“To succeed, you have to possess tenacity. In this journey, I have encountered numerous ups and downs, given all the Covid lockdowns. You have to continue being resilient and you have to be a very tenacious person.”
Founder of By Rotation
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Eshita Kabra-Davies and I am the Founder and CEO of By Rotation, the UK’s leading peer-to-peer fashion rental app.
Tell us more about the concept of your social fashion rental app, By Rotation.
Essentially, it is the world’s first social network where you can lend and rent contemporary and designer fashion with each other. In doing so, it allows you to save money as well as make money by lending out your own wardrobe. It is a great community for fashion lovers to meet and become friends because you end up repeat renting from the same lenders over and over again. But most importantly, it allows our users to consume fashion in a sustainable way that can save the planet because you are sharing, rather than buying new pieces that you would otherwise only wear once or twice.
We can certainly tell that you have an eye for fashion, but how did this whole concept come about?
Before founding By Rotation, I was working full-time in finance for seven years but I’ve always loved fashion and dressing up at work. Even when I was younger, from the age of 11, I had a fascination with web designing so I think I’ve always had an eye for aesthetics. I thoroughly enjoy bringing different components together and making them look aesthetically pleasing.
It was not until I started planning my honeymoon with my husband to Rajasthan, where I was born, that I noticed the lack of options in the fashion rental landscape. Instead of buying new outfits for this trip of a lifetime, I thought it would be so great if I could rent them or if I could pay someone to borrow their clothes. At the time, there were a few global players that provided this service but there was nothing really in the UK and Europe, which was quite surprising to me because the UK is home to some of the largest luxury designers and fast fashion brands in the world. During my travels in Rajasthan, I caught a lot of textile waste everywhere and I couldn’t help but feel guilty because I too, had bought new clothing. That was when I thought about taking it one step further with this fashion rental idea I had at the time and by making it more about sharing with people.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so I grew up in this sort of environment. However, the term “entrepreneur” is so highly glamourised in today’s world and I think many people want the title. However, your business should always focus on your core mission and why you are doing it. For myself, being an entrepreneur was not something I wanted to do because it was cool and everyone was doing it. I just knew that I wanted to transform how fashion was consumed altogether, and for the greater good.
What does a day in the life of Ms. Eshita Kabra-Davies look like?
Each day is very different. The benefit of being your own boss is that it allows for flexibility, but that also means you’re working 24/7. I like to ensure that I get a workout in about 2-4 times per week. I live three minutes away from our office by walking, which is very nice because it allows me to have a separation from my office and home. We have had several successful pop-ups so far and some great partnerships with various brands like Page8 which has been amazing. But to answer your question, no day is the same!
What does” Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
When I think of the term “urban explorer”, I think about taking the path less traveled and pretending like I’m a local in a different city – going to the small cafe that the locals hang out at. I would just like to be able to live and breathe their way of life rather than just doing the same touristy things as everyone else.
Make It Fashion. But Sustainable
By Rotation has really transformed the way people consume fashion – in a more sustainable way. With this in mind, how well do you think Londoners have adopted this practice?
At the moment, we have over 250,000 registered users in the UK. There has been a huge mainstream awareness around sustainability in general, not just in fashion. Renowned designers like Balenciaga, their mushroom leather, and Stella McCartney have been huge on sustainability for such a long time which is incredible to see. With a revolving door of lockdowns these past two years, people have become much more aware of how much stuff they have – be it fashion, furniture, etc. and we are all just learning about what actually makes us happy. It turns out, it’s not the materialistic things – dresses, handbags, or shoes; it’s actual experiences.
There are so many beautiful vibrant and colourful pieces on the app for rental! How do you select which pieces are By Rotation-approved?
All of the pieces have to be of contemporary or high fashion nature, with a minimum value of GBP75. That said, we also encourage independent designers who want to list their pieces on the app. Users can also expect to find vintage dresses and pieces that range from a retail value of GBP80 all the way to luxury Birkin bags. Essentially, we let the community decide what is popular, what is cool, and what is trending. We have also developed quite a few algorithms that help bump up items that are getting the most views, rentals, and likes, which plays upon the social network aspect of our digital community.
Of all the pieces that you’ve come across on the app, has there ever been an instance where you loved an item so much that you rented it for yourself? If so, tell us which piece you had to have.
Yes, definitely! I am always renting. There are some pieces that I love so much that I rent out repeatedly. For instance, one item I love renting out is this GBP1,300 Ulla Johnson dress, a perfect evening dress that you wouldn’t wear unless you have an elaborate event to go to. Another one of my favorites is the Prada Cleo satin bag with appliqués that has been sold out in certain places. The great thing about the app is that sometimes, it is not even about the money. You may have all the money in the world, but if it’s sold out, it’s sold out. On the By Rotation app, you can rent out pieces that are truly exclusive.
How have you navigated your business during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, people were not really renting clothes so, for us, it was really about focusing on building our digital community since many people were spending a lot of time online at home. During this time, we continued building our community by creating engaging content and educating them on how bad consumption can negatively impact the world, as well as how our platform can make money by sharing what they already have with each other. Keeping in mind that some people were being furloughed or being let go of their jobs, we wanted to create educational and lighthearted content to keep people engaged online. That was how we managed to build up a lot of supply on the app, which made us very well prepared for when the lockdowns started easing in the UK. Then things really started to pick up, with our rental volumes reaching 30x.
In your previous interviews, you mentioned that there were certain setbacks to being in this industry as a female minority. How do you overcome these hurdles?
Firstly, authenticity is very important to me and I want to be honest about my life. Secondly, I wish to build grassroots connections with people and tell them my story, how By Rotation came to be, what my values are, and how I wish to transform fashion consumption to good through the app. I think these things really resonated with people that are now part of my tribe, which is very much global citizens. What helps me overcome any hurdles that come my way are the people that really care about what we are building together – regardless of my background, the colour of my passport, or the colour of my skin.
As an entrepreneur, what is the single best piece of advice you could give someone who is looking to start their own business endeavour?
Oftentimes, we are told that if we are passionate about something, we will thrive. However, passion may not always be enough. You may have things that you are passionate about but it does not mean that you want to make it your career. To succeed, you have to possess tenacity. In this journey, I have encountered numerous ups and downs, given all the Covid lockdowns. You have to continue being resilient and you have to be a very tenacious person.
What do you like most about your job?
I just love that we are very grassroots, and I hear stories all the time from our “rotators” like “I rented from this woman and it turns out, she’s actually my sister-in-law’s classmate.” I also had one of our rising top lenders reach out to me to tell me that she just had her second child and was not able to afford childcare to go back to work. But because of the supplementary income that she was earning from renting out her clothes on By Rotation, she was now able to afford day-care. To me, that is true female empowerment, and these are the very things that bring my job such fulfillment.
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
I am definitely an island girl so I would love to go back to the Aeolian Islands in Sicily. It is amazing for scuba diving and snorkelling. I would also love to visit Stromboli, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, which contains one of three active volcanoes in Italy. It has black sand beaches where you see the most colourful fishes ever.
On my bucket list, I would also love to visit French Polynesia and Hawaii. Though a little more mainstream, you crave these beautiful island escapes when you live in central London!