Podcast
March 21, 2022

Transforming the Way we Consume Fashion with Eshita Kabra, CEO of By Rotation

Eshita Kabra, is the mastermind behind By Rotation, the fastest growing UK digital fashion rental and resale platform. In this episode, Saif Hameed, CEO of Altruistiq and Eshita Kabra, CEO of By Rotation sit down and discuss how By Rotation is disrupting the market and empowering a community discerning fashionistas with the tools to be mindful consumers and crucially, look fantastic whilst doing so.

 

The future of fashion isn’t fast... By Rotation is putting the brakes on the fast fashion consumer habit, resetting the narrative from buying new to sharing new.

Eshita Kabra, is the mastermind behind By Rotation, the fastest growing UK digital fashion rental and resale platform. In this episode, Saif Hameed, CEO of Altruistiq and Eshita Kabra, CEO of By Rotation sit down and discuss how By Rotation is disrupting the market and empowering a community discerning fashionistas with the tools to be mindful consumers and crucially, look fantastic whilst doing so.

Dubbed as the ‘Instagram of fashion rental’, Eshita reveals how technology has enabled a community of eco-conscious ‘rotators’ to evolve. We dive into the financial, environmental and style benefits that users gain whilst spotlighting the current and future industry wide uptake of the circular fashion model. Tune in to find out how By Rotation is putting an end to fast fashion.

#whatsmineisyours

Listen to the episode directly via Spotify here


Transcript

Saif Hameed:

This is Altruistic, where we speak with pioneers in the race to zero, and unpack the lessons from their experience for you, our community of impact professionals. I'm your host, Saif Hamid. And in this episode, we're going to get to talk about circularity and fashion. You may have already dipped your toes into the rental market, or simply admired it from afar. We're going to distill the key ideas, understand the opportunities, and theorise around the future of circular fashion, in our conversation with Eshita Kabra. Eshita is CEO and founder of By Rotation, Europe's most exciting peer-to-peer fashion rental and resale platform. Driving the change in consumer habits, and resetting the narrative, from buying to sharing. Eshita, thank you so much for joining us.

Eshita Kabra:

Thank you so much again, Saif, for having me.

Saif Hameed:

No, it's our pleasure. So tell us about By Rotation. What do you guys do and how do you do it?

Eshita Kabra:

Yeah, By Rotation. So it's the world's first social network where you can lend, rent, and, more recently, buy and sell contemporary and designer fashion with each other, thereby saving the planet, saving money, dressing great, and also making new friends at the same time. So many reasons to do it.

Saif Hameed:

I have to say we love the saving the planet part the most here at Altruistic, no surprises. Could you tell us a bit more about that? What's the impact that fashion has on the planet, and how does By Rotation help?

Eshita Kabra:

Yeah, I've been reading in quite a few resources, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which we're a part of. We're a part of The Network, where it says that fashion is apparently the third most polluting industry in the world, which is shocking. Overtakes aviation and maritime industries combined. But I guess, if you think about it, we're all wearing clothes every day. In certain countries, such as the UK, the consumers here are consuming about four times the amount of fashion, than its European counterparts. So actually it might not be that surprising after all, that fashion is one of the most consumed products in the world. And I think it's been growing at such a rate, that completely outpaces what our parents, or our grandparents ever did, ever wore. And that's what we're doing at By Rotation. We're really getting the average consumer, walking on the high street to rethink how they can still enjoy fashion, without purchasing new product.

Eshita Kabra:

So really making fashion and experience, as opposed to all about the ownership. And, with By Rotation, our values are very much based on community. The sharing economy, and technology. Very simply put, we're a peer-to-peer marketplace, where you can list items, so that people can rent and lend. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, we launched our resale feature. So there's also an option to buy items, or sell them yourself. So really getting people to share what they already own. Very much the sisterhood of traveling pants, which is a pretty famous movie from my time, coming to life.

Saif Hameed:

This is so fantastic, and, Eshita, there's been a lot of talk around carbon, and carbon emissions, and greenhouse gases globally. We see a lot of our food customers, and companies that Altruistic works within the food sector and FMCG space, really coming to terms with the impact that their value chain has, on carbon and carbon emissions. For you guys, is it really about carbon and greenhouse gas? Or actually going beyond that? You talked about circulairty  and the single use model. What are the metrics for us as consumers, and for businesses as well, talking about here?

Eshita Kabra:

Yeah, so we actually created an in-house impact calculator. We call it the Positive Savings Calculator. It's a nudging technique, to get people to understand that when they rent an item from someone else on the By Rotation app, they're also saving the planet by not having another item being produced, and therefore purchased and, probably discarded very quickly, by them. So we do that at the checkout, on the By Rotation app, where you can see your positive savings, in terms of the textile waste, in terms of the water that would have been used to create the product, and also carbon emissions, as you already mentioned. Then there's the other exciting part, which I think most people are still thinking about, that the mainstream audience is very concerned with affordability.

Eshita Kabra:

I think that's the thing that draws them in the most, which is the fact that they get to wear contemporary designer, new clothes, that are new to them anyway, for a fraction of the retail price. Then I think it's about really nudging them to make them realize that by actually renting and sharing, they've done more than just save money, they've actually also saved the planet, because they've not bought, yet another piece, or product. So I think it's really about making sustainability inclusive. Getting everyone, including the laymen again on the high street, to engage with this concept of sustainability and circularity. Without you being one of the people, who would probably be at an extension rebellion rally. We want to make it for everyone.

Saif Hameed:

I think it's a great term, and a great expression to make sustainability inclusive. We also find a lot of the organizations that we speak with, talk about age transition. Not just from the angle that you've described, which is how do you bring all consumers along, and have everyone play there. But also, how do you ensure that no one is really left behind, in the impact this transition is inevitably going to have. We were also speaking with Nigel Phan, founder of Whirli, who's in a similar space, or rather exploring a very different space, toys in a very similar way. It was really the same focus, which is how do you get a customer to have a better service experience, a better product experience, in a more affordable way, and also in a way that has less impact. If you can hit all three of those as By rotation is also doing, that's where you really lock the people to really achieve impact at scale, because you have those big drivers for how you do it.

Eshita Kabra:

I love what Nigel's doing and I think it makes so much sense, especially because kids outgrow their toys, don't they, as they would with clothes. Maybe we'll have By Rotation for kids. It just makes a lot of sense to not make new product, and share what's already out there.

Saif Hameed:

What made you identify this opportunity, or where did it come to mind? You were in an entirely different sphere before this, right? In finance. What brought this to mind?

Eshita Kabra:

It was a very first world problem, to be very honest with you. I was planning my itinerary for my honeymoon, so a holiday, and was thinking about all the places we would go, that we would visit, that we would eat at. And the different cities in Rajasthan where I'm originally from, that we would visit. I started thinking about how I'd pack my suitcase, for the clothes I wanted to wear on this trip of a lifetime. And that's when I started thinking about how it'd be great if I could just borrow, or rent clothes for this trip, and then return them back. And I started thinking about all these fashionable women that you see on social media, Instagram, in particular, has that very famous #OOTD, which is outfit of the day.

Eshita Kabra:

And I thought, you know what? It would be really nice if I could borrow this woman's outfit, the one who's already been to Rajasthan. She looks amazing in that dress, and we have the same size, the same style. But then I very quickly realized that in the UK and even Europe, there were no digital rental platforms out there, any rental solution was on the high street, to rent hats for like a wedding you're going to, or ball gowns. Nothing for a nice holiday during the summer period. And that's when I started thinking about various sharing economy companies, those gig economies, such as Uber and Airbnb.

Eshita Kabra:

And I thought, why don't we create this platform, where I could just reach out to this woman on the Instagram square, and tell her, that I'd like to rent her outfit. And I'll pay her, and she'll get it back. And I'll take care of it. And maybe I can continue to rent the rest of her wardrobe as well. So, that's where the idea really came about. And I think it was on my honeymoon when I went back to my motherland, where I was born. It was two hours away from Jaipur in Rajasthan, where I noticed a visible textile waste, in my suburban hometown, which is well known for textiles, in particular. That's when I started thinking about how this idea I had for a shared economy of fashion. It actually goes beyond just wanting to dress up, and enjoy fashion, it could actually be a solution to this problem of waste in the fashion industry.

Saif Hameed:

Couldn't agree more. We're starting to work at Altruistic with companies in the fashion value chain, and a big part of that is actually the textile industry, and further upstream, in helping drive transformative change there. The impact can really be very significant. To go back to the metrics, not just on carbon, but also on water for example, as a water intensive industry. Both in terms of cotton growing, for example, and also the manufacturing process. When you think about your part of the market, what are the main challenges facing your business, and how do you see your way to overcoming them? I would imagine that trust, and building trust between the different participants might be a big part of that, but would love to hear those in some more detail.

Eshita Kabra:

I think the first thing probably, to begin with is conversion. It's still a new concept, especially in Europe and in the UK. In the US, you have players, which now have already, become listed like Rent the Runway. But that's taken over 13 years. And that's also been only in one geography. There's quite a lot, still, in terms of education, that we need to do in the UK and Europe. And, obviously with COVID, that didn't really help, because we were only five and a half months, when we had launched. And then you have concerns about hygiene. But I think we've done a very good job at explaining to people that it's no different to going to someone's Uber, or staying in someone's Airbnb, or even actually a hotel for that matter, because the linen and the towels that you use at hotels, they're not made just for you.

Eshita Kabra:

They're shared by other guests, who've stayed at the property. It's a similar concept, and we've gone a step further, and made it personal. Because we've made it very community oriented. That's where the social network style platform really comes into play. Once you end up renting from a woman, who is the same style and size as you. Maybe she even lives in your neighborhood, or in the same city as you, you end up following her on the By Rotation App. And then you repeat rent from her over and over again. It's like this friendship or acquaintanceship, that's formed between these two women or style matches, as we call it. That's been really useful in building trust within the community. It goes a step further, than an Airbnb. And a step further than say Instagram, because you can actually directly borrow or even, now, buy someone's wardrobe, directly on the app.

Saif Hameed:

And do you see a lot of the influencer led model being quite powerful in your space? Again, picking up from where your idea originated, where you can see people wearing something, let's say on Instagram, and you actually want to wear that for a day, or for a trip. Is there a big personal brand creation element here, where followers, who want to then borrow their clothes, can potentially purchase them later on? Is that a big part of the model?

Eshita Kabra:

I would say the main user persona that we have on the app is really the working professional female. So, it's not actually the influencers, or the ones who want to become influencers, or well known celebrities and VIPs. It's actually our top lender, for example, she is a math teacher. She received her OBE a few months ago from the Queen. She is 49 years old, and she's got twins. She has a full-time job. It's not her day job to be fashionable and stylish, and have a huge wardrobe. But she is a woman who makes over 2000 pounds a month, just from sharing her wardrobe. I think it's very democratic on the platform. It's really based on who has great style, and therefore is lending out more, or having more views on the app, as opposed to needing to be a celebrity, or someone famous to begin with anyway.

Eshita Kabra:

Equally, that being said, some of our renters, people who are micro-influencers. Who are building up their profiles on other social media channels, like TikTok and Instagram. We've also, on the other side, got a few famous wardrobes on the app that you can rent. Some of these famous people like, Lady Amelia Windsor, who's also a friend. Stacey Dooley and Cammie Sherriere, who's a very well known fashion influencer. They're donating proceeds of their rental income, to quite a few different charities. So it's great, it's got messages about sustainability, sharing, fashion, style, and also charity. There's many reasons to do it. That's one of the things I would say, by rotation. It's very multidimensional. Sure, it's an app, where you can rent fashion and, now, where you can buy and sell fashion.

Eshita Kabra:

But we actually do a lot of community oriented things, which go beyond just the conversation of fashion. like our popup store that we currently have in Marylebone Lane. It's a great meeting point for our community, where we have various workshops. And these aren't workshops just about fashion. There's one called An Up Cycling workshop, where you're going to up cycle some fabrics, with a fashion designer, named Mary Benson. We had another workshop on Sunday, which was the self care, motivational vision board workshop, for the new year. It's a great way to get our community to come and meet in person. And talk about other things, beyond just fashion and rental.

Saif Hameed:

Eshita, I must admit I have very seldom come across up-cycling. I often come across down-cycling, as you can imagine, and recycling which, our listeners will be familiar from previous episodes, with both of those and the differences. But could you tell us a little more about up-cycling in this context, and how it works?

Eshita Kabra:

From what I understand, the fashion designer is asking all the attendees of the workshop, to bring a few pieces of clothing, or even cloth. Fabrics that they have around, that they love, and would like to repurpose into a new garment, or an accessory, that they'd like to enjoy. So I'm actually really excited to see how that workshop turns out next week, because everyone will be creating different things, from what they already own. And actually, I think that's something worthwhile, mentioning to any fashion designers, or producers out there. It's not that we're, as humans, or even as animals, but we do still love the feeling of something new. I don't think people are going to stop buying clothes altogether, but I think they can buy new styles, made from old fabric, and old material. That's what quite a few fashion designers, like Patrick McDowell, where they're up-cycling quite a few fabrics, that they find at vintage stores and markets. And they're making them very stylish, and fashionable for this new generation.

Saif Hameed:

I think that's really fantastic. The ability to take things that are old, and create something that's new, and therefore have that blend of something historic, something with a pedigree, something with resonance, and at the same time, have it be trendy and fashionable, and current. I think that's really very powerful. And certainly the direction that I wish more industries were headed in. How do you see the rental market continuing to evolve? And what infrastructure would be really helpful for you, and companies like you, in supporting and enabling this transition?

Eshita Kabra:

We are the first ones to ever approach fashion rental in this manner. But you've got quite a few large fashion rental players. As I mentioned in The US, in China, Ycloset, Style Theory, Singapore, where I'm from. I think all of these have really traditionally, put a focus on building out warehouses. Managing inventory in-house, and getting involved in logistics, all the way from cleaning, managing, buying inventory, and maintaining it. For us, we're approaching it from a perspective of technology. It's about keeping it completely peer to peer, because we do believe that there's simply enough clothing to go around all our wardrobes anyway. There's no reason there needs to be a company that manages, or buys stock to do that for you. And we also want people to get as much use, as possible, from the items that they already have.

Eshita Kabra:

So really it's about the sharing economy. The way that we continue to evolve By Rotation, is we've really become very clear in the fact that we're going to base it as a social network. It is a social network. And it's a completely two-sided marketplace. We are adding quite a few commercial partnerships. Ancillary services that are going to be added on, to help remove the friction that traditionally happens in peer to peer marketplaces. So things like, as a lender, or a renter, if you may want to buy compostable packaging. Or if you may want to book an eco-friendly dry cleaner to come to your doorstep, and collect it. Or if you want to book a courier that will come and collect your return, or even your delivery, to the next person. Those sort of add on services are other ways, I think that we can solve any sort of friction that there is in the peer to peer rental market.

Saif Hameed:

I think that's super exciting, and certainly the direction that Airbnb went in as well, right? In terms of being able to catalyze the creation of a little economy on top of the platform, with companies managing your property. And offering to do the laundry at scale as well, right? I think that's actually quite a cool model and, of course, remove the need for a physical intermediary that you supply.

Eshita Kabra:

There's obviously a commercial business case for it, that economics make much more sense if you're just peer to peer, and you focus on technology. And actually, you invest more in building up a community, which is really hard to emulate anyway. That's where we're putting our focus. I think what's really interesting, and exciting, as we continue to build our user base, and get more data and analytics on the app, when people transact. Is this aspect of, as you probably know from your consulting times, the analytics that we are tracking on the app. This, I think hase a lot of potential to empower even retailers, designers and producers of these goods. To understand, what are people actually buying, and how much are they wearing it, and using it. And how much they're sharing it with others. This is super exciting. And again, it's us building our social network further and further.

Saif Hameed:

On that note, how have big businesses, and established brands, and designers responded, either to By Rotation specifically, or just to this kind of trend and opportunity space?

Eshita Kabra:

We've seen quite a few large brands dip into the rental market themselves, I think they've probably been experimenting with it a little bit. And obviously COVID hasn't helped, in terms of people going out, and wanting to dress up for reasons. We've been very lucky in the fact that our platform is set up. Anyone can join it, and start listing their items, as long as they meet the criteria of being contemporary and designer, as opposed to high street. We have quite a few independent brands, I would say, or even larger British brands, who've listed their items themselves on the app, and manage it directly. They'll just get someone in their logistics team to manage the rental orders that come onto the app. And I think that's been really interesting to see the uptake for it. There's less of an opposition now, from brands and retailers to get involved in the secondhand market, resale and even rental. Which is really exciting. We've seen that, despite being a peer to peer rental model.

Saif Hameed:

And would you see ripples flow all the away upstream, towards some of the types of textile companies, that you would have come across near Jaipur. On the way to your honeymoon? Actually an impact, for example, on the material choices, because some are better for sharing and some are worse for sharing. Do you actually feel like, at some point in the future, the sharing economy will actually be able to influence the development of the inputs, and the products, and materials going into fashion?

Eshita Kabra:

I read somewhere that at Rent the Runway, there was some products being created by brands and designers, particularly just for Rent The Runway. So for rental. We wouldn't like to promote products being made, just for rental. We think that sort of goes against what we're trying to do, which is to have fewer product altogether, even as a lender, as a rotator, as we call you on the app. We want you to buy less fast fashion, and instead invest that money, that same pool of money. Instead of buying five high street dresses, you can buy one contemporary, and one designer piece. Enjoy that, and then share it with others. And then wear it again. So for us, it's really about cutting down the amount of products that are being made. If all the designers can start moving into producing less, and having higher quality pieces, that last more than 30 wears, that would be amazing. So, that's where it should go. But there shouldn't be textile producers really making new products just for rental. We don't need more. That's what I would say.

Saif Hameed:

I really like that Eshita, thank you so much. The last question from our side is one that we typically ask disruptors, like you guys, who are actually upending an established industry. Which is, if you could with the best of intentions, give one piece of advice to an industry participant in the space that you're disrupting. Let's say that this would be a retailer of new fashion products.If you could, with the best of intentions, give that retailer some pieces. What would that piece of advice be, knowing what you know now?

Eshita Kabra:

Obviously still early in, we're only two and a half years old, but I think the main thing I realized, and myself being an ex shopaholic, is I think everyone needs to slow down. In their consumption. And it applies to various industries. But I'll talk about fashion. There's just simply too much product out there. We've seen people having even too much designer products, so it's not just high street. But people have too much stuff, and they're stashing it away. We just need it to go around, and get to other people. So don't be afraid to slow down, and have fewer collections, fewer seasons. But, instead predict what people actually want. And only make that, and make it at a very high quality. That's what I would say, to the other participants of the fashion industry.

Saif Hamid:

I think for the individual, there's also a couple of learnings around potentially seeing your wardrobe as inventory. And a source of revenue as well, which I think is probably something quite appreciated by many of your users.

Eshita Kabra:

Yes, exactly. It's really interesting, because now they're thinking about contemporary fashion, as an asset class. Usually you would just be thinking about Chanel bags and Birken bags, and all of that, as assets. But it turns out there's actually some value, even in a 500 pound dress, that you might have bought for your friend's wedding. As a wedding guest. That's a completely new play on it. And I think it's making a lot of our working professional women, much more strategic about their shopping habits. It goes two ways, not only are you shopping less, and you're renting more, but you're also being much more strategic when you do actually buy something.

Saif Hameed:

I think the line, Chanel bag, as asset class, is one to use in our next conversation with the team at Chanel. So thank you for that Eshita, I really appreciate it. This has been super insightful, and a few things to really draw out. I think one is the fact that there's a lot of product out there. There's a lot of material out there. And the world doesn't necessarily need more product. It needs existing product to be used more effectively. What I really liked, is that there are a couple of ways in which you can do that. One is obviously facilitating, sharing and more use out of the full material, the full Chanel bag, let's say. I also really like the point around up-cycling, and actually being able to create something new out of parts, that might have been quite old.

Saif Hameed:

I think that what's really interesting, particularly about the By Rotation model, is your ability to use the technology really, to enable a massive disruption, not just for the people using your platform to share clothing, but also create a little network and ecosystem of third parties that can enable that transition. And frankly, again, enable resource efficiencies there. So super exciting, Eshita. Thank you so much, really appreciated you taking the time to speak with us. And looking forward to hearing more about the incredible strides you're going to be making in this industry.

Eshita Kabra:

Thank you so much again, Saif, for having me, it's been a pleasure.

Saif Hameed:

Fantastic.

Saif Hameed:

Thanks For listening to today's episode of, This is Altruistic. Now for some shameless self-promotion. Altruistic provides global enterprises with the technology infrastructure needed to measure, manage, and abate their sustainability impact. Please get in touch if you want to find out how Altruistic can help your business to profitably improve your impact on the world. You can reach us on hello@Altruistic.com. The notes from this episode are available in the show notes below, and you can find more episodes of the, This Is Altruistic Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. Thank you.