is both user-friendly and stylish to ensure that your experience is seamless. We really hope that you love STUDIO as much as we do!
What is your mission?
Our mission is to solve the “I’ve got nothing to wear” crisis many women face. STUDIO’s objective is to provide seamless and guilt-free access to designer fashion for less and to reduce the amount of clothing being used for once-off occasions before being discarded. We aim to eliminate the stress of trying to dress for a wedding or your best friend’s birthday.
What kind of items do you stock?
Our focus is on dresses for special occasions. Our collection has been curated to cover options for weddings, graduations, birthdays, you name it! We stock brands such as Rixo, Self-Portrait, Zimmermann, Rebecca Vallance and many more.
What new brands or items are on your radar?
We absolutely love Aje and we will be adding a lot more of this brand to our collection over the next year. As we grow, we would love to add pieces from The Vampire’s Wife and Rachel Gilbert. As we are a customer-centric brand, we want our customers involved in the shopping process. Our customers will steer the direction that STUDIO moves in.
Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
Absolutely. This has been our biggest challenge to date. We are self-funded and that does limit our ability to scale up rapidly. We are confident that funds have been invested wisely to date and when the time is right, we will be seeking investment.
Best business advice you’ve gotten
Never stop thinking how you can delight your customers. Not to satisfy but to delight. This should be focused on throughout your working day to ensure that the customer is truly front of mind.
Favourite sustainable style accounts to follow online
My favourite accounts are HURR and By Rotation. I love how they interact with customers and potential customers. There is a real buzz created that encourages rental. They focus on diversity and all shapes and sizes are celebrated. That is something that we feel is incredibly important.
Best fashion purchase
Our best fashion purchase has to be the Rixo Eleanor Lily Metallic Mint Midi Dress. There has been so much demand for this dress, and it was also the first dress that I bought for STUDIO!
Other sustainable Irish brands you love
I adore Chupi. Their designs are truly breathtaking and are based on Ireland’s unique beauty. Each of their pieces are designed, handcrafted and finished in Ireland. Chupi really is a remarkable brand.
We recently partnered with Sinead B Millinery for ‘A Day at the Races’ photoshoot ahead of the Galway races. Sinead’s pieces are incredible and are all available for rent. We had so much fun putting fully rentable outfits together.
The inspiration behind the Day At The Races shoot was…
I have grown up with horses throughout my life and a memorable day out has always been Ladies Day at the Galway Races. It is by far one of the most glamourous days for women in Ireland. As our focus has turned to sustainability, I would love to see this built into all Ladies Day events around Ireland. Irish women have such an amazing eye for fashion, and it would be such a shame for these outfits to go unworn. Instead, they should be celebrated!
Most useful learning since setting up a business
Organisation is key. Create a process and stick to the process, especially at the beginning. There are so many moving parts at the start. You might have one strong area of expertise, but you will be dropped into the worlds of marketing, operations, finance, customer service and sales pretty quickly. Stay calm and breathe though, it is all part of the journey.
Proudest moment so far
The day we held our first photoshoot was surreal. It really felt like STUDIO was coming to life and becoming a reality. I worked with a really fantastic photographer Evan Tsapatoras, models from Holman Lee Agency, Laura Mansbridge, Aine Dwan and Ceiline O’Meara and hair and make-up by FMN Studio in Limerick. Everyone worked so well together. A dream team was truly formed.
I want my brand to be remembered for…
Being a friendly brand that goes above and beyond for every single customer. Our customers are incredibly important to us and they’re such an important part of the journey. Without our fabulous customers, STUDIO would not have come to life.
If I could dress anyone it would be…
Laura Whitmore. I love how she has fun with fashion. She’s not afraid of taking risks and she is also such a positive role model. She has been a fantastic advocate of the sustainable fashion industry and I think we can all say that she has looked incredible during every Love Island appearance this season.
The circular economy is so important because…
There are so many benefits to a circular economy. From a fashion perspective, it allows us to wear the brands that we have always dreamt of wearing for a fraction of the cost and from an environmental perspective, we hear about the rising temperatures across Europe on a day-to-day basis. If we don’t act, this situation will only worsen. It is such a progressive time and it’s time to build sustainability into our daily lives.