Outfit repeating: the cardinal sin of the fashion world. Ok, that might be an exaggeration. However, with the myriad of balls that St Andrews students are offered every semester, girls are often faced with the choice of re-wearing last year’s dress or splashing out for a new one. It makes it even harder when you remember that the shopping choices in town aren’t exactly Rue de Rivoli caliber. Enter 2nd year student Margaux Woellner, the founder and operations manager of Ensemble. Ensemble is a dress rental company run by students for students. I spoke with Margaux to learn a little bit more about her business and Ensemble’s upcoming event on October 10th at The Saint Bar.
How did Ensemble get started?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the sentence “I want to go to that ball, but I can’t afford to buy another dress.” Balls are a huge part of the culture here in St. Andrews, and they are quite an expense. I created Ensemble as a platform for girls to relieve the completely unnecessary stress of dress-buying.
How does it work for both renters and those who provide the clothing? What is your pricing?
Ensemble is an online company, so anybody who wants to rent a dress can look at our website (https://ensembledresses.wixsite.com/ensembledresses) and browse through dresses. If they find a dress they like, all they must do is email firstname.lastname@example.org (or click the link below the picture of the dress they like) and let us know the date for which they want to rent the dress. All dresses are priced differently depending on the type and quality of the dress, and they range from £4 to £40, though most tend to be around £10.
Similarly, if people are looking to lend their dresses, they just have to email email@example.com and set up a time for Ensemble to pick up their dresses! Lenders can get their dress back any time; we just ask that lenders notify us at least one week in advance of when they will need the dress so we can get the dress dry cleaned if it’s been worn. Lenders also get a commission every time one of their dresses is worn, so it is in your best interest to lend dresses that would simply be taking up closet space!
Do you offer men’s clothing as well as women’s? If not, is that something that you are considering for the future?
At the moment, we don’t offer men’s clothing. Ensemble has already had such success with dress rentals though, so I can definitely see us branching out to men’s clothing in the future, even if it’s just starting with ties.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced while running this business, and how did you work through them?
As with any new company, there were a few bumps in the road, but the St. Andrews’ community has shown so much support and helped me through any and all challenges I’ve faced. My first concern as I was setting up the website was that I wouldn’t have enough people eager to lend dresses. Ensemble runs solely on St. Andrews girls being willing to lend their dresses for others to rent, and I was worried that there might not be enough supply to cover the obvious demand. There has been an outpouring of support though, and in its first month of business, Ensemble has received over 160 dresses.
I wanted to ensure that each dress was clean for each wear, and I expected dry cleaning to be a huge cost. Luckily, Johnson’s Dry Cleaning has been willing to work with me to make these costs manageable. It seems as though every time one challenge pops up for Ensemble, there are ten people who are willing to face it, and this outpouring from the community has made Ensemble thrive, even in its first few weeks of business.
What advice would you give to other students who are considering starting a small business?
Do it. Be prepared for sleepless nights and loads of work, but do it. Have a firm plan and cover every base. There will be countless unforeseen problems, but it is much easier to face those problems if you have a firm, unwavering business plan. Have a goal in mind, and do everything in your power to achieve that goal. Starting a business is often like solving a puzzle, and each challenge requests that you think about your business in a different way. Every second of work you put in will be worth it, so all I can say to prospective entrepreneurs is go for it.
What can attendees expect from your event on October 10th?
Ensemble Exposé is both a launch party and a fashion show. Guests can expect a full dinner at The Saint, a live show by St. Andrews’ a cappella group The Other Guys, and most importantly a fashion show showcasing a few of Ensemble’s newest dresses. Be sure to get your tickets on Fixr soon as tickets are selling quickly!
While still in its infancy, Ensemble appears to be thriving and filling a gap in the fashion market of St Andrews. To learn more about their upcoming event, Ensemble Exposé, you can check out the Facebook event page https://www.facebook.com/events/536079083471731/ for a night of food, fashion and fun.