Men have been renting wedding tuxes for decades, so why are women still buying their bridesmaid dresses? This question led Kelsey Doorey to start Vow To Be Chic, the first and only company that rents designer bridesmaid dresses, so women don’t have to break the bank to be a bridesmaid.
Launched in 2015, the company targets millennial women who regularly use Airbnb, Uber, and other sharing services. Vow To Be Chic capitalizes on the rise of the sharing economy by offering affordable designer dresses for rent, on a website that streamlines the customer shopping experience.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with CEO and Founder Doorey, who told me about her experience founding a startup, the company culture at Vow To Be Chic, and the most challenging aspects of her job. She also offered career advice to hopeful entrepreneurs out there. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation.
VAULT: What led you to start Vow To Be Chic?
DOOREY: I started it because I knew the customer pain point firsthand. Having been a bridesmaid multiple times, I understood that while it was a great honor, it could also get very expensive. I kept getting distracted by the fact that I was spending hundreds of dollars to be a bridesmaid each time; the typical cost of attending a wedding as a bridesmaid is $1700. It’s interesting that the “wedding decade” of our lives occurs in our 20s and 30s, yet most of us have little disposable income at that point. This discrepancy prompted me to start Vow To Be Chic, to reduce the cost and stress of being a bridesmaid, and bring back the joy of the occasion.
VAULT: What differentiates Vow To Be Chic from its competitors, such as Rent the Runway?
DOOREY: The difference is that we’re focused on bridesmaids and thus the group dynamic, since one order typically covers five to 10 bridesmaids. We make sure to accommodate every bridesmaid’s individual needs, and one way we do that is by offering the option to rent or purchase. We also tailor our business for the wedding industry; our dresses arrive two weeks before an event, to provide extra time and peace of mind. It’s not really the bridesmaids we have to worry about, but the bride. We want to make sure she never has to stress or be in a hurry, because that’s the last thing she needs.
VAULT: How do you select the designers whose dresses you feature?
DOOREY: That’s one of the most fun parts. We start by looking across the industry to see what brides really want—who the “aspirational” designers are. Oftentimes it’s top-tier designers that brides and bridesmaids would love to be wearing but can’t afford. We are all about making that dream wedding a possibility. The next step is we talk to customers—send out surveys, call, email, text, chat. Customer feedback is a valuable force for us to understand which designers our audience really wants.
VAULT: How do you envision Vow To Be Chic growing or changing over the next few years?
DOOREY: For me, it’s all about being accessible and giving our customers optionality. We strive to be a one-stop shop, to make things easy and convenient for our customers. We’ve already expanded our site to offer bridesmaid gifts, getting-ready robes, and a purchase-only collection. And we’re taking feedback from customers that we hope to build into the business, by expanding into other wedding categories as needed.
VAULT: How would you describe the culture of your organization?
DOOREY: It’s a fairly young team with a lot of millennials, which I think is great because that’s our target audience. In general it is a company by millennials for millennials. By women for women. By bridesmaids for bridesmaids. Our generation is young and hungry, and our business reflects that.
VAULT: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
DOOREY: Definitely prioritization—of time, of what needs to be done, of resources, money, and people. I use the term “ruthless prioritization.” You have to ask yourself what matters now versus what will matter a few years from now. You have to think about strategy and the big picture, while also handling all the basic tasks. It’s something I’m still working on.
VAULT: What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
DOOREY: One, get internships. Do as many as you can, at diverse companies: large firms, startups, and in a range of industries. If you think you know what you want to do, then intern in that field—you’ll learn whether it’s a path you want to pursue, or not. I did a ton of testing out different internships, myself, and learned a lot from it.
Two, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Reach out to the people you admire. You’ll be shocked by the connections you can form.
And three, test and learn. We’ve all had ideas we think are great, but if you have one you feel particularly strongly about, then ask your college friends what they think of it. Try to determine if it’s a valuable business option, and if so, how much people would be willing to pay for it. I worked on Vow To Be Chic throughout business school and learned a lot from my classmates and projects. Test your idea as much as you can.
VAULT: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
DOOREY: After college, I went into business consulting, where I learned analytical thinking and problem solving. Then I had several fashion internships, where I learned buying and planning. Next I worked at Rent the Runway, where I learned about the dress rental business, which ironically I thought I would never use again. To me, it seemed like I was taking such a rambling route, and I wondered where my career was going. But if you follow what you’re passionate about, it will lead you to where you want to be.