In the latest in our Life as I know it series, founder of By Rotation, Eshita Kabra, shares how a trip to Rajasthan inspired a career change and led to creating the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app.
There are some things in life that you can’t unsee. That, along with a sense of personal urgency, led to the founding of By Rotation: the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app. It was November 2018 and I was planning my honeymoon to my motherland Rajasthan, India on a spreadsheet. It had a tab for each city with details of where to stay, what to do, places to eat… you get it. And then there was Sheet 6. Sheet 6 was an overview of fashion rental options around the world – from Style Theory in Singapore (where I grew up) to Rent the Runway in the US (where my sister lives).
I had turned to Instagram for outfit inspiration for the holiday, but very quickly noticed a pattern: beautiful fashion worn only once. While I’ve always enjoyed fashion and have been known for my own style, the pragmatist in me did not approve of the indulgence I saw. Something felt broken and wrong, and so I started looking into solutions via rental.
Then came the honeymoon in February 2019. I hadn’t been to Rajasthan in over 13 years, and I felt a longing to reconnect with my roots and share my culture and traditions with my husband. What I didn’t quite expect was how highly-polluted the streets of my own hometown would be and how much I had grown up.
Plastic and textile waste covered city streets and rural areas beyond the well-documented overflowing landfills, alongside beautiful murals painted by school children of the government’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) movement. Pigs, dogs, lambs and cows, whom as a Hindu I consider sacred, were eating synthetic human cast offs – it made me angry. And then it crossed my mind: I had a hand to play in this linear fashion consumption model. I bought “Made in India” clothes and didn’t always love them enough, sometimes donating them to charity, which I knew probably ended up in landfills in India and African countries.
I began reflecting upon my worldview: I was born in India, where we celebrate colour, dress in elaborate clothing for countless festivals and worship Mother Nature. I grew up in Singapore, where our national hobby is shopping. In school, we were repeatedly taught the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and were made to feel guilty about wasting water (until recently, Singapore bought most of its water). I now live in the United Kingdom, where people are mostly fashion-conscious and increasingly turning up the volume on the climate crisis (note: Extinction Rebellion). We have also embraced sharing concepts such as Uber, Airbnb and even hotels because no hotel linen or towels were made just for you, so why not fashion?
And that’s when I trulybegan to consider my actions and attitude towards my love for fashion. I returned home to London feeling compelled to change and bring about change. The concept of fashion rental was no longer about accessing designer fashion at affordable prices: I did not want to create a system that encouraged more mindless fashion consumption with no sequences, I wanted to create a self-sustaining community in which people could share what they already owned with each other.
With no background or connection to the fashion or media industries, By Rotation became my side hustle alongside my full-time career at an American distressed debt hedge fund. Everything I did was very grassroots – from enlisting my friends (who also have no connections to these industries) to list their wardrobes on our beta platform to pursuing Lucy Siegle relentlessly to get her thoughts on rental! It was a whole new world which required my full attention, and I finally left my six-year long career in investment management to launch By Rotation officially in October 2019.
Before By Rotation, my lifestyle was slightly different. Having lived in cities only, I had a superficial relationship with nature – I found it beautiful and calming, I loved the sunny and starry skies and I knew it was important to protect it for our future. I did the little things we all do – recycling where possible, refusing when unnecessary, being vegetarian since birth and doing our grocery shopping at the local farmers market on Sunday.
I had the curiosity but like most consumers, I didn’t investigate where everything I was consuming came from. Today, I question everything – be it fashion, furniture or even the restaurants/hotels I’m a patron of. I’m very vocal with my family, friends and communities – because they’re the average consumer, and they aren’t necessarily the people attending sustainability-focussed panels (unless I’m speaking on them). To me, they’re the consumer that I was just 14 months ago, they’re the ones who need to be made aware and included in this conversation.
While I still love fashion, my purchases are much more considered and often of timeless nature so I can share them via By Rotation. Besides completely retreating from high street and fast fashion retailers, I am also a champion for smaller brands and artisans that share the same values as us; I love a good Etsy find! I’ve also really gotten into interiors lately: By Rotation recently opened up a studio of which 90% of the furniture is upcycled or second hand (sourced from local antique markets, a very fun hobby I must say!) and we’re featuring artists from our community on rotation.
Travel is slightly harder with my family scattered across 3 continents, so besides carbon offsetting, I’ve made a pledge to reduce air travel by keeping holiday trips as local as possible. My relationship with the countryside completely changed when we got ourselves a dog (also my son), I never realised how effective escaping the city can be in enabling me to disconnect.
The past few months have questioned life as I knew it: from a driven investment professional with a fast-paced life to a founder that wants to transform the world and make it a little more considered and conscious place. My honeymoon to my motherland went beyond beautiful palaces converted into exclusive hotels and romantic indulgence, it was about my people, our traditions and what kind of life I wanted to build with my husband. Rajasthan, you awoke that selfless passion in me that I was worried I had lost.
Want to learn more about rental fashion? Read By Rotation’s Bringing Business to Life.
Discover what Rosanna Falconer thinks dressing sustainably means in 2020.
Read more inspiring stories from our ‘Life as I know it‘ series.