Chelsea is the founder of White Wardrobe, she shared with Dignity her business journey so far and a few trade secrets about how you can start your own online business too.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Chelsea: I am 21 years old, originally from Auckland and moved to Wellington for my first year of university. I chose Wellington because it is such a cool student city. The people here are so vibrant, kind and fun. I’m studying a Law and Arts conjoint degree at Victoria. I am also working part time and DLA Piper and volunteering for the advocacy team for the Wellington Community Justice Project.
Q. Can you tell us what White Wardrobe is?
Chelsea: White Wardrobe is a rental service for designer garments. Young women can rent something for an event, rather than paying full price for an expensive outfit they would most likely wear once. We have formal and casual outfits for parties, balls, dinners, anything really!
Q. Why did you start White Wardrobe?
Chelsea: I had a lot of dresses sitting in my closet. Not just ball dresses, but also casual dresses. I had worn them once or twice and was never going to wear them again.
I started renting a few pieces through mutual friends and Facebook. People would see my tagged photos and private message me asking if they could rent something. I was surprised at the ways that people were reaching out to me to rent stuff, but it makes sense because people don’t want to pay for something they’re only going to wear once. I thought I should make the most of this, so I started up the White Wardrobe website and Instagram page.
Q. Who inspires you?
Chelsea: Empowered women like Emma Watson, Michelle Obama and Helen Clark. Someone who inspires me personally is Leah Davison, who works as a duty solicitor at the Wellington District Court. She is so passionate about what she does and is determined to help others – I really admire that about people.
Q. What’s been your favourite part about starting White Wardrobe?
Chelsea: I never thought that by creating an online platform I would meet so many cool young women. I have met people online that I would stop and say hey to on the street. Including you Jacinta, I wouldn’t know you well if it wasn’t for our businesses. I think it’s so awesome the way our businesses have brought us together.
Q. What’s been your hardest moment along your journey of starting White Wardrobe?
Chelsea: I face a bit of scrutiny from my male friends who don’t really understand the concept. They will be interested in it, but they sort of take the piss out of it.
Jacinta: Do you think it’s a jealousy thing?
Chelsea: Yea maybe, and they will drop in sly comments like are you going to start doing suits soon?
Jacinta: You should say "are you?"
Jacinta: That’s bizarre.
Chelsea: And they will say it won’t work for guys. Well it works for girls.
Jacinta: Well try it!
Chelsea: I haven’t had any bad problems trying to get dresses back.
Jacinta: Has anyone ghosted you?
Chelsea: It’s funny because it happened for the first time last week. In my whole year of renting I’ve never had any problems apart from last week but I got it back today.
Jacinta: That’s a good feeling because otherwise, you’d be thinking about your dress and your stock, the fact it's on the website. It runs on a lot of trust right?
Chelsea: Yea, a lot of trust. The culture of social media today is so intense that people are honest.
Q. What advice would you give to a female who has a business idea and wants to start their own business?
Chelsea: Honestly, just do it. I can’t express that enough. Don’t overthink it. If you have an idea that you think will work, go ahead and do it. I was sceptical about putting myself out there, it was quite frightening. But I knew I wouldn’t regret it. There will never be a right time.
There's no question that starting your own business is a risky proposition. But, with risk comes reward. There is a sense of pride to be had in establishing and building something of your own. Being your own boss is so exciting.
You can do anything online nowadays, so why not? I launched my website, Instagram page and email account all for free. I had no costs involved, it was a no-brainer really.
Q. Have you found anything in your degree relevant to running a business?
Chelsea: I am not doing a commerce degree, so I haven’t learnt anything about business, marketing or tax.
But doing a university degree has given me the motivation to work for myself. You have to have a great deal of self-discipline to finish an assignment or study for an exam. You spend most of every day entirely alone with your work. No one but you is going to get it done.
Q. What’s the part about working for yourself and running your own business?
Chelsea: It’s very empowering and really satisfying. I wake up every morning feeling motivated to do my work. Whereas, with a job, I don’t get the same satisfaction. Also, I can work in my dressing gown at home on the couch if I want to!
Q. White Wardrobe has the best Instagram and your posts are always so good, how have you crafted that into a really important part of your business model, with your followers and your posts?
Chelsea: Thanks so much! Instagram is such a good visual marketing tool. It is so important for my business because photos ultimately influence my customer's decisions. Girl’s rent dresses based solely on what they look like, rather than on function or practicality.
I post lots of images of customers in my dresses. At the bottom of my instruction cards that I give out to renters, I say “tag us in your photos and you’ll receive 20% off your next hire”. Also, I have got influencers with large social media followings to post photos in my dresses and tag our account. These tags are so beneficial because they help direct others to my account. Also, they help affirm the idea of renting.
Q. How do you manage your time between running White Wardrobe, studying law, seeing friends and living life?
Chelsea: I think it’s important to work smarter, not harder. Long hours doesn’t necessarily mean good work. Giving time for myself and to hang out with my friends and family is so important for my mental wellbeing.
Q. How do you think we can encourage more women to start their business?
Chelsea: Young women need more access to business information. When I first started White Wardrobe, I had no idea what tax, invoices or what a limited liability company was. Like you said Jacinta, I have had to teach myself through google. Better access to that sort of information will make more women feel empowered to start their own business.
Also, I think we need a more “can do it” attitude. I think a lot of young women can be held back due to a lack of confidence. They don’t take their amazing ideas seriously. We need to empower and encourage each other!
Jacinta: I think the boot camp Miranda and I did was awesome. We did that because it was paid and it was mentored, we’re still getting mentoring now. It really got us from that first step of this idea, and we completely pivoted - we were going to deliver sanitary items to individuals. But when we did our customer interviews, which they really pushed us to do, we realised women didn’t want to have to pay for this. And that was when we decided - if women didn’t have to pay who can pay? That’s when we completely changed our business model - and we wouldn’t have changed it if we didn’t go through that incubator. At Canterbury university, they have an entrepreneurial minor and at AUT they have a social business major as well. It is bizarre that uni doesn’t have a business major or core paper.
Q. What are the next steps for White Wardrobe?
Chelsea: I hope to continue to grow White Wardrobe. I would love to use my following to market another business idea, for example, a clothing line or jewellery brand.
Q. What do you love about Dignity?
Chelsea: What I love about Dignity is that it helps break the stigma around periods.
Periods are such a huge economic burden on people and I feel like the problem is not being addressed well enough by New Zealanders.
It is so cool that you are bringing the issue to light and helping provide women with quality sanitary products when they need it most. Also, the way in which you are tackling the problem using the “buy one give one model” is so innovative. I think your idea will really pick off the ground.
You can follow White Wardrobe on their Instagram, next week we have our guest blog by Tessa Cullen with her thoughts on the price of sanitary items.