Friday, 31 March 2017

In conversation wtih: Anna Bance, founder of Girl Meets Dress

Anna Bance, formerly Head of UK PR for Hermes founded Girl Meets Dress in 2009. From funding to raising publicity for the business, Anna has relished the challenges posed by raising a business that started out from her kitchen table. She’s keen to inspire other women to start their own businesses, especially as many companies are unequipped to support women and mums in the workplace. Anna is working as part of the Plusnet Pioneers campaign, a new initiative to help start-ups realise their ambitions. 

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from, and where did you study?

I launched Girl Meets Dress following three years at French luxury brand Hermes as Head of UK PR. Prior to Hermes, working in fashion editorial; styling and journalism at The Telegraph, Harpers Bazaar, InStyle and Wallpaper magazine following a degree at the London College of Fashion.

The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working at Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists. I thought to myself "wouldn't it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?" When my co-founder and I looked into the market we saw that no one else was doing it.

Describe what it was like working for one of the most influential luxury fashion brands in the world. (Hermes)

It was a very exciting three years, and an honour to work for such a successful, consistent brand that has kept its integrity and heritage for 180 years, while at the same time maintaining a sense of fun.

Everybody who works there, from the Creative Director, to the tanners in the leather warehouse in Lyon, to the store teams selling the finished silk scarves, all have a love and loyalty for the brand.

Hermes know exactly who its customer are which is essential when starting any business. Listening to what the customer wants has been at the forefront of the Girl Meets Dress ethos.

What inspired you to create Girl Meets Dress?

The idea for Girl Meets Dress came to me while working at Hermes. Celebrities have always borrowed dresses for awards ceremonies and special events, and I noticed that with the proliferation of social media everyone is now a mini-celebrity in their own world, adding an increasing social pressure to a woman's inherent desire not to wear the same dress twice. Launching Girl Meets Dress gave all women access to this luxury – being able to easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest and buy only in those classic pieces which will stand the test of time.

We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress pioneered the way for online rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.

On a basic level Girl Meets Dress provides millions of women the ability to rent designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of the retail price, allowing them to look and feel beautiful for all of their social events. In reality we help create those "Cinderella moments" every day, be it an 18-year-old wearing her dream Alexander McQueen dress to a prom, or a mother of the bride that wants to wear the latest Lanvin collection.

When Girl Meets Dress launched back in 2009, the recession mindset dominated. It meant that "cost per use" was a huge driver, as being smart with money and where to spend it was highly regarded. But it was also clear that people have since realised that experience and time are the most precious commodities we have, and that consequently ownership is becoming more irrelevant than ever before.

98% of our customers try a new brand they have never worn previously in their life. Many women will typically only have tried a few high-end designer brands in their lifetime, if any. With rental, everything is suddenly affordable. The trend for fast fashion over the past few years has been fuelled by mass market retailers' abilities to manufacture and retail in very short time cycles. Similarly celebrities are promoting products at every opportunity; so much so that consumers have ended up buying at such a rapid rate that women now buy four times as much clothing as 30 years ago and the average woman has 22 garments in her wardrobe that she has never worn. Designer dress rental is the evolution from this and it means that by spending the same a woman can always be on trend and in a different dress for every event.

What did you take from your time working at Hermes that you've incorporated into your own business?

I loved working in the luxury industry but was also fascinated by fast fashion, the high street and the increasing number of items that lie in our wardrobe unworn. Hermes taught me the value of lasting quality and craftsmanship. In launching Girl Meets Dress, my aim was to merge those two worlds. Taking luxury items and making them available to the masses.

What's been your biggest achievement so far since starting Girl Meets Dress?

Girl Meets Dress has achieved huge traction from celebrities and customers across the UK and Europe. The greatest achievement has always been the excitement of introducing girls all over the world to a new way of shopping, allowing them to hire for the first time; to wear their favourite designers that they see on Instagram and in magazines. Many of our members are also shoppers on Net-a-Porter and in Harrods, but many are students or in their first job, so for those girls it would have otherwise been many years before they had means to buy the dresses they covet every month in Vogue.

The majority of all transactions are outside of London, enabling customers in all parts of the country to have global designers delivered to their doorstep. Customers can rent over 4,000 dresses from over 150 designers from more than 30 countries.

As you are working with the Plusnet Pioneers campaign helping women start up their own businesses, did you at any point find that your gender was an obstacle when setting up Girl Meets Dress? If so how did you overcome this?

I didn't find any obstacles while launching Girl Meets Dress relating to gender. The London start-up / tech / Silicon Roundabout community were extremely supportive and the networking was invaluable, surrounding myself with fellow entrepreneurs, mentors and partners for Girl Meets Dress.

What is it about Plusnet Pioneers that you are passionate about?

The Plusnet Pioneers programme is an exciting project which I was thrilled to be asked to participate in. The business broadband and phone provider Plusnet has created a series of stimulating events, content and mentoring that gets to the heart of common issues small business owners face. It is very important that we nurture the great talent and ideas of UK small business owners and offer them experience on taking a small business to the next level.
Meeting them face to face at the events means we can help with the issues small business owners face and inspire, guide and provide advice.

Partnering with the biggest website for small British businesses, Startups.co.uk means that all discussions and debates will be videoed and available to watch for those who could not attend.

What advice would you give to girls with aspiration to start their own business?

Don't over-think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary or take a chance on an idea which might not work, but what's the worst that can happen? You'll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!

Although not 100% necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field your experience lies. Of course, you can always learn about a new area, but will you be able to compete with people who have years of knowledge and expertise?

Launching a business is always going to have an element of risk, but I really believed in the idea, and the market potential.

Finding a co-founder with different skill sets to you is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day one. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market – which is the first step to seeing if there is demand.
Very simply, creating a basic live website and confirming demand for the product. Once you know the market potential exists and customers are excited, you can build on that and expand further. The early days are all about testing.

It is always first and foremost about the customer and making sure you provide a product that they want. We are lucky that in today's online retail world, technology can take your product to new heights and offer your customer an unrivalled experience. Researching this should be a constant process, before launch and throughout the business journey .

For further information on Plusnet Pioneers, please visit www.plus.net/business/plusnet-pioneers. To find out more about Girl Meets Dress, visit http://www.girlmeetsdress.com/ 



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