Fashion is sugar, spice, and everything nice – until you throw space and money into the mix. Enter YEECHOO, Asia’s premier designer fashion rental platform aimed at easing women’s closets and wallets – as well as the environment.  

Entrepreneurs Shan Shan and Abby Zhang built Asia’s biggest online designerwear rental platform YEECHOO to enable women to switch outfits frequently at an affordable cost. Opening the doors to a world previously privy only to big spenders, YEECHOO offers the latest season’s clothing and accessories for rental, sourced from top designers across the globe, at a fraction of the retail price. Founded in 2013, Hong Kong-based YEECHOO, which means “closet” in Mandarin and sounds like “you choose” in English, houses over 200 international and local brands and more than 5,000 pieces for customers to choose from. Competing against 200 startups, it was successfully chosen as one of the three recipients for the HKD 1 billion Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund in 2016, recently spreading its wings to Shanghai and Shenzhen late last year. Shan Shan sat down with Hive Life to offer a glimpse of how YEECHOO is redefining the fashion industry.

When Shan Shan and Abby first moved to Hong Kong in 2011 and met each other whilst working at the same bank, they were no strangers to the city’s social scene. It was a lifestyle that compelled them to purchase designer dresses endlessly, dresses that often only saw the light of day – or in their case, night –  a couple of times. “Our circle in Hong Kong was small; once you’ve posted the outfit on Facebook, everyone’s seen it,” says Shan Shan. “You don’t want to be seen in the same look again, which was kind of stupid, because the clothes are so expensive, so the cost per wear is ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, social media stars in Hong Kong were constantly flaunting different get-ups, their outfits often sponsored by retailers like Lane Crawford. “Ordinary people like ourselves don’t have that privilege,” states Shan Shan. Determined, with Abby, to venture out on their own, the two thought, “why don’t we put together all these resources so everyone can access these clothes when they have the need and just pay for that cost per wear?”

Following in the footsteps of successful international designer rental portals – New Yorks’ Rent the Runway was recently valued at nearly USD 800 million at it latest round of funding (some of which also came from Alibaba), –  YEECHOO launched in 2013, offering the occasional rental of dresses. Customers could browse online, choose their items and rent them for up to four days at an average cost of HKD 400 to 500 – a whopping ten times cheaper than the retail price. Initially, the company’s focus was on special occasions and a market that wanted items specifically for those. Now, with a hungry customer base who want the space and wallet saving convenience of a designer wardrobe available to rent on tap, they have launched a monthly subscription where customers can enjoy six daily pieces of everyday wear at HKD 799 per month.

“That’s how people are living now. It’s a sharing economy, you don’t need to own it, you just enjoy the access,” explains Shan Shan of the mentality that drives their customers – be they 20 or 60. And, whilst sustainability wasn’t high on the company’s list of priorities in the beginning, they’ve found that also to be a big contributing factor to their success. “People are more and more aware of that. We do get tagged on Instagram and people are really proud of being environmentally friendly. Also, everyone just wants to post really cool photos in different outfits – outfits of the day.”

When asked how their buying team chooses which items to add to their collection, Shan Shan reveals that 20% of their apparel is selected based on current trends, with the other 80 per cent picked according to what’s suitable for their primarily Asian clientele.“We have a pretty big customer base, so in comparison, expats will be a smaller group.” Acting like a retailer, they purchase the items upfront. Cost-wise, this is a big layout, which accounts for their current limited size options – something they soon hope to broaden.

Whilst there may have been a reticence amongst designer brands to be associated with clothes rental websites back in the day, YEECHOO have seen a definite change of heart as the sector has matured. “They don’t see us as competitors, they see us nurturing young customers who don’t yet have that purchasing power, but can already build an affinity to brands early on,” explains Shan Shan. “Once they progress in their career, they will be able to buy into them as retail customers, so that’s why they actually like us and we can get all these brands on board.” This doesn’t, however, apply to all the big fish.  “European and American brands wanting to establish themselves in Asia see us as a really good marketing channel since their retail price is quite high, so it allows customers to try them out first. We have customers who ask us where they can buy an item, and we’ll direct them to the brand’s website. But, if they’re already very established in Hong Kong or in Asia, it’s hard to convince them.”

A clear operator in Hong Kong’s digital luxury commerce space, YEECHOO have invested in an offline presence as well, opening a showroom by appointment where patrons can try on five items chosen online ahead of time. “It’s something that we’re trying to overcome, but it’s just so hard when people have to try things on,” Shan Shan confirms of the general consensus that Hong Kongers prefer offline shopping because of its convenience and the try-before-you-buy factor that still holds strong in the city. “They’ll still have to create an online order after they try it on; we hope they’ll get used to doing that and it will allow us to not have a physical showroom.”

Clearly marked as one to watch, YEECHOO’s investment from Alibaba marked a big turn in their fortunes. Shan Shan believes, “with Alibaba’s strong support, YEECHOO will have a deeper impact across a wider audience as we promote a whole new lifestyle.” Recently, YEECHOO opened a showroom in Shanghai and one in Shenzhen, with more expansion to follow. “We don’t think fashion should be a burden,” explains Shan Shan of their core offering. “It should be really fun, everyone should enjoy it and be adventurous.” With YEECHOO, they’re given the chance to do just that.