Sisters Jenessa and Madison Olson were running their business long before they even had a business to run.
“It was something we had been doing since high school. We always had very extensive wardrobes. If someone wanted to borrow clothes from us, they actually had to sign it out so we could keep track of where things were going. Your friends will steal your clothes,” laughed Jenessa, BA’14 (Political Science), MSc’18 (International Business).
STMNT, founded two years ago, allows consumers to rent clothes from local boutiques – think an Airbnb for fashion, if you will – filling a gap for those need-it-now, not-in-my-closet, one-time-wear clothing needs. Beyond making a statement on your back, the company also looks to make one about the environmental and social impact created worldwide by the fashion industry.
“Our goal is to decrease our demand for ‘fast fashion’ – those one-wear items,” said Madison, a Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies student at Brescia University College.
STMNT – pronounced ‘statement’ – initially allowed individuals to offer their own clothing for rent. However, the company now focuses on direct relationships with local boutiques to rent out select inventory. There are currently five stores on board – three in London, one of Kitchener-Waterloo, one in Toronto.
Customers can choose from a selection of bridal outfits, dresses, gowns, jumpsuits, skirts, shoes and jewelry. Rental periods can be from one week to a month, and all items are dry cleaned and returned to the selected boutique. The pair even have tailors for any needed repairs or minor alterations.
“When I was at Ivey (Business School), we needed a business formal wardrobe, but not all my classmates did,” Jenessa said. “We all had to be business formal on many occasions; I was lending out my clothes all the time and, subsequently, lending out Madison’s clothes as well.”
“I would show up at one of Jenessa’s events and see other girls wearing my clothes. I was thinking to myself, ‘You have no idea, but that’s actually mine,’” smiled Madison.
During her undergrad at Western, Jenessa took business ethics course where she learned about the Rana Plaza collapse, a facility in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people in 2013. The garment factory workers made clothing for about 29 global brands, including Benetton, The Children’s Place and Joe Fresh.
Additionally, with 80 billion new pieces of clothing sold every year, and half thrown away within 12 months, many without being worn, the sisters needed to do to something.
“This was a manufacturing facility for a lot of well-known brands – brands shopped,” she said. “I left that class and kept asking myself over and over, ‘How is my demand for another piece of clothing in my closet worth someone’s life?’ It’s not. That’s when Madison and I started working to sustainably source our own wardrobe. We wanted to make the personal decision not to participate in this.”
The pair moved forward with the help of countless mentors and through participating in Western Entrepreneurship’s summer incubator program, which provides seed funding, mentorship, programming and co-working space for a cohort of high-potential entrepreneurs.
“There are so people in the community who have helped us. We are thankful to them in helping us refine our ideas to get us to the next step,” Madison said. “It was a learning process then – and it still is today. Every day, you’re addressing issues. With a small business, things can change quickly. You need to be able to learn and adapt on the fly.”
Today, both are focused full-time on the business. “It’s the last thing we talk about before bed and the first thing we talk about in the morning,” Jenessa said.
Madison will cut back a bit once school gets going again in September. “Maybe I’ll cut back to 40 hours a week,” she joked. “It’s not easy, but I try to book classes together and really focus 100 per cent on school those days.”
For those interested in becoming entrepreneurs, the sisters have a lot of advice to offer, but mainly just one word – try.
“Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s a privilege to be able to learn through failure. It’s a great thing to experience,” Jenessa said. “You quickly need to learn from it and move on, but remember that you learn so much from things that don’t go right, the way you thought they would go.
“There’s no room for pride in entrepreneurship. You don’t have time and the resources to learn everything yourself. You can make it happen, but you cannot do it alone.”
That’s where the sister bond come in.
“There’s no other place I’d rather be,” Madison said. “We’re both really love the business and love what we’re doing. That’s what’s important to us.”