Just under four years ago, Eshita Kabra-Davies founded By Rotation as a side hustle, originally to resolve the first world problem she was facing as a shopaholic when planning and packing for her honeymoon. But after launching in 2019, it quickly became more than just a marketplace for fashion rental – but a global social network for fashion lovers who are increasingly aware of their environmental footprint. As the world’s largest shared wardrobe, featured across the likes of Vogue, Forbes and Vanity Fair, Eshita shares the struggles she faced as an immigrant women entering the fashion industry, as well as her top tips for getting started.
Could you explain your journey towards founding By Rotation?
“As a third culture kid who was born in Rajasthan, India, I moved to Singapore at the age of two and then grew up there, the US and the UK. I always knew I wanted a big part of my life and my work to be very global too.
“Right out of undergraduate studies in the UK, I worked as an investment analyst at the very prestigious Standard Life Investments. The career path then would have been to become a portfolio manager while studying for my CFA and make large investments in publicly listed companies (I covered the very exciting and heavily-regulated banking sector). But I always knew my experience as an investor early on in my career was meant to be a building block towards my entrepreneurial pursuits.
“It prepared me with vital skills that every founder and CEO will need on their journey including resilience, decision-making under pressure, professionalism, analytical thinking, listening to your gut, negotiation and commitment.
What challenges did you face entering the fashion industry?
“As a first time founder, I didn’t have a track record. I’m also an immigrant, so I didn’t have the “right” or relevant networks. I also didn’t go to school or university with the fashion industry people, didn’t live in the same neighbourhoods as them, didn’t have the relevant social and professional networks to tap into to get the fashion world to buy into By Rotation and me.
“Another thing was that I didn’t look like anyone in the industry, which is tough given fashion’s focus on outward appearances and superficial characteristics. In turn, this made it harder to appeal to the mainstream audiences. I also had challenges when it came to female against female business owners, who would not make space for anyone else at the table."
How has your business defied the odds?
“There’s a statistic about how less than 2% of VC funding in the US last year went to female founders and teams. I would guess it’s even lower in the UK and European continent - since this continent is more risk-averse and traditional than the US. And as a non-white, immigrant, first-time solo female founder, I’m very aware that I’m an anomaly in this space.”
"Having a support network you can trust and depend on is incredibly important"
“I don’t take it for granted ever, and I hope I won’t in the future either. What I’ve been able to achieve really took an entire village: an incredibly supportive community of customers, a fiercely dedicated team and the most protective family and friends. Having a support network you can trust and depend on is incredibly important if you’re attempting to pursue and achieve something so rare. So the lesson I’ve taken from all my experiences throughout my entrepreneurial journey so far is to always be humble and grateful."
What have you achieved with By Rotation since launching in 2019?
“We’re the first ever fashion rental platform to have scaled beyond our home territory – not even incumbents who are listed companies have been able to do so. I’m incredibly proud of our scalable business model and commitment to community, which has enabled us to grow organically in such a way that our mission of transforming fashion consumption for good has always been our raison d’être.
“Today, we have over 375,000 users on the app on both continents - predominantly working professional women, much like myself - and over 80,000 listings worth over $45 million. You’ll have the odd celebrity you’ll be renting from here and there – be it Dame Helen Mirren, Camille Charriere, Lady Amelia Windsor or Nicola Coughlan’s stylist Aimee Croysdill. We have built the world’s largest shared wardrobe, and made contemporary fashion into an asset class.
“Multiple top lenders make over $3,500 a month from lending out their clothes to other women and fund their IVF journey, pay for childcare, or their holidays. By Rotation is an incredibly exciting and vibrant community to be a part of, and brand partners are paying us for the association.”
What advice do you have for other women looking to set up businesses?
"I’m a tough love person, so my advice will be rather upfront and pragmatic. Firstly, a leap of faith doesn’t fully exist. You should back this big decision you make with data points and feedback. I do believe in listening to your gut though, so there’s a balance here.
“Second, is to have corporate experience. As much as I was born in a very entrepreneurial family and always knew I was going to set up my own business one day, I made sure to make mistakes and learn from them at a large company who had things figured out. It prepared me for the kind of work ethic and goals I want at my startup today.
“Finally less theory, more practice. As much as there is content out there for us to consume and learn from, there’s really no alternative to actually doing the work. Less talk, more action. Every action you take for testing out your business, you will learn something new (positive or negative), but it will be helpful for the future. So don’t worry too much about perfection if that’s what is stopping you.”