Rent, Wear, Return: Meet Isabella West, the Entrepreneur Changing the Face of Luxury Rented Fashion
Today, the fashion industry is changing. The way clothes are shopped, designed, and worn, is constantly adapting and transforming as a result of the push towards sustainability in fashion. People are becoming more aware of the environmental impact and statistics of fast fashion, and particularly clothing that is worn once and then tossed away. As people become more aware, the industry has had to adapt to the demand and need for sustainable fashion, and paving the way towards that change is fashion rental company Hirestreet, who, led by their CEO Isabella West, are changing our attitudes and perceptions towards clothing.
Hirestreet is a refreshing, innovative brand and a trailblazer in sustainable fashion. Offering designer, deluxe, and premium quality fashion rentals at an affordable price point, both Hirestreet and Isabella, are proof that fashion is changing and moving towards something new. Isabella was born in Newcastle, where Hirestreet is now based, and was named one of Forbes’s 30 under 30, a North East Young Business Person of the Year, and a GBEA disruptor of the year. The success of Hirestreet shows just how much good can be done in the fashion industry when young women take the reins. Voir Fashion speaks to Isabella West, the woman behind the brand.
What do’s and don’ts would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs who are starting their own business in the fashion industry today?
Always look ahead - try to give yourself at least one day a week where you are ‘future-focused’ and working ‘on’ the business as opposed to ‘in’ it. Stay as lean as possible, starting a business is exciting and it can be tempting to throw cost/resource in at the beginning. I really recommend taking a Minimum Viable Product approach to everything you do (we still do this now!) Listen to customer feedback as soon as you can! If you are building a product or service, make sure you have as much information as possible from your target audience
Trust your gut. It is there for a reason, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust yourself. Set aside time for yourself, your family and friends. Starting a business is hard, and you will need your support network around you.
Don’t focus on competitors. It’s too easy to constantly compare yourself to what others are doing, but it never moves you forward. Focus on your customer, and what you are doing. Of course, you can take inspiration from others, but make sure you understand whether it is going to be right for your business before rushing to implement. Never leave yourself in a position where you only have one option, make sure you have a plan A, B, and C in place. It’s impossible to make the best commercial decision if you don’t potential outcomes to compare.
You have previously said that you were given a lot of support since moving back to Newcastle- how is this support and positivity reflected in the brand and its success?
Newcastle is a big town, but it has a community feel. It’s friendly, affordable, and great fun - a lot of those traits are also embodied in the Hirestreet brand. We want to feel accessible and inclusive, our message to customers is ‘you deserve to feel amazing without having to compromise on cost or sustainability.’ I think this down-to-earth, customer-first approach helps build loyalty & willingness to recommend to a friend.
What are the key entrepreneurial skills that you think are essential to succeed in the dynamic and competitive industry of fashion?
I think grit and resilience are key. If starting a business was easy, everyone would do it. What separates out the best entrepreneurs is purely their ability to keep going. Everyone dreams of launching a business and having instant success, but the reality is very different. I also think the ability to manage and inspire people is incredibly important. If you have a vision that you are passionate about, that others want to help you achieve, then being able to manage that energy effectively will put you in a great position.
You have spoken up about struggling with imposter syndrome as a young female business owner. What advice would you give to women starting out in the fashion industry struggling with imposter syndrome?
Everyone has imposter syndrome to an extent, and the more you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, the more you might come into situations that bring it on. Even the most successful CEOs in the world will have felt imposter syndrome at times, its a natural consequence of ambition, and actually can be an advantage. Feeling like an imposter motivates you to over-prepare, and often you end up being one of the most knowledgable people in the room. My advice for anyone feeling it is to make sure you set aside time to plan & prepare so you go in feeling confident.
In an industry that can be largely dominated by male leaders, how do you remain confident in yourself and successes? What advice would you give?
It’s incredibly important to believe that you are the right person for the job. I started Hirestreet because it was a service that I would have used, I can relate to our customers and what they need from a fashion rental proposition. I have carved out a role that suits my skill set (data and people management), and then filled other key roles with super-smart, talented people (both male and female!). If you are in the right place for you, your gender is irrelevant, and you can take huge amounts of confidence from that fact.
Which setback in your entrepreneurial journey was a defining moment for you that you think has positively impacted your brand?
COVID has been a massive setback in terms of orders and revenue (our warehouse was actually closed for the month of April), but it has also caused us to take a big step back from the business and really question the direction we were going in and what our strategic priorities are. We have since re-focused the business (although I can’t yet say what we are up to) it is an incredibly exciting time, and I feel like I did at the very beginning of our journey - refreshed and inspired to push things forward.
As a female business leader and entrepreneur, how do you manage/balance your work and social life to keep your mental health positive and to keep encouraged in your career?
This has definitely been a work in progress. In the first year of Hirestreet, I was absolutely terrible at this, I was incredibly burnt out, I made myself ill, I was constantly exhausted and emotional. This is something I have spent time working on, and it is actually one area where I can really be proud of my progress. I am now so much better at separating my work life from the rest of my life. Things that might have negatively occupied my mind for weeks in 2018, I don’t focus on at all now. My one trick, that genuinely I employ every single week when something doesn’t quite go to plan, is just reminding myself of the things I am grateful for my family, friends, team etc. Ok, this didn’t work out, but so what? Everything else is still solid, we have learned an important lesson and we will be stronger next week.
Sustainability is a core value to the roots of Hirestreet, how have the conversations about the environment changed since you started in 2018, and are these changes sufficient enough?
Hirestreet focuses on sustainability by taking a circular approach to outfits, we aim to increase the number of times a dress is worn from once to more than 30 times. This is less wasteful than the approach of buying to wear once - all our items give value to lots of different people (helping to justify the resources required to make them!) Whilst it's great that the general awareness about the environmental impact of fashion has definitely increased over the last 18 months, there is still so much more work to do. Fundamentally, many people are still consuming very low-cost garments, and someone somewhere is paying. We will continue to do what we can to educate our community as much as possible, and if everyone takes this approach I believe we will start to see powerful changes.
You have spoken a lot about wanting to make women feel confident in their clothing- why is this important to you? What sets you apart from other brands who are making the same movements?
Confidence is such a powerful emotion, when you feel good you project positivity, and that has an impact on everyone around you. My favourite stat is that 79% of women feel most confident when wearing something they haven’t worn before! It’s amazing that we can facilitate that feeling, for a really affordable price and in a sustainable way. I think that is why our customers give so much back in terms of being part of the Hirestreet community, they leave reviews and styling advice because they want to help others have the same amazing experience, and its honestly such a lovely thing to be part of. In terms of setting ourselves apart, we are just true to who we are as a brand and why we started this. I think authenticity goes a long way when you are just starting out.
How has the Corona Virus pandemic changed the way your business operates? What challenged have you had to overcome?
Initially, COVID forced us to fully shut down our operations, whilst our warehouse team figured out what would be safe for staff. Fundamentally we provide outfits for events, and the event industry has shifted dramatically. For example, the most popular occasion to hire outfits for in August 2019 was weddings, this year is very different - we are sending out more causal items for things like BBQs and garden parties. There have been many challenges, from editing lead and lag times on bookings, to pivoting the types of items we buy, at the moment we are also constantly assessing the risk of a second wave.
Hirestreet is truly a visionary company - a clear vision about what’s best for the planet has been huge in shaping this brand, as has the emphasis on female confidence and empowerment through clothing. Hirestreet is making fashion - and the world - a better place. Get to know Isabella as more than just a successful entrepreneur but also as a regular young woman, with some facts about this boss babe.
1. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting your business, what would it be?
Keep your perspective. Not everything will go right, but that doesn’t mean that everything is going wrong.
2. What top tips do you have when moving away from fast fashion?
Before I buy something new, I have to give something I already have to charity (so I keep a constant number of items in my wardrobe!) - when you take this approach you end up only buying what you really love, then I rent outfits that I know I won’t wear more than once!
3. How do you feel motivated in the morning to get your day going?
I am definitely a morning person, I always naturally wake up early (I have done since I was very young). I love to start with a coffee and a run during which I mentally plan my day.
4. Who is your biggest fashion inspiration and why?
Ohh this is so hard, I wouldn’t say that there is any one person that stands out. I follow lots of different influencers and brands, all from whom I take inspiration from. So much depends on the season, the occasion, the setting!
5. What are the most important and key qualities you look for when dress shopping?
I haven’t actually bought a dress for myself in 2 years - I constantly hire outfits these days which is fab - I have a perfect dress for every different occasion.
Words by Marni Rose Mcfall
Graphics by Frances Scott