Retail in Asia


How Designerex is redefining Australia’s fashion landscape with peer-to-peer luxury rentals

Founded in Australia and subsequently expanding to the USA, Designerex has gained recognition as an online marketplace for peer-to-peer designer clothing rentals, connecting fashion enthusiasts and allowing them to access high-end designer pieces for various occasions.

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The founders endeavoured to create a platform that would enable individuals to access luxury fashion items without the need for significant investments or contributing to the environmental impact of fast fashion.

Today Designerex offers a vast selection of designer garments from renowned fashion houses and luxury brands, from elegant evening gowns to designer cocktail dresses. The platform also caters to fashion brands, allowing them to showcase their collections and reach a broader audience.

Retail in Asia speaks with Costa Koulis, co-founder and co-CEO of Designerex, ahead of his panel discussion at eTail Australia 2024.

RIA: In a nutshell, what is Designerex, and how did you arrive at the concept? 

Costa Koulis: Designerex is the world’s largest peer-to-peer dress renting platform. It is a pure play, two-sided marketplace, with over 100,000 designer dresses listed since inception and over 1,000 brands. Designerex enables consumers to profit & earn income from their dresses, as well as enabling people to rent designer fashion for one-off special occasions. It is a custom technology platform, and within a few years of launch it had more dresses available to consumers than established decades-long retailers.

The idea was conceived when our co-founder had an event to attend, she wanted to wear a designer outfit but couldn’t justify the expense when she would only wear it once. From there we both realised there was no secure technology platform to facilitate peer-to-peer fashion renting at scale, so that’s how the concept was born.

RIA: Can you walk us through the customer journey? 

Koulis: As a two-sided marketplace, there are two distinct journeys. On one side we have the dress lenders, which own the dress and list it for free on the platform. It is an easy 90 second listing process, our system guides you, it even suggests a renting price but ultimately it’s up to the dress owner to set her own terms. On the other side of the transaction is a dress renter, she typically browses the listings, and once she finds something suitable she proceeds with the booking. The renter also has the option of browsing dresses that are located in proximity to her postcode which can be delivered within two hours by Uber. 

This solves a great problem for anyone that has an event to attend that evening or the following day. Alternatively the dress is posted by mail and typically this would include Australia Post labels, being available for download in both the dress lender and renter’s dashboards on Designerex. Once the booking is complete the Renter simply places her dress in the mail for return to the Lender. 

RIA: How has your mission and audience or customer base evolved since starting the business?

Koulis: From the outset our mission was to create the world’s best technology for fashion renting peer-to-peer, available to consumers. This included innovating at every step of the way. For example, when it comes to shipping labels, we don’t hold any stock or ship from any warehouse like traditional retailers.

There was no off-the-shelf downloadable labels that facilitated our peer-to-peer model which comprised over 7,000 distribution points, with each transaction being two-way. So we had to partner with Australia Post and subsequently we hosted Auspost’s first downloadable labels for a two-way marketplace on Designerex. 

Our platform was purpose built for our audience, to provide them the tools like never before for growing fashion renting peer-to-peer at scale. We’ve played a significant role in creating fashion entrepreneurs, as well as enabling consumers the largest selection of designer fashion to rent for events. Over time, the positive impact our platform has on sustainability has also become more evident, as the world has become more sustainability conscious. 

RIA: What are your priorities when it comes to marketing, and how do you approach that for maximum effectiveness?

Koulis: Our priorities for marketing have progressively become more and more personalised than we first launched. Our marketing has also changed over time, as we have grown to over 50,000 active listings, which in addition to personalisation, effective filtering of listings, to provide the end-user with the best experience, has become a priority. In recent times we integrated with a marketing automation platform. The cost of paid digital advertising has grown over the years, so we are always mindful of maximising engagement with our existing audience, as a priority over paid advertising. 

We are also transitioning to new integrations with fashion retailers that enable them to leverage our platform as a win/win for revenue share. The Designerex platform enables a win for consumers, retailers and also for the planet, so we are constantly looking at effective marketing channels for distributing the benefit of that message to consumers.

RIA: Tell us about what you plan to speak about at this year’s eTail Australia conference. 

Koulis: At this year’s eTail I will be speaking on the Leaders’ Perspectives panel, on increasing brand awareness and the effectiveness of marketing.

It’s a very relevant topic in 2024 for all e-tailers in every industry. The reality is that consumer behaviours are changing fast so as marketers we need to adapt, not only which channels are best to use, but how we communicate to consumers on each channel. Paid advertising costs have also increased, so in 2024 we also need to be innovative in the way we acquire new customers. For example, partnerships are an excellent way to lower the cost of acquisition, yet they still seem to be untapped. 

Also, Google is soon rolling out its AI search in 2024, so it will also change how e-commerce businesses have operated in the past. Let’s not forget, each element of evolution in e-commerce is not just something we need to stay on top of, but it’s also an opportunity for fast movers. This last part in particular, is the part that excites me the most.

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RIA: Why is eTail Australia a not-to-be-missed event? 

Koulis: It’s not often you get leading like-minded people all in one venue, exchanging information about new trends, new technologies and better ways of doing things in eCommerce. As one of the first events on the eCommerce events calendar, eTail is also a leading way to network with new industry professionals and to touch base with the eCommerce community in the new year. 

The eTail summit is also readily accessible as it’s located within Australia’s largest business hub of Sydney, attracting a vast array of eCommerce experts. I’m definitely looking forward to eTail 2024, specifically as we watch how the growth of AI is influencing eCommerce and affecting different aspects of the industry in different ways.