Startup Lessons Learned From A Four-Time Bridesmaid

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Men can rent tuxedos, why can’t women rent bridesmaid dresses?

By Corie Hardee (Founder & CEO, Little Borrowed Dress)

The idea behind Little Borrowed Dress came where I do most of my best thinking: in front of my closet. Rather than deciding what to wear, I had the less glamorous task of choosing what not to wear, specifically what to toss. The main offenders: bridesmaid dresses.

The four bridesmaid dresses were the most expensive items in my closet, yet each had been worn exactly once. That’s when I thought, this is nuts, men can rent tuxedos, why can’t women RENT bridesmaid dresses? I started Little Borrowed Dress to make that a possibility.

Startup lesson learned #1: Create a business to solve your own problem.

Was I the girl who always dreamed of her wedding? Not exactly. With a background in finance I was more familiar with perpetuity than peony. But what I lacked in knowledge about the wedding industry I more than made up for with a passion to help women save money. I love to get a good deal. I don’t think a low price tag and style are mutually exclusive. I believe it is unfair that we have to pay $250 plus for a polyester dress that only has a high price tag because the word “wedding” is attached. This passion is what keeps me going despite the challenges I’ve faced starting this business.

Startup lesson learned #2: Lack of industry knowledge can be compensated for by passion and a desire to solve that problem.

When offering dresses for rent, especially bridesmaid dresses, it is critical that each style fits a variety of shapes and sizes without requiring alterations. In traditional retail, most of the time fit is not as critical. For example, if you go into the Gap and the dress you try on doesn’t fit, you just don’t buy it.

In bridal retail, it is expected that you get the dress altered to fit you (which means even more money!) By looking at the design process with a completely fresh perspective, we are doing things around sizing and fit that have never been done before. I have seen our styles tried on by over a hundred women and I can honestly say, they really do fit every body type!

Startup lesson learned #3: you can use a lack of industry knowledge to your advantage by taking a fresh perspective to an established industry.

When I talk to people in the wedding industry, one of the first things I hear is usually “oh they are going to HATE you”. Fair enough, I am trying to shrink their industry. But when I talk to everyone else, I get the exact opposite reaction.

I have received both hugs and fan mail from brides and bridesmaids (yes I have a folder dedicated to fan mail in my inbox that I turn to when I’m having a bad day). While it is never pleasant to know people dislike you and are hoping you fail, I’d rather have customers love me and the industry hate me than the other way around!

Startup lesson learned #4: If no one likes you, you are probably on the right track (note: this only applies to competitors and the industry in general…if customers don’t like you, you are definitely NOT on the right track)!

The first time I met the owner of the factory we use, he thought I was totally crazy. I remember him giving me a list of reasons why my plan wouldn’t work. It has taken awhile, but I have finally won him over. He has taught me so much about this industry and I take every advantage I have to learn from his 30 plus years of experience. He still thinks I’m a little crazy, but he definitely wants to see me succeed.

Startup lesson learned #5: If people think you are crazy, you are likely on the right track. If you can turn those said people into your biggest supporters, you are definitely on the right track!

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned this past year as the founder of Little Borrowed Dress.

Although top five has a better ring to it, there is one more…

Startup lesson learned #6: Always be selling!

So if you know someone getting married, please tell them about us The bridesmaids will thank you!

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Paul Goyette on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Corie Hardee is the Founder and CEO of Little Borrowed Dress, an online wedding boutique that offers stylish bridesmaid dresses for rent at a fraction of the retail price. Previously, Corie worked as a strategy and operations consultant at Deloitte. Corie holds an MBA from London Business School and dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Finance and Accounting. Corie has been a bridesmaid four times.