The disruptors redesigning fashion's future

1 October 2018
Every day, we share rides and homes – so why not clothes?
Husband and wife duo Dean Jones (BCom (Hons) ’10) and Audrey Khaing-Jones (BCom ’09) are on a mission to shake up the way women consume clothes by building fashion’s answer to the sharing economy.
Dean Jones and Audrey Khaing-Jones of Glam Corner

Founded in 2012, GlamCorner is an online mecca of designer clothes from local and international brands that women can rent for an affordable price. Now, the Sydney startup is the leading online destination for women in Australia to rent designer dresses, helping them not only reduce the impact on their wallets but also the environment.

While Australians send six tonnes of clothing to landfills every 10 minutes, Dean and Audrey are waging a war on fashion waste by offering a smarter way for women to shop and reduce the amount of fast fashion that ends up in the trash.

We sat down with the GlamCorner co-founders to ask about how they’re changing the fashion industry for the better, the realities of running a startup and what their future holds.

How did you meet?

Audrey: We met in our first year at university in accounting. I got lost on my way to the first tutorial and was pretty late to class.

Dean: You hear a lot of stories about love at first sight, but I honestly remember very visually seeing Audrey walk into that class, really late, and feeling like I really needed to know this person.

Audrey: For me, it came a little bit after [laughs]. But that’s pretty much how we met, in Accounting 1A.

What inspired you to start GlamCorner?

Audrey: I was in my early ’20s and being invited to a lot of events. Every time I looked in my wardrobe, I thought “I have nothing to wear”. But really, I had a lot to wear – I just didn’t want to wear the same outfit again because I had worn it to another well‑documented event the week before.

I kept buying new dresses for specific events and started to feel really guilty. I was only going to wear them once. Was there a better way? I found some US‑based websites that offered rental wear, but they didn’t ship to Australia. There were also traditional rental shops, but they only offered bridal or formal wear. I asked Dean, “Do you think there are other women out there with this problem?”

Dean: We started doing some homework, sizing up the market opportunity. It became clear that most women had this problem – a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear.

It turns out that an average Australian woman only wears about a third of what’s in her wardrobe. The other two thirds are a stockpile of one off‑items that were bought for a single occasion and never worn again.

Audrey: So, we pretty much bootstrapped with our savings and started renting out dresses through social media. It started with around 20 dresses and we got quite a bit of traction – people were interested in how it worked.

Dean: I remember early on realising we were onto something because the feedback we got was that the behaviour of sharing clothing was not new. It was something our target customer was really familiar with, but before GlamCorner, she would only share with her close friends and family.

How does it work?

Dean: GlamCorner is the sharing economy for women’s wardrobes. Our customers can borrow from us just as easily as they can purchase anything else online. The difference is that the items come back to us after four to eight days of hire.

We have a huge wardrobe that our customers can borrow from whenever they like. The more customers there are, the bigger the wardrobe gets. Through this sharing system, our customers are subsiding each other’s access. It’s a great deal for them, for what are designer items.

Audrey: These high‑quality items can be worn up to 20–30 times before they no longer look ‘as new’. So, we’re not only giving our customers access to them at a more affordable price, we’re reducing the number of items that are manufactured for just one use.

GlamCorner is also a brand discovery platform. It’s a great way for emerging designers to showcase their brand and collect insights from customer feedback early on.

GlamCorner places a huge importance on sustainability. Why did you see this as a business priority?

Audrey: Our mission is to build a business with purpose; we don’t just want to be driven by profit. We started out wanting to help women save money. But now, we’re more aware that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world.

We have a voice and are in a position to show our customers that there is an alternative 
way to consume fashion. It’s important for sustainability to be top priority, because if we don’t say it out loud then it won’t be a priority. 

Dean: The reality is that each year, the average Australian woman buys 27kg of clothing and throws away 23kg. If we can play even a small part in changing the way fashion is consumed, we are making a difference.

This extends to every area of our business. From partnering with TerraCycle to recycle mailing satchels to investing in energy and water‑efficient machines to clean our dresses. It’s all to ensure we’re minimising our impact on the environment.

Glam Corner office

What is one of your proudest achievements?

Dean: Becoming a certified B Corporation was a really important milestone for us. We have the opportunity to set a new bar for how to run a fashion business in the 21st century. Our certification resonates a lot with our customers and even more so with people in the industry.

As the population grows, we need to get much better at the way we consume things. We’re not doing future generations any favours with the current model.

Have there been any challenges along the way?

Dean: Logistics became a big challenge for us as we grew, which is why investment in technology was the answer. We had to build our own proprietary software and hardware systems to fit our business needs.

Audrey: Funding is also really important. Startups are capital‑hungry. People started asking us whether we would take external funding or not. After bootstrapping for a while, the time came where we needed investors who could not only bring us capital but also experience, so we got seed funding through AirTree Ventures.

Did you always want to run your own startup?

Dean: Audrey is an example of a career entrepreneur. From the day she could go out and work, she’s been thinking about her own projects. We never really had a dream to have a startup in the fashion industry, but always loved the idea of having our own business.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Dean: Don’t hold back. If you’ve got a good idea, the sooner you can put out something cheap and easy to market to validate your concept, the better. It doesn’t have to be expensive or risky to get something out there and build it incrementally.

Audrey: You need to invest in the right team; the wrong team can really set you back. And if people tell you that you’re too young and you need senior people to come in to coach you, don’t listen. It’s really important to tune out the naysayers. Believe in what you’re doing and protect it.

Dean: Failures and setbacks are not a sign that you have a bad idea – they’re symptomatic of any business that’s growing. Building your own business is a marathon, not a sprint. No matter how many books you read or how many people tell you about it, nothing prepares you for what it is really like. It requires endurance.

Do you have a favourite designer?

Dean: We’re huge fans of local Australian designers. It’s so interesting how many Aussie labels punch above their weight globally. In terms of how big our country and economy are, we’re minting some world‑class designer fashion labels.

Audrey: These designers are really hardworking entrepreneurs. We want to make sure they have the opportunity for people to discover them, because it takes a lot of time and energy to produce a collection.

What’s next for GlamCorner?

Dean: We’re on a mission to revolutionise the way Australian women think and feel about their wardrobes. It shouldn’t be something you’re regretful about. Everything you put on should make you excited, because there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting something new.

So, we will continue to apply this incredible machine we’ve built into other parts of our customer’s wardrobe. And while it’s probably not going to take up 100 percent of it, we know that in five to 10 years from now, our typical customer’s wardrobe will be smaller.

Audrey: We want GlamCorner to be a household name because it’s a smarter, more sustainable way to dress. When women are looking for an outfit, we want them to consider GlamCorner among the other options out there.

So you’re married and run a business together – how do you balance work and life?

Audrey: GlamCorner is truly just a part of our lives. It’s not really about balance but more about switching it off when we want to. We’re passionate about our business and the amazing work our team does. It helps having someone you trust in your corner.

Dean: I like using the term: work‑life harmony. Balance assumes some sort of 50/50 split, which is hard to do. And even if you achieve that split, it doesn’t mean you’re happy. What really matters is that your work and home life are in harmony together. Fundamentally, we’re a good team, which is why we got married! We make it work for us.