Rewind to the pre-pandemic times and like the West, India too had found its love for the sharing economy and the renting or sharing model had become a default choice for younger consumers, not only in categories like real estate, furniture or automobiles, but in clothing segment too. While the retail consultancy firms were releasing reports and studies on the growth prospects and market size of the fashion rental segment which had emerged as an ultimate solution to the damaging buy-once wear-once culture, the world and the country got struck by COVID-19.
According to a pre-COVID report by Allied Market Research, globally, online clothing rental market size is estimated to reach US $ 1,856 million by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 10.6 per cent from 2017 to 2023 and is estimated to grow at a much faster rate in India. The clothing rental market was even starting to gradually change the high street in 2019. The bets are currently off on this young industry in India, at least for the next few months.
The months of lockdown and the subsequent precautionary measures in place in order to try and slow down and overcome the pandemic have been profoundly disrupting various businesses, overall retail industry and more so, the clothing rental market. The pandemic affected a number of start-ups in the rental space including the likes of Date The Ramp, Rent It Bae, and The Clothing Rental among others, and while many couldn’t restart operations until now, Date The Ramp has started getting little traction starting August.
A consumer behaviour expert from the University of New South Wales said that despite a dip in demand due to hygiene concerns and confinement throughout the pandemic, it is expected that the clothing rental market will eventually pick up post-coronavirus especially given the increased savings focus due to the pandemic. Chinmoy Panda, Founder and CEO, Date The Ramp, agrees, “Fashion rental has existed in India for long, as an unorganised industry or for specialised needs. Organised services in rental space started in 2015-16. Increasing number of social events, role of social media on people’s lives, expression of individuality, increased sense of responsibility towards the environment, etc. led to the growth of this industry. While the pandemic has slowed down the business and the consumers have been sceptical about renting clothes due to hygiene concerns currently, the fashion rental segment will bounce back and get stronger in the times to come. In 5 years, fashion rental will be a mainstream mode of fashion consumption. Womenswear should be worth about Rs. 2,50,000 crores, with rental being 1-5 per cent of it and that’s a billion-dollar revenue opportunity being created.”
What’s on offer at Date The Ramp?
Date The Ramp is a fashion rental platform which started in 2016 with an aim to make high fashion convenient and accessible to a greater number of people, bypassing ownership and enabling the experience. For Chinmoy Panda, it was chance, research and risk taking that led to the inception of this tech-driven members-only fashion rental platform.
He elaborates, “Being members-only also ensures exclusivity for the consumer, a tangible benefit of which is that the public at large cannot even see the products we carry. It means we can devote more attention (a dedicated relationship manager), understand the consumer and serve her better. Far more trust is possible with members, which allows us to accept risks such as security deposit or damage penalty. Our terms and conditions are notable by their flexibility and straight-forwardness. All payment is after delivery and successful trial (our delivery person waits for you to try). Cancellation is possible upto doorstep and is free, and changes are free as well. There is no advance payment, no security deposit and no damage penalty in case of damages. Prices of products are all-inclusive, in that, it includes alteration, home delivery and return pick, and even the GST. We want to cater to those consumers who find our service most valuable and useful.”
So how does this exclusive rental service work? It all starts with applying for membership on the datetheramp.com, within two days of which the application is processed and the customer gets a call from a relationship manager. Post this, one may either choose to make a personal visit to the experience store or go for a virtual visit (personal video call) to book products. “Our members are mostly 22-45 years old, upper class and upwardly mobile women who are interested to look good. Mostly, they are comfortable with digital/social media, are well-travelled and aware of fashion designers, are open-minded and socially responsible individuals,” informs Chinmoy.
The platform offers an extensive range of trendy lehengas, gowns, sarees, anarkalis, and fusionwear in sizes from S to XXXL, along with designer jewellery, clutches and other accessories, at a rental amount of around 15 to 25 per cent of the retail price. Besides the retail price, the rentals also depend on the predicted life of the merchandise. Chinmoy Panda asserts, “Our collection is built by outright purchase from designers, so we have to be right from the start. Also, we work only with designers who agree with our service and brand. We are in touch with designers round the year. We use several markers while curating our collection at Date The Ramp. Our teams go through past demand and durability data, current trends, the designer’s overall name and current collection, among other things before bringing onboard a piece. Our bestselling product includes contemporary lehengas with design features that stand out. The collection features 150+ designers, including Ritu Kumar, Rahul Mishra, Monisha Jaisingh, Anushree Reddy, Pernia Qureshi, Gaurang Shah and Gauri and Nainika.”
Date The Ramp has evolved its business model over the years and while it started as an online platform, it was important for the founder of the firm to go offline in order to give the touch and feel and the trust experience to the members. Date The Ramp is present in 10 cities currently with its retail or experience stores with the world’s largest fashion rental store in New Delhi and Mumbai spread at a carpet area of 12,500 square feet.
The cog running the machine
Even as the rental segment put on complete halt with hygiene concerns besides weddings and such occasions and holidays been put on hold, Date The Ramp restarted operations since August after almost 4.5 months of remaining shut and is working round the clock to ensure safe and hygienic delivery to its members. While consumers might feel that renting clothes could be a way to keep expenses in check, they still get sceptical on the hygiene concerns despite the fact that garments on these platforms are properly processed before being put up for rent. Adding to this, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
The fashion rental platform prides in its end-to-end infrastructure which allows it to take the merchandise through various levels of cleaning (dry cleaning, wet cleaning, spotting, steaming) and even delivery process under its own facility and this enables Date The Ramp to oversee and ensure clean, hygienic and safe delivery.
Chinmoy maintains, “In home trials, the members can shortlist few items over the video, and then either come to the store or ask for those items to be sent for home trial. This enables a seamless process wherein a member can shortlist, try the garment and get the fitting – all from the comfort of home. Looking at the positive response, we might have home trials as one of our permanent features at Date The Ramp.”
Furthermore, Date The Ramp is a technologically driven platform and has integrated all its operations through technological innovation – from shipment and delivery at customer end to display in stores to online and backend operations. “We operate as a natively omni-channel business. A fundamental step for this has been RFID tagging for all our products, which allows us to track and know the status of every product. We are developing an AR-based app that’ll allow members to see from home how an outfit will look on them. AI-based fitting and recommendation will be available on our mobile app in 2021,” informs Chinmoy Panda.
The days ahead…
While the platform have had 150k+ people who have applied for membership and an average of 500+ people applying on a daily basis, and pandemic put a sudden halt on the business, Date The Ramp is sure to pick up the pace very soon. Chinmoy reiterates, “We started our stores in November 2019, and in 4 months, registered revenue above Rs. 1 crore. This year has been washed out for many months, and predicting anything is impossible at this stage. But we are estimating that the platform will close this fiscal at Rs. 3 crore. The year 2021 will be hyper-growth for us. In 5 years, our target turnover is Rs. 1,000 crore, spurred by omnichannel and a distribution network that reaches deep locations. Our mission is to make fashion sustainable through new-age sharing. Our business model by definition promotes sustainability which will be the way of life going forward. In addition we take conscious efforts to extend life of the products through innovative methods of preparation and repair, etc.”
A boot-strapped, self-funded company, Date The Ramp utilises majority of its funds into its collection, retail presence and in marketing or branding. The rental firm while fighting to ride out the pandemic and build sustainable revenue model and to raise funds, has bold and confident plans for the next level of growth. “Our plans have been upended due to the pandemic. The coming year, we will be stocking retail brands for occasion wear range while also launching online booking in the days to come. Starting operations online will further expand our services to more cities including Tier-2 cities as well. There is good potential for a service like ours in Tier-2 cities and we are confident about the performance in this new market. Date The Ramp will launch subscription model as well by 2021,” concludes Chinmoy Panda.
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