HOMA ZARYOUNI // Founder of 10 Wooster
Her Founder Story
What was the inspiration in starting 10 Wooster?
I’ve always loved the business side of fashion and any innovation in that industry was fascinating to me. So when various fashion rental and subscription services popped up, I jumped to try all of them - and I dropped them all after the first try. What I did find through the process, was that none of them really targeted true fashion lovers – which is ironic because those people will be your most profitable customers, if you just create the right product for them!
I felt that lot of the services popping up offered a solution for women who didn’t like shopping and viewed getting dressed as a chore rather than a fun experience. I just thought if someone could create a version of these new services for the true fashion addicts, that would be amazing.
So I looked at why I was not subscribing and where these services came up short:
Inventory: I didn’t want middle of the road pieces that appealed to everyone. I wanted pieces that felt like they were part of my closet and a part of how I expressed my style. I didn’t want to wear what every single woman in my office or neighborhood was wearing. That’s where the idea for small runs came in. At 10 Wooster, we don’t purchase large runs of clothing because we want everyone to have a unique experience. We don’t want people to see you and say oh, yea, that’s that top from 10 Wooster. I got it in my box too.
Another was lifestyle. When I came up with the idea, I worked at a startup so any service with too formal, too business-like offerings made no sense for me. And a lot of people had a similar problem, even those with successful careers. One of our first subscribers was the CMO of non-profit and she told me she had a closet full of Theory suits. She wanted things for the weekend, going out, and maybe casual Friday.
Ownership: I wanted to own at least some pieces of clothing and not rely on rental as my only option. While rental makes sense in many cases, I like having a closet of my favorites, especially if they are good quality and last a long time. It’s fun to keep items and style them in different ways throughout the years.
I wanted to allow my customers to buy the pieces of clothing that they really loved and didn’t want to part with – and to be able to do that at prices that wouldn’t kill their wallets. Which is how I came up with every piece should be discounted compared to retail prices. Right now, every piece in our boxes is available for purchase at 50% to 75% off retail.
What were the first few steps you took to get the company organized and created?
1) Research. I had this idea in my head, but I needed to know more. What are women’s pain points in shopping? How many pieces of clothing does a woman keep in her closet, used and unused? Would she borrow for not-so-special occasions? Would she be ok with a stylist selecting pieces for her, kind of like a blind date with clothes? I found statistics that answered these questions, but I needed to talk to the people who were making up these stats and get even more information from them. 2) Speaking with developers to understand the technological possibilities for this product. It was helpful to map out what I would need at each stage in terms of UX and data and how much I should budget for each step. 3) Set up an LLC. 4) Build a beta site and observe user behavior.
How did you know this was going to be your path? An aha moment?
My first moment of external validation was when I got my first paying customer. I told a girl at a party about this concept when I hadn’t even set up a website yet. I had sketched out the concept based on survey responses and picked a price, but the website was still in the works. She seemed intrigued and said she wanted to subscribe. I gave her my contact info thinking she was just being nice and had no plans to contact me. Then she emailed me the next day asking where she could subscribe.
I just quickly created a Chargify account and send her an email saying the website isn’t ready, but here is the concept and a list of FAQs. If you enter your payment information I can start sending you sets of clothes. And she actually filled out her payment info, which surprised me! That made me realize people really wanted this product to exist. If people were willing to give their payment information and sign up before we had even set up shop, there is definitely demand for this product.
What were some challenges you faced and how did you move past them?
Logistics was a challenge until we got the process down to an organized method. Before we tested and launched a subscription service, we were a peer-to-peer clothing rental company. Women would rent each other clothes a prices they both agreed on with us as the intermediary. That was a really difficult logistical problem to tackle because the inventory was not even in our hands.
A lot of women were willing to lend their closets, which that meant our inventory was scattered across the country. Three months after launch Hurricane Irma happened. One of the lenders who lived in an affected area mixed up the orders she fulfilled in a rush as she was evacuating. The customers received the wrong clothes, and there was no way to fix the situation because she did not have access to her closet for at least a couple of weeks! To top that, one of the recipients rejected one the packages, so it was held at the post office for weeks before it could be sent back. It took a lot of calls, but we were able to get the dress back to the owner.
Now that we own the inventory and send it from our warehouse, it’s a lot easier relatively speaking. When we tested the subscription service we learned a lot about our members’ habits and improved our shipping methods and packaging to make it easier for them to receive and return the clothing sets. It’s very satisfying now to see the process be seamless because I know how much work it took to get here.
What would you say to the FEM that is looking at launching a subscription service?
I would say really, really, research your customer base. You need to know a lot about them. Ask them questions, stalk their Instagram if its public or they let you follow them. This isn’t just about selling a dress or a coat and moving on to the next customer. You are trying to build a relationship with them. The more you know about them, the higher the chances.
Do you have a personal mantra?
Don’t overthink, just do. Strategy is important but execution is even more important.
How can FEMS connect and follow you?
You can follow us @10wooster on Instagram. I respond to all the messages personally.
ABOUT HOMA ZARYOUNI
Homa is the founder of 10 Wooster, a clothing subscription service that sends women personalized sets of clothing they can borrow and buy from. After noticing the majority of subscription and styling services targeted women who view getting dressed as a chore, she designed 10 Wooster to cater to women who find joy in new outfits but needed an easier and environmentally sustainable way to experiment with styles and develop a closet they love. 10 Wooster's rent before buying model allows women to take their time when deciding to make a purchase, and separate one-time wears with pieces that really speak to their style and the style they want to have. Prior to starting her business, Homa was the Editorial Director of retail research and consulting firm L2 (acquired by Gartner). At L2, she wrote about how retail and consumer brands and how they adapted and transformed their business models to adapt to the digital age. Before L2, she was a business journalist for The Financial Times and Blouin Artinfo.