Bringing Business to Life: By Rotation

With its digital-only business model and futureproof approach to fashion, By Rotation, the first and only fashion rental app, helps its community refresh their wardrobes at a low carbon cost. We spoke to founder Eshita Kabra-Davies about the inspiration behind the initiative, her decision to keep all activity online, and why she never purchases inventory for the business. 

What inspired you to launch By Rotation?

I was planning my honeymoon to my motherland Rajasthan, India in late 2018 when I started thinking about how common it has become in the social media age to wear clothing only once, for that Instagram-perfect photo. It didn’t seem logical or pragmatic to spend all that money for a one-off occasion (or photo), and I started thinking about what would happen to these items later. During my honeymoon, I was upset to see the amount of textile waste affecting my people and returned home determined to bring about change. After doing some in-depth market research into the fashion rental industry and the lack of a more sustainable alternative to consuming, I decided to start By Rotation – the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app – as a side hustle alongside my full-time job at a hedge fund.

What are your sustainable priorities for the business?

We want to transform the way that we consume fashion and disrupt the usual journey of retail through rental. We are setting out to convince everyone that we no longer need to buy fast fashion and can instead share quality clothing with each other. After all, what may no longer feel new to you can actually be new for somebody else. As a purely peer-to-peer fashion rental platform, our sustainable priorities are to remain digital, enhance the user’s journey through our in-house developed machine learning tools, not to purchase inventory for the business and include a wide audience from all over the UK, and eventually globally. Our community and technology are our strengths.

How has your sustainability strategy developed as you have grown?

We have been very clear from the outset that we are purely a peer-to-peer fashion rental app and that hasn’t changed. We also made the decision to stay fully digital, which ensures that our environmental footprint stays considerably lower than if we were to host a physical presence. Instead, we organise events for our local communities across the UK which has given us the chance to connect in person and develop that human connection. 

Our app, which is constantly being tweaked, has a feature that enables you to calculate the amount of carbon emissions that you’ve saved by renting, rather than purchasing the item. This has brought a level of awareness amongst users that goes beyond just accessing designer fashion at a fraction of the retail price. We have also partnered with sustainable companies such as Save Your Wardrobe (an app aimed at digitising your wardrobe so you can care for it better), Clothes Doctor (eco-friendly cleaning and repairs), as well as our on-demand delivery service Peyk (who mostly use bikes for their deliveries).

What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?

The incredibly enthusiastic response we’ve had since launching in October 2019 from our very strong and diverse community! I’m super excited for our journey ahead, can’t believe it’s only been four and a half months. 

On a more business-related note, some highlights so far have definitely been when our app launch was covered by the Business of Fashion, which was a moment of pride (and also the last day of my six year-long career in investment management). This was followed by Forbes, Vogue and The Industry Fashion. Receiving the Eco-Age brandmarkwas another milestone, along with hitting the 10,000 users mark and seeing 370% user growth quarter on quarter – making us the fastest-growing fashion rental platform in the UK. 

But perhaps the best part of all has been getting to work with some incredible humans who love our concept of ‘rotating,’ such as Stacey Dooley, Gina Martin, Anna Shaffer, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Aisling Bea, Bettina Looney, Monikh Dale, Camille Charriere, Emma Rose, Victoria Magrath and Nicole Ocran amongst many others. I also loved hosting and moderating a panel amongst industry heavyweights from Vestiaire Collective, The Sunday Times, Eco-Age and Vogue.

What have been the main prohibitors to your progress in building a sustainable business?

Shifting mainstream perception and mindset around renting clothing and reassuring people that it is no different than sleeping in someone’s Airbnb or even using towels in a hotel. A lot of people still tell us they would find it weird for someone else to wear their clothes – which is totally understandable. If your clothes are a tool for self-expression then it is normal to be bound to them somewhat personally (by the way, this also means you are shopping the right way!) But a handful of our users who joined with doubts are hooked after trying ‘rotating’ just once, from the mere satisfaction that comes with seeing someone else wear and love your items. It makes you feel proud because you know you’ve done something good for the planet and made money in the process.

Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more environmentally friendly?

As our business model is entirely built on sustainability, we find that a lot of ‘rotators’ come to us because they are looking to be more conscious with their fashion choices. We often get asked if we buy any stock and inventory as some other platforms do, but from the start we have been very strict on being purely peer-to-peer to avoid adding any new items into circulation and eventually landfill – it defeats the point of renting in our opinion. As a constantly improving business, we strive to better our sustainability credentials with innovations such as the carbon emissions calculator feature in our app. We’ll be looking at ways to educate our users better on how to ensure items are cleaned and packed in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?

Keep pushing and stick to your values. Even if you are met with constant obstacles or others who take shortcuts, keep going and you will truly stand out! Consumers are ready for socially responsible businesses, so even if the relevant industry hasn’t adapted you have the unique chance to be a changemaker and pave the way.

Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?

Since founding By Rotation, my biggest inspirations have been successful resell marketplaces such as Vestiaire Collective and Depop. They have completely shifted the mindset around preloved fashion – making it cool to wear second hand and vintage. We’re now prouder than ever to tell the story behind a one-of-a-kind treasure than another ubiquitous item trending on Instagram. With By Rotation, I wish to enable people to reconsider their consumption habits and ask them to embrace the sharing economy within fashion, one of the most traditional industries of the world but also one of the most polluting.