THE INC. LIFE

How This Singapore Start-up Makes You Feel Like a Movie Star

Covetella’s founder wants customers to value experience over ownership

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BY Kirsten Han - 22 Sep 2017

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Carol Chen, founder of Covetella

The Oscars, the Met Gala, movie premieres and charity balls. The photos pop up in the media of female celebrities dressed to the nines and glamorous beyond belief. It’s a little wonder that other women, scrolling through photos of gown after gown, wish they could afford to be dolled up like that, too.

And now they can. Located in a 3,000-square-foot showroom of glitz and glamour, Singapore-based start-up Covetella not only allows women to get their hands on gorgeous evening gowns but perhaps make a little bit of money, as well.

Renting gowns isn’t a particularly new idea in Asia – brides renting their wedding gown is nothing new. But companies like Covetella and Rent-A-Dress are taking it one step further by allowing women to rent fancy evening gowns just for the occasional formal event, similar to how men often choose to rent tuxedos rather than buying their own.

“Social media has really changed things. Once people have seen you in a dress, you’re less inclined to wear it again,” says Covetella founder and CEO Carol Chen. “It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on a dress you’ll only wear once. People are starting to value experience over ownership.”

Covetella isn’t Chen’s first venture as an entrepreneur; the former beauty queen had been a fashion designer in Los Angeles and has had experience running businesses in China and Hong Kong. Although she describes the dress rental website as her first foray into tech, Covetella is already her fourth start-up.

“I had about a hundred dresses [from my beauty queen days], so I thought, why not bring them over to Singapore and rent them out?” the Texan says of Covetella’s genesis a year ago. She started things off from her own apartment, but began to acquire too many dresses to run the business out of her home.

If the practice of renting rather than splurging on designer gowns strikes one as being perfectly practical, so, too, is Chen’s business model. Instead of accumulating a vast amount of overhead by buying a large quantity of expensive outfits, Covetella has adopted what Chen describes as an “AirBnB for closets” approach: women who already own fancy dresses can store them with Covetella, which will then list these dresses as available for rental. When these dresses get rented out, their respective owners receive a cut.

Chen is quick to point out that while this model allows the business to keep its expenses low, there is still a stringent curation process in place. “I want people to walk in here and love every single dress,” she says. “We’re picky about the dresses we accept; we’re not the Salvation Army. We only accept about 30% of the dresses we’re offered.”

For those whose dresses do get accepted, it’s a win-win situation: Covetella takes over the storage of the dress, thus freeing up closet space at home. The company also takes care of dry-cleaning and delivery for every customer, and only temporary alterations can be made, so the owner need not worry about the dress.

“Every woman deserves to look beautiful, in a convenient and affordable way,” Chen says, who also provides complimentary styling services. “We’re trying to be the Cinderella experience for the modern woman.”