I live in a sea of neutrals. Open my wardrobe and it’s black, navy, grey and white on heavy rotation. I’m the epitome of what you’d call risk averse when it comes to my wardrobe. But that’s what happens after a 10 or so year working in fashion. You see, working in the industry is an occupational hazard and the dangers are well-documented. Spending your life at shows and in showrooms means it’s near on impossible not to fall victim to the flashy item of the season, whether that’s a pair of bejewelled Crocs (thanks Christopher Kane) or that statement It bag now gathering dust at the back of your wardrobe. Factor in the reality that the majority of these pieces cost the equivalent to one month’s rent and you can understand why I generally steer clear.
If anyone understands the struggle, it’s Julia Gudish Krieger – founder of Village Luxe, the Brooklyn-based market place that allows you to tap into the special pieces of the season by renting them from the wardrobe of the world’s most stylish tastemakers. No risk, just pure fashion indulgence for less than a cost of a dinner date. As of now, there are upwards of 10,000 high end items available for rent including archival runway looks – think Hermès Birkin bags, Alaïa dresses and Chanel boots – available from the closets of women like Leandra Medine, Harley Viera-Newton, Charlotte Ronson, and a host of fashion editors from InStyle, Refinery29 and Vogue.
It’s a no brainer. For people like me, it gives you access to pieces you would have shied away from buying outright; and for those of you more willing to splurge, it takes away buyer’s remorse by allowing you to make money from your purchases by loaning them out between wares. Everybody’s happy.
We caught up with Julia to talk waiting lists, the power of connection and the transformative power of finding that special piece…
HER NOT SO AVERAGE EDUCATION: Education was very important to my parents, both brilliant quant minds with Masters in Statistics and Applied Economics, so we moved to the New York suburbs where they had some incredible public schools (originally from Kiev, Ukraine). I attended Harvard for my undergrad, majoring in Economics and minoring in Psychology, which was basically the closest I could get to a Business major at a liberal arts college. I’ve always been interested in understanding why people behave the way they do, so Psychology and Economics showed me two different sides of the same coin in understanding incentives. I cross registered at MIT for a semester and snuck away to take the business/finance types of courses Harvard had yet to offer. It was before startups became the cool sexy new kid on the block in career moves – move over investment banking!
ON HER YEARS IN VENTURE CAPITAL: I’m very appreciative of my education, but at the end of the day, my years in venture capital and time on the job cultivated my business mind more than my formal education ever could have. I loved the entrepreneurial side of venture capital; looking under the hoods of companies and seeing what makes them tick and helping them grow in customers, expand internationally and evolve with the times. I loved being surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds and cutting edge tech on a daily basis and having my finger on the pulse of what innovation was coming next to the world. I spent four incredible years at Insight Venture Partners where I was given full autonomy to explore the Internet/software space and build relationships with the CEOs of companies that I found interesting. Looking under the hoods of thousands of tech companies and learning both their weaknesses and strengths was the best business school education I could have ever imagined. In my time in venture, I invested over $100M in tech companies across the US, Russia, Israel and Canada. I left Insight a disciplined, long-term minded entrepreneur with a strong appreciation for innovation, data analytics, and solving large market problems.
WHERE THE IDEA FOR VILLAGE LUXE CAME FROM: I recognized pretty early during my time in venture capital on that the sharing economy is here to stay. Folks were sleeping in each other’s beds a la Airbnb and driving in each other’s cars a la Uber. It’s not just that people are becoming more efficient with how they monetize things when they’re not using them. The more interesting element for me is that social barriers between what’s mine and what’s yours has blended so much in the last five years. I can only imagine in Airbnb’s first pitch meeting when they said people would sleep in each other’s beds, most investors thought the market was 30 hippies. Now? $30+ billion dollars later, you see that a sharing economy is viable. As a result, people are starting to take the sharing economy seriously, both as consumers and investors. The question for me as an investor became, what’s the next personal asset that hasn’t yet been disrupted by the sharing economy? A woman’s designer wardrobe.
ON OFFERING LUXURY PIECES OVER HIGH STREET FASHION: When I was brainstorming which asset to apply the sharing economy to, in my mind it had to hit three criteria – high quality, which largely translates to expensive, underutilized, and highly illiquid. A woman’s designer wardrobe was a perfect fit. Why? I can physically wear only a couple pieces at a time and the rest of my say, 300 or so items sit somewhat wastefully hanging in my closet. I narrowed my focus on the luxury space based on high demand. This is the case even for the most affluent shoppers – we all want access to great pieces and more variety than what can simply fit in our closet. Without high retail price or luxury goods as a focus, the proposition of renting an item versus buying isn’t adding much value. I don’t need to borrow your fast fashion, but I am interested in that Stella.
HOW VILLAGE LUXE DIFFERS FROM RENT THE RUNWAY: Instead of buying dresses wholesale and renting them out to customers, we’re a platform that connects a community of high fashion closets to borrow directly from each other. Since a peer-to-peer marketplace like Village Luxe doesn’t have to purchase or warehouse any inventory, we’re able to provide our community access to a much higher-end level of inventory from the closets of some of the most influential women within fashion, arts and business industries. We’re also able to scale that inventory fast. With almost 10,000 pieces in Manhattan and Brooklyn from just a small group of lenders, we already have more variety, and we’re just getting started. That’s the power of the community.
GUYS, PEOPLE ARE MAKING SERIOUS MONEY ON IT: One blogger Emily Kammeyer (@ekammeyer) who runs AccessoriesGal.com has the most avante garde shoe collection I’ve ever seen and over 450 pieces listed. As a lender, let’s just say she’s earned enough to buy her own Birkin if she wanted to. That’s earnings she can use to rent on Village Luxe or fund her next daring studded purchase. Emily shared with us that her VillageLuxe earnings most recently funded the new Gucci embroidered fur slippers. And she listed them as soon as they arrived. Why? They’ll rent and fund the next pair. It’s a beautiful cycle.
IT MAKES IT EASIER TO TAKE RISKS TOO: My goal isn’t for you to just rent fashion and not buy anything. On the contrary, if you buy a fashion piece, I want you to buy that piece you’ve been dreaming about, even if it’s a pricey, colorful, bold statement piece that you won’t wear often. I want you to not feel bad splurging because you know you can rent it out in between wears and it will pay for itself in time. We let everyone justify shopping higher end (or shopping more) without the shoppers remorse or sense of wastefulness the accompanies seeing pieces hang in your closet unworn.
ON MAKING THE SERVICE INVITE-ONLY: It’s not about being exclusive for the sake of being exclusive. People who know me personally know I’m more “kumbaya” than the next person. But when creating a company, especially one that is fundamentally shifting how people shop and connect, it’s important to start on an intimate scale. That way, you can ingrain the values you stand for deep into the DNA of the business. You can ensure you selection is captivating, build real relationships with your customers, and foster a community where everyone has an incredible experience. It’s important to do it right and not just fast. Early lenders on VillageLuxe were influencers in the fashion, arts, and business worlds. These women opened their closets to our members to share their unique style perspective. From Manrepeller’s Leandra Medine to designer Charlotte Ronson to some of the top celebrity stylists from the renowned Wall Group, our early luxers aligned with our vision to connect a network of like-minded women and bring friendship to high fashion. In our invite-only stage, new members are currently referred by existing members. In the near future, we’ll be inviting luxers to join based on neighborhood or affiliations with social, business, and arts organizations. Down the line, we’ll spread to other cities and internationally. It’s a global vision.
LEARNING ON THE JOB: Preparation is great and surely important. But nothing can prepare you fully for entrepreneurship. You have to be bold and maybe a little crazy! You have to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, and it’s one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs one can take on. As a founder of a fashion tech startup, the skills I learned as a tech venture capitalist undoubtedly helped shape how I think about business and creating scalable, efficient solutions for big market problems. But on the high fashion side, I set ego aside and recognized I needed to hire some of the best talent in the high fashion world versus trying to figure it out on my own. To be a successful leader, it’s important to be self-aware and know where your strengths lie and where they are holes to fill with talented partners.
START-UP CHALLENGES: Learning how to adapt to change has been my greatest lesson. There will always be curveballs, surprises and fires to put out. How to prioritize opportunities. How to attract the right talent. How to stretch a dollar. These are challenges we and every startup has experienced. It’s how you react when faced with challenges that determines your fate, not whether or not you face them. I’ve learned to be a more centered person. The more grounded you are and not subject to emotional swings outside of your control, the more you will form a stable, level headed approach toward dealing with changing situations. In real time, you’ll refocus immediately on finding solutions when faced with conflict. You’ll also live a more stress-free life.
YOU CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT IT, DO IT: I loved the world of venture capital and I wouldn’t have left if it wasn’t for the idea of creating Village Luxe. Most founders will share that they felt they had no choice but to leave and create their idea! It was all they could think about! It was the same for me. If you see a billion dollars on the ground and notice the opportunity to pick it up before others do, how could you not? I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create the Airbnb of fashion. I was such a believer in the sharing economy and knew this was the next asset that hadn’t yet been disrupted. It was a tough decision to leave a successful career I loved in venture, but I had to set out on my own. I don’t intend to live my life with regrets. I never want to live life wondering what could have been! I want to challenge myself daily to grow. I want to become the best possible version of myself. When I approach a decision that involves risk and taking the route less trodden I think, what would she do?