Dresses With A DifferenceWritten by Daniel L
Former beauty queen Carol Chen is helping other women look and feel beautiful through Covetella, her one-stop rental shop for designer dresses.
Why pay thousands for a dress that you’ll only wear once, when you can rent one at a fraction of the cost and without the hassle of upkeeping it? That’s the question that Carol Chen is addressing in Singapore with Covetella, an entrepreneurial venture empowering women to glam up for special occasions by giving them a “Cinderella” experience no matter where they go.
As a fashion designer, beauty queen and businesswoman, Carol Chen wears many hats and, meeting her today, you wouldn’t imagine that this modern maverick once grew up as a shy and self-conscious individual in Texas. Attributing her confidence to a mastery of dressing up that she honed at beauty school, Carol’s sense of style has amassed much attention, garnering her accolades like Miss Chinatown USA in 2005 and “International Style Icon” by E! News. Long before e-commerce was mainstream, Carol even had a ready-to-wear label, C.C. Couture, to call her own.
But her latest venture has catapulted her somewhere else. Now based in Singapore, she’s taken her beauty know-how to another level through Covetella, her online dress rental business. “Because of my life experiences, it became a personal vision of mine to help others find their confidence and both look and feel beautiful,” she says. “Having been in fashion for my entire career, I knew Covetella would be the next step to make this happen.”
Like most startups, Covetella started out small but with big ambitions, entering the market in 2015 with a selected assortment of designer dresses. These came mainly from Carol’s own collection, steadily built up over the years thanks to her appearances at various beauty pageants and red-carpet events. “In the early days, I gave customers the option of buying or renting the dresses, but it soon became clear that people were practical and more keen to rent, so I started focusing on that.” Fashionistas and style enthusiasts who don’t want to get caught wearing the same outfit twice, especially in this age of social media, have also turned to Covetella for its expertise in offering a wardrobe refresh without breaking the bank.
As word spread, practically the idea of borrowing clothes became the norm, demand for Covetella’s rentals grew at a steady pace of 50% year on year. To keep up, Carol found herself sourcing more dresses by buying collections from those around her. Today, the business runs on its own extensive inventory, where dresses and gowns of nearly any style and colour are available for rental at an average price of SGD 150 per piece. Aligning itself to the ideals of inclusivity, Covetella also carries designs that range from simple and modest to glitzy and sophisticated, all available in a variety of sizes to suit most body types.
Like many ecommerce businesses today, Carol has recently developed her online-to-offline experience, pivoting quickly in response to consumer demand. “Despite having an amazing website filled with photos, I realised that many customers still wanted to try on our clothing first, even if it meant coming down to our office”, she explains. Seeing the need for Covetella to be more than an online-exclusive entity, she moved from a humble office space to a comprehensive, 3,000-square-foot showroom in March 2017, offering a complete experience with racks of dresses sorted by colour and personalised styling for her clientele, even fitting them out with the shoes, bags and accessories to complement their selections. “As a fashion designer, I felt the pressure of keeping up with latest trends, but here, we encourage women to wear what looks good on them through understanding their body type, height and preferred colours, and matching it to an array of timeless dresses,” she explains.
Carol points to the rise of the sharing economy as a huge boost to her business. The concept of this peer-to-peer system where the consumption of goods and services is a collaborative effort has really taken off in recent years thanks to companies like Airbnb, Go-Jek and Grab, and certainly shows no signs of slowing. This economic model relieves the burden of ownership from consumers, whilst still allowing access to all the frills they enjoy, at a fraction of the cost. Fashion may yet make up the biggest piece of the sharing economy pie, but its growth is definitive and its impact, significant. After all, it helped take away much of the scepticism surrounding the rental concept when Covetella made its debut. “In the West, buying products from the second-hand market is commonplace and seen as a practical choice,” Carol explains. “It’s relatively new here in Singapore, but this way of thinking is changing as more people embrace the sharing economy.”
At first glance, Covetella seems to be a business rooted in appearances only, but its mark on the industry is more than just skin-deep. A game changer and inspiring figure for many women, Carol hopes to inspire positive change in the way beauty is perceived at the same time as driving home this notion of sustainability. “I’ve seen first-hand how wasteful the industry can be and I want Covetella to promote eco-friendliness,” she explains. “Being able to reuse things and extend the life of clothing goes a long way towards making that a reality.”