Actress Megan Mooney spoke to generations of bridesmaids when she said the bride-to-be is always trying to talk about the ugly bridesmaid dress.
“All of my friends I’m at their wedding they always say the same thing. They say, ‘These aren’t bridesmaid dresses, ladies’ … again.’ Then they pull out something taffeta and you’re like, “Where do you go out so you can…?” Mooney riffs.
So true, said Kelsey Doorey, a Brandywine High School graduate who now lives in Santa Monica, California. She has six bridesmaid dresses – with a total value of around $ 1,800 – hanging in the back of her closet. She wore each dress once.
But Doorey did more than laugh at successful bridesmaid dresses. Last year, Doorey, 29, launched the first and only e-commerce company devoted entirely to the rental of designer bridesmaid dresses by luminaries such as Monique Lhuillier, Jenny Yoo and Nicole Miller. Dresses that sell for an average of $ 300 can be rented for as little as $ 95.
Vow To Be Chic in Santa Monica was launched with Doorey building on her life experience as a serial bridesmaid. She remembers the first time she was asked to be a bridesmaid all too well. At the time, she was a cash-strapped junior at Columbia University studying in Europe.
When her friend called to tell her she was getting married in two weeks, Doorey had to borrow money from her parents.
“The first time you were asked to be a bridesmaid you are so excited and honored,” Doorey said. “After that you realize how much of an expense it is.”
The concept took off. In the year since opening, Vow to Be Chic has exceeded all of its business goals, being under budget and ahead of its metrics, Doorey said.
One of the reasons for the success is the convenience of millennials with the shared economy and e-commerce, Doorey said.
Take Kelly Grace, 29, from Washington, DC She used the services of Vow to Be Chic for her nine bridesmaids at her wedding in September 2014 in Annapolis.
“Everyone loved it. My friends appreciated and loved how easy it was. Most people hate having to go into a living room and people watch trying on dresses. I’d rather put my eyes out,” she said.
Plus, the designer dresses are of a much higher quality and fit better, Grace said.
“And I don’t know of anyone who has ever worn a bridesmaid dress,” she said.
Birth of the company
However, Vow to Be Chic took a long time to emerge.
Doorey was still a student, earning her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, when she got the idea to rent designer bridesmaid dresses.
Although she studied psychology at Columbia and initially worked as a management consultant at IBM for four years, Dooreys wanted to go into retail. She went to Anderson with the idea of landing her dream job in retail on the corporate side. While working on her MBA, she completed an internship at Bloomingdale’s and Michael Kors.
His plan was to work at Bloomingdale’s head office after graduation.
But her life took an unexpected turn when one of her teachers in Anderson gave her an assignment to develop a business plan for a new venture. Then she remembered the time she went with a friend to find a rental tuxedo and wondered why women don’t have options.
“I had maybe four bridesmaids dresses hanging in my closet,” Doorey.
Digging a little deeper, Doorey found that almost three-quarters of all women serve as a bridesmaid between one and three times in their life, with an average of three times.
Each year, there are approximately 11 million bridesmaids spending an average of $ 1,695 per wedding.
The average dress costs $ 250, with around 86 percent worn just once.
“It’s a $ 2.5 billion market for bridesmaid dresses alone,” Doorey said.
Doorey’s teachers were so impressed with the rental gown concept that they urged Doorey to enter it in the 2013 Knapp Venture Competition, the school’s business plan competition.
Doorey won the contest and the $ 15,000 prize. Two of the contest judges were venture capitalists and also offered additional funding for a start-up – the first time in the history of the contest.
“My plans changed overnight for what I would do with my life,” Doorey said.
Develop the business
Even with the backing of venture capitalists, Doorey was still reluctant to start her own business.
“I had a six-figure job offer. If I started my own business, the business could collapse in a matter of months. And I wasn’t going to be paid a salary,” Doorey said. “It was a risky decision.”
But after talking to her parents and counselors, she decided to give it a try. Her father is a cardiologist and her mother is an educator.
“They told me they would not let me be homeless,” she said.
Doorey spent the summer of 2013 “trying to make him fail.” She could not. After a year of testing, she launches Vow to Be Chic.
She realized that millennials are more than comfortable with something as personal as a mailed bridesmaid dress.
“We’re used to having everything delivered right to our door,” Doorey said.
And unlike previous generations, millennials are more interested in spending their money on experiences rather than “owning things,” she said.
Customers go to the Vow to Be Chic website and browse the selection of dresses, Doorey said. Once a dress is chosen, the dress is sent in two sizes for the bridesmaid to try on at home months before the wedding. Ninety percent of the time, a dress will fit, she said.
If a bridesmaid wants to change the dress, it can be purchased, said Kristina Moreno, bridal stylist for Vow to Be Chic.
“It happens very rarely,” Moreno said. “Most of the time the dresses fit. It’s really amazing. The designers really know what they’re doing.”
Almost all of the dresses are returned to Vow to Be Chic in the same condition they were sent, Doorey said. Only one or two were damaged by a red wine stain. They were removed because Doorey wants the dresses to be in perfect condition.
Doorey keeps abreast of the latest styles and reviews data on what’s selling. She also listens to customers and attends all trade shows.
“Buying is the hardest part,” Doorey said.
But she has a golden rule: she won’t rent a dress that she doesn’t wear herself.
Little White Dress
Vow to Be Chic also introduced “little white dresses” for big bridal events, such as the engagement party, bridal shower, and rehearsal dinner.
The dresses, which sell for up to $ 795, can be rented for between 12 and 25% of the purchase price.
The company came to the rescue of a few marriages.
In one case, a bridesmaid walked into Vow to Be Chic a month before the wedding because she found out she hated the bridesmaid dress she bought, stylist Monica Bennett said. in chief at Vow to Be Chic.
“We find that our brides really want the bridesmaids to be happy,” Moreno said.
In another case, Doorey had to come to the rescue of a bridesmaid who lost her luggage on a trip.
“I ran into the office and spent the night in the dress,” Doorey said.
Doorey said she knew she made the right decision to forgo the fixed figure job. Not only does she learn new things every day, but she enjoys constant challenges.
“We are disrupting a massive industry and bringing e-commerce and the shared economy to the bridal market,” Doorey said.
Contact Maureen Milford at (302) 324-2881 or [email protected].