Based on the success of businesses like Rent the Runway and Bag Borrow or Steal, Fashion Forward Maternity allows women to rent $100-200 designer clothes for $23.50 a month, with shipping included (both ways). By Sramana Mitra (Founder, One Million By One Million)
Pregnant women struggle with clothing over the term of their pregnancy, some spending a fortune on new maternity clothes, others borrowing a friend’s maternity clothes, and a few buying cheaper, larger clothes that barely fit. Erin Lewis, founder of Fashion Forward Maternity, had the same struggles so she created an e-commerce business for renting maternity clothing.
At Fashion Forward Maternity, pregnant women can find suitable clothes, which they simply return after using. Lewis partners with celebrity brands, like Maternal America, Olian, Paige Denim, Seraphine and BellyButton. All the returned clothes are cleaned by a third-party cleaner, using green cleaning techniques to make sure there is no health risk to the pregnant or nursing mothers.
“Every mother I know struggles to keep her identity while pregnant, struggles to feel beautiful, even struggles to be comfortable in her clothes,” says Lewis. “After hearing hundreds of these stories, as well as stories of women being denied a chance to go after the big sale or the promotion they'd been working for, I launched FashionForwardMaternity.com with two business partners.”
“We had nothing less than a total shake-up of the market status quo in mind,” says Lewis. Based on the success of businesses like Rent the Runway and Bag Borrow or Steal, Fashion Forward Maternity allows women to rent $100-200 designer clothes for $23.50 a month, with shipping included (both ways).
Women can rent just what they need as they need it, and change sizes without penalty. The average is 5-6 pieces per woman per month, but some have rented as many as 30 pieces or just one for a special event. Those renting 10 or more items earn a 10% discount and first access to all newly-arrived clothing. Friends who pass along their individual code help their friends earn additional referral-only discounts as well as their own discounts. Some women with large networks have even gotten their entire order free each month.
Fashion Forward Maternity has bootstrapped 100% of their funding to date. They were "in revenue" their very first month of business, and have grown their customer base steadily at an average of 15% per month. In addition to their rental model, they are adding drop ship revenue with nursing bras, intimates, breast pumps and supplies, designer diaper bags and jewelry and will soon be adding workout clothes and more.
“Based on our current conversion rates and cost-per-customer acquisition, a full-scale marketing campaign and supporting business ramp-up would mean profitability within a year and we have detailed modeling that shows we can provide 10-25x ROI for our investors at exit,” says Lewis. She is working to broaden Fashion Forward Maternity’s existing angel network and is focused on continuing the current growth trend, getting ready for the holiday season, and maintaining the company’s lean startup mentality. Lewis is currently working to build a local community to rival that of New York or Silicon Valley. Though she is aided in her task by an increase in entrepreneurship groups such as Brad Feld’s TechStars program, Lewis is overcoming the challenge of Colorado’s limited entrepreneurial sphere through investor and entrepreneur clubs, pitch fests, and online review portals.
Fashion Forward Maternity hopes to someday soon do as well as thredUP, a successful gently worn children’s clothing company. thredUP is an online shop that offers parents a chance to sell their kid’s brand name clothing as well as shop hundreds of popular brands at up to 75% off retail prices. It began as a swap clothing business but recently changed course to become focused on online consignment in order to better control quality. This change has accelerated the business.
With over 95,000 unique visitors, thredUP has served more than 377,000 customers since it began in 2009. It has raised $23.1 million in venture capital funding and plans to expand into used teen and adult apparel as well as scale up distribution. These achievements make it a great model for Fashion Forward Maternity and its future direction in online maternity clothing consignment.
Lewis is hoping to continue to change the lives of pregnant women across North America through cost-effective rental of high quality clothes. With very positive press coverage and popular Facebook and Twitter pages, the company’s outlook looks rosy.
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About the guest blogger: Sramana Mitra is Founder of One Million By One Million, an educational business development and incubation program that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. Follow her on Twitter at @sramana.