Early last year, the fashion crowd latched onto the teachings of a young woman named Marie Kondo. Her best-selling book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," caused an epidemic of manic closet cleaning and wardrobe simplifying, as the author instructs her readers to rid themselves of anything that doesn't "spark joy." While this theory is practical, it makes for a few tricky scenarios. For instance, if you purchased a one-of-a-kind piece at a sample sale but rarely wear it, should it be on the chopping block? Or, if you invested in a trendy designer item a season ago and don't envision yourself getting much more use out of it, does it automatically land in the discard pile?
Everyone has certain pieces of clothing or accessories that are in heavier rotation than others, often leaving unique (and pricey) items to collect dust while not in use. But instead of tossing them or consigning them — the latter of which usually earns sellers a fraction of the piece's original cost — it's now possible to rent them out to like-minded fashion lovers in your area, thanks to a newly launched site called VillageLuxe. Founded by Harvard graduate and former venture capitalist Julia Gudish Krieger, the invite-only community can be described as the "Airbnb of luxury fashion," and aims to help its users monetize their closets, while also building relationships with the members they borrow from.
"[As a venture capitalist,] I saw all of the shared economy companies grow and develop before they were household names; I saw what Airbnb was doing for apartments, I saw what Uber was doing for cars," Krieger says. "I'm such a believer in a sharing economy and I think that's where the world is heading in general. People are becoming much more efficient with how they monetize their things when they're not using them." After observing how increasingly comfortable the masses were with this concept, she started thinking about other "expensive but underutilized" assets to which she could apply such sharing in a similar way. Eventually, she landed on the idea of an individual's high-end wardrobe; instead of letting unworn pieces sit on the shelf, owners can rent them out to fellow VillageLuxe community members at a fixed cost of their choosing.
"A woman's closet — for rational or irrational reasons — a lot of money is tied up in it, and we can't pull any value from it unless we're ready to sell something," she explains. "[Through renting] you can pull value out of the pieces that you've invested in, and then invest in more adventurous pieces that you know can eventually pay for themselves." Krieger notes that some of the site's members list current-season items as soon as they buy them in order to help pay them off in the long run. In addition, the site has the ability to track which things rent well, and while the scale's still too small to share this data widely, VillageLuxe hopes to make it public one day — a tool that will help users make informed decisions on whether the pieces they buy will be able to bring in money through frequent rentals.
As of now, VillageLuxe is only open to those who've received an invite code from a member, and thousands of interested parties have joined the wait-list. There are upwards of 5,000 high-end items available for rent on the site, including archival runway looks — Hermès Birkin bags, Alaïa dresses, Chanel boots and my personal favorite, Acne shearling coats, with the majority of pieces priced at less than $200 for a week rental. VillageLuxe is building a network of "influencer" closets, with women like Harley Viera-Newton, Charlotte Ronson, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (the co-founder of both GlamSquad and Gilt Groupe) and a host of fashion editors from Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Refinery29 and Vogue already being active on the site. Much like with Airbnb, dates and terms of rentals are discussed through direct messages, and ratings are strongly encouraged from both parties involved upon return. "You can leave zero to five stars and write a message — they're made public so people are incentivized to take care of each others' things," Kreiger says.
Krieger notes that her team is focused on fine-tuning the VillageLuxe model in New York before branching out into different markets, though she's received wait-list requests from people all over the world, from Dubai to Hong Kong. The U.S. market it will likely enter next? Los Angeles. "So many stylists need to borrow for filming — there's a big industry element in LA, but the density in New York makes it a good place to start," she says. If you're not located in NYC, but have an invite code, you can still rent from the site, as long as you're willing to pay the shipping costs.
Quitting her successful VC gig and self-funding the site for the first one and a half years of development prove how passionate Krieger is about the VillageLuxe philosophies: building personal relationships with the women from whom you borrow, helping fashion collectors to capitalize on pieces that don't get much wear and experimenting with new styles that you might not be willing to buy, but would try out for a special occasion. While demand to join the service is steadily growing, Krieger is taking great care not to branch out too quickly. "It's not about how many people we can get on it — it's about the right people, the right inventory, the community and energy behind it," she says. "We want to do it right and not just do it fast."
(Bonus! If you want in on the action, you can join and browse the VillageLuxe community using the code FASHIONISTA for a limited time.)