Twirling into a Greener Future

Fisher entrepreneurs launch a dress rental company to rival fast fashion

April 2020

story: reed phillips   design: kriti chawla

Fisher’s newest entrepreneurs are launching into the fashion and sustainability industry with a new dress rental company, tailor-made for college campuses. Seniors in the Fisher College of Business, Melissa Liang and Ruby Xun recently launched their own company, Twirl OSU, after joking with friends that they should charge each other for borrowing their dresses. 

Twirl, a Best of Student Startups (BOSS) runner-up, allows customers to rent stylish dresses for an affordable fee, while allowing those whose closets have become overrun by an excess of outfits to earn a little cash on the side. The company collects dresses from “Twirl Stylists” and manages the rental process for them including the listing, distributing and cleaning. Dresses are typically listed for $13-$20 for a full weekend rental, and stylists earn around $4 per dress rental.

This process of renting out rather than selling dresses is a big draw for some. Xun notes that she wouldn’t want to sell her own dresses.

“I have a sentimental attachment to my dresses, but I know it's going to be a while until I'm going to want to wear them again,” said Xun.

Unlike selling a dress to a second-hand store for only one payout, Twirl Stylists can continually get paid for their dresses as long as people want to rent them. Stylists can also request to get their dresses back within 72 hours, allowing them to continue wearing their dresses between rentals. Twirl handles the cleaning process for the dress; although, they are currently limited to only machine and hand washable dresses. Stylists are also guaranteed that if a dress is damaged while a customer is renting it, the customer is required to cover the costs of repair or replacement of up to $100.

Creating a sustainable option for students

 

Another key driver for both founders is providing students with the ability to extend their clothings’ lifecycle by renting dresses instead of buying new ones. When an item of clothing is used for as long as possible until it is no longer usable and then returns to the natural earth to begin the production process again, it’s called circular fashion. Each year according to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 15 million tons of textile waste makes its way to landfills in the U.S., which is an amount that has doubled over the last 20 years. Both redistributing worn clothing and opting to buy or rent used clothing helps reduce the amount of textile waste generated each year.

Choosing to buy or rent used clothing is also a budget-friendly option for making sustainable clothing purchases. For budget-conscious college students, making sustainable purchases can be a challenge when many eco-friendly brands come with a high price tag. In the age of fast fashion, where new clothes are cheap and abundant, an option that is cute, sustainable and affordable is much harder to find. With that in mind, Twirl’s founders made sure to price their dresses in a range that incentivizes students to choose rentals over fast fashion. With prices that match or beat fast fashion brands like Forever 21 and Zara, Twirl is making “reduce, reuse and recycle” a much more achievable feat for the fashion-savvy college student.

"I have a sentimental attachment to my dresses, but I know it’s going to be a while until I’m going to want to wear them again

 

Partnership with a local business

Another aspect of the company’s green brand is their local distribution unlike online competitors like Rent the Runway. Liang and Xun secured a partnership with Clothing Underground on High Street, so that customers can pick up, try on and return dresses in person, rather than paying for shipping fees and contributing to the carbon footprint of the transportation industry.

The partnership with Clothing Underground is an advantageous one for both parties, notes Liang, because Twirl is expecting to peak in the spring with date parties while Clothing Underground usually sees significantly more business during the fall for football season.

The ability for customers to try on dresses at Clothing Underground is a necessity of the business, as Twirl rents dresses from many different retailers, all with different standard sizes. Women’s clothing sizes are notoriously fraught with inconsistencies where a medium with one brand can be more like a small or large with a different brand. Liang and Xun opted, therefore, to maintain the label sizes of each dress but to also display the brand name, so that renters can use their personal experience with a brand to decide what size would work best for them. As Twirl grows, there is a hope that reviews from customers stating whether a dress runs small, large or true to size will help future customers make more informed decisions.

Preparing for Twirl OSU’s beta launch

 

Another sizing challenge the company is facing is extended size ranges. Currently, only dresses in sizes small, medium and large are available. This is a result of how rentals are acquired, as the company can only list what Twirl Stylists bring to them. In the weeks that Twirl prepared to launch, very few community members who wear sizes outside of the average range opted to list their dresses with the company. Since there is likely a white space in their market for extra small, extra large and other sizes, the company will have to get creative as to how they reach potential Twirl Stylists in those sizes. Despite their current lack of extended sizing, Liang and Xun both emphasized that size inclusivity is an important principle to them.

"Not every dress store on campus has size inclusivity. [...] We want to be that brand that has something for everyone, but we're obviously not at that point yet," said Xun.

As Twirl looks to grow their number of Twirl Stylists in a size-inclusive community, they’ll also have to figure out how to launch on a post-Coronavirus campus. Before Ohio State turned to virtual learning for Spring 2020 and Coronavirus spread was limited in the U.S., Twirl was planning to get through their beta test on Ohio State’s campus and look towards expanding at other universities for Autumn 2020. Now, without the chance to prove their company’s viability to investors, Liang and Xun are working on how they’ll return to campus in the fall. They are as determined as ever to provide Ohio State students with the opportunity to look great, save money and make more ethical consumer decisions.

For more information on Twirl OSU, you can follow them on Instagram @twirlosu and shop online at shoptwirl.co