At a young age Ashley Kay, CEO and founder of Clothes Concierge was drawing fashion designs on scratch paper that she had quite literally seen in her dreams. This combined with the fact that she won the “Best Dressed” award would leave you to assume that she most definitely would follow a career path in the fashion industry immediately after graduation. However, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that her career became fashion-focused, but only by accident. Kay had been embellishing her jeans and people continuously asked where they could buy them. This was the start of her first e-commerce store that featured high-quality embellished apparel.
After spending time in the fashion and business industry, she ultimately decided that there was a massive problem in the fashion industry that a lifestyle business simply wasn’t going to solve. That problem was and still is the un-environmental and un-ethical effects of the fashion industry. “After making several pivots, I decided to run a pilot program working through my new concept, which was a unique twist on Rent the Runway and StitchFix,” said Kay. Fast forward to the present day and Clothes Concierge is now the first of its kind, offering both B2B and B2c solutions, and focusing on sustainability in all aspects in order to become B-corp certified.
303 Magazine: How would you describe Clothes Concierge?
Ashley Kay: Clothes Concierge is a hybrid of Rent the Runway and StitchFix yet much more sustainable, convenient and accurate. It offers the personal delivery of a wardrobe which can be purchased and is curated by a stylist like StitchFix but is based on a rental membership platform like RTR. When I say more sustainable, I mean it is in our DNA.
We only partner with ethical brands, to begin with, we use C02 cleaning which is much greener than traditional dry cleaning, we deliver and pick up so no pesky trips to the post office, and with our B2B models we can drop to multiple people’s items in one location leaving no bags sitting on individual’s doorsteps. We also use garment bags that get cleaned and reused instead of wasteful poly bags or cardboard boxes, and after the garment hits the end of life, we donate what we can to underprivileged individuals. Whatever cannot be donated gets sent to fashion schools to be repurposed. It’s a closed-loop process that I’m very proud to have established and will make sure stays at the core of our values.
303: Why do you think it was important for you to start your own business?
AK: I found my purpose through this business because I’ve always wanted to find a way to make an impact in the world and found it impossible as a little minnow in a big sea of needs. The business not only makes an impact in my customer’s lives but makes a huge impact on the planet and has also impacted me and my family’s lives by giving us the time and freedom we’ve always wanted to have together.
303: Why was it important to you that Clothes Concierge was a sustainable business?
AK: My biggest pet peeve is how wasteful we as humans are. I’ve been an advocate of recycling for years but once I saw first-hand just how wasteful the fashion industry is and the rental industry, in particular, I knew that was how I could do something to make a difference. I have gotten some push back on my business model from investors who think with the conventional wisdom that it’s either about making money or saving the planet but the truth is the two go hand-in-hand. I’m on a mission to become the first Public Benefit Corporation to be a “unicorn.” In the startup world, a unicorn is a company that is valued at $1 billion. Being a PBC means that we are focused on operating responsibly and bettering the lives of everyone involved such as employees and our customers too, not just the shareholders. Setting a new gold standard if you will.
303: What is your favorite part of owning your own fashion-based brand?
AK: My favorite part about this business is that I truly sleep great at night knowing all the good it brings to the world. It’s an opportunity that allows me to teach others about the importance and significance of reducing waste and also choosing fashion wisely. So many people have no idea they’re supporting unethical fast fashion brands and that 82% of it will end up in a landfill. Without education, no one knows that. Once you know you have a moral obligation to shop more wisely and with a service like Clothes Concierge it makes it that much easier to do so.
303: What have you found to be the biggest challenges of working in the industry and owning your own business?
AK: There are new challenges each and every day, and I thoroughly enjoy working through them all. Some take longer than others to work through but eventually when there’s a will, there’s a way. COVID-19 has actually been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. It’s forced me to think outside the box and look at things from a different angle. It’s allowed me to come up with more innovative ways of operating. I have no doubt when things settle down and life goes on in the new normal way, we’ll be geared up for it.
303: What do you hope for the future of Clothes Concierge? Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
AK: I believe the future of Clothes Concierge is to become a global wardrobe service. After we get established in Colorado first, we’ll continue to expand into more cities throughout the US, eventually growing internationally. We will provide our wardrobe service for individual professionals such as attorneys, bankers, realtors and others, as well as for corporate, like luxury hotels and apartments to assist their employees in their dress code requirements. Through these channels, we can extend our services to hotel guests and apartment tenants. Can you imagine traveling somewhere and not having to check a bunch of bags, only to arrive at your destination with your full wardrobe of fresh and ready-t0-wear clothing hanging in our closet? That is the world I imagine we’ll create.
We’ve started working with a few local photographers who offer headshots or business branding, providing the attire for their clients so no one is arriving on their photoshoot day with wrinkled garments or cat hair covered blazers. What’s next for us is establishing our initial hotel partnerships in Denver which I believe will give them a competitive advantage in their offering to guests as well as helping keep their employees safer since we handle all the professional cleaning and they wouldn’t be doing this task themselves at home. We are also working to obtain more brand partners so we are ready to scale inventory needs. We’re marketing to realtors in particular as they are among the few professionals still in need of work attire right now.
All photography provided by the Clothes Concierge.