Sustainable Start-up Award: Isabella West
Women's dresses have the shortest lifespan of any item of clothing with an average of just two wears before being discarded. Combine this fact with the Waste and Resources Action Programmes (WRAP) findings that women's dresses have the highest environmental impact - both in terms of weight purchased and the associated greenhouse gas emissions - and it's clear that disposable fashion is starting to take its toll on the environment. With world resources struggling to keep up with the increasing demand in textile production, new environmentally-focused start-ups have taken it upon themselves to promote an alternative attitude to clothing, encouraging individuals to borrow - as opposed to purchase clothes, including North East start-up Hirestreet.
Hirestreet enables customers to rent and return high-street fashion for a fraction of the retail price. Founded by 25-year-old Isabella West, the business aims to tackle the textile waste problem by providing affordable clothing available to rent for 10 days. A recipient of PNE Enterprise's Sustainable Start-up Award, in the following interview, Isabella shares her inspiration to launch her business and how she hopes Hirestreet will support women across the UK to reduce their fashion footprint.
How would you sum up Hirestreet?
enables customers to 'rent and return' high-street fashion for a fraction of the retail price. The rise in social media has led to a dramatic decline in the amount of times we are re-wearing outfits, and this is particularly true for occasion wear as it is so often photographed. We believe that the traditional buying model for occasion wear is becoming outdated - as so many people are only wearing things once. Hirestreet customers have access to hundreds of dresses that they borrow for 10-day periods - fast fashion enjoyed in a sustainable and economical way!
What inspired you to start your business?
I have always wanted to start my own business. My parents are both entrepreneurs and launching my own business has been part of my life plan since I was very young. Over the last 10 years, I have written so many different business plans, but none ever came to fruition. I think whilst it's important to have a good idea, it's also essential to believe that you are the right person to make that business happen. That is where Hirestreet felt different to all of the other business plans I had worked on and I started to feel really inspired and determined to make it successful.
What challenges did you experience in turning your idea for a business into a reality?
Having worked as a consultant, and then in an investment bank, I was used to a buzzing office environment and having lots of great people to bounce ideas off. Working for yourself is so different, I have found it to be lonely at times, and there isn't a team of people on hand to assist with the most difficult decisions. As an over-thinker, I have found the mental side of start-up life the most difficult part, in the first few months, I lacked confidence in my own ability to make the business a reality, this caused me to delay and put off certain decisions or tasks that I wouldn't hesitate over now.
What have been the highlights or successes of starting your own business?
The absolute highlight of the process has been the amazing support and help I have received from friends and family. I have been totally overwhelmed by how willing people have been to help in whatever way they can.
What impact do you hope the Sustainable Start-up Award will have on your business?
The Sustainable Start-up Award
has helped me fund the business myself, keeping it 100% privately owned. This gives me the freedom to continue to build Hirestreet in line with my vision, without having to worry about external investor demands, or aggressively driving revenues to pay off loans. The impact will therefore continue to be felt as we grow organically over the coming months.
In your opinion, why is it important for businesses to be more sustainable?
I think businesses set examples to the wider community: both externally through the actions that they take and internally through the message they send to their employees. Being sustainable shouldn't be just a tick box, it should be a way of thinking and businesses should lead from the front.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years?
I hope to have built a Hirestreet community. Essentially, I see this as a group of girls who are converted to renting as opposed to buying when it comes to outfits for parties and formal occasions. I know renting isn't going to be for everyone, but if we can help even just a small portion of girls to feel empowered by both wearing dresses they love and saving money at the same time then I will be proud of what Hirestreet has achieved.
What is the most important personality trait to have as an entrepreneur and why?
Ambition - building a business from scratch is not easy, it requires a lot of hard work and financial risk. In my opinion, you need a certain level of ambition coupled with a bold vision for what you want your business to become, to stop you from turning back to taking an easier career route.