For many women, fashion means more than just the clothes you wear. It represents your true personality and expresses your creativity. Raena Lim, co-founder and COO of Style Theory, holds this belief. More than that, she also believes that every woman should have the freedom to experiment with their styles without being constrained.
Aware of the fact that high quality fashion is not cheap and not accessible for everyone, Lim and her partner, Chris Halim, were inspired to introduce the “fashion sharing” concept through their Style Theory platform. Founded in 2016 in Singapore, Style Theory provides women with access to thousands of designer items from all over the world. By paying a monthly subscription fee, customers can rent different clothes for any occasions. This way, they can save time and money, but are still able to rotate their wardrobe.
The platform expanded its service to the Indonesian market in early 2018, and has been receiving positive feedback from users and designer partners since then. It now has over 130.000 subscribers and offers more than 30.000 fashion items from over 100 designers in Singapore and Indonesia.
KrASIA recently spoke to Raena Lim about Style Theory’s mission and the future of fashion.
KrASIA (Kr): What is the impetus behind Style Theory?
Raena Lim (L): It all started three years ago when I felt that I had nothing to wear even though I have a wardrobe full of clothes. I realized that it was a common problem many women face: after wearing the same clothes more than twice, we would lose excitement over those particular pieces of clothing. Based on that, my partner and I were wondering whether the sharing economy could be applied to the fashion industry. Both of us come from finance and business backgrounds without any links to the fashion industry, but we believe that the subscription model could bring a new solution to the field.
We were inspired by companies like Uber and Airbnb that helped shift people’s perception of the sharing economy. Through this business model, we don’t need to add or produce more clothing, but we can share the existing resources and provide more choices to our customers, as they have access to more than 200,000 fashion pieces. I think this is what’s unique about the sharing economy: it gives people more options without having to make a financial commitment.
Kr: Was Style Theory the first platform to offer this type of fashion rental service in Singapore?
L: There are clothing rental companies here, but they usually rent wedding dresses, gowns for formal events, and costumes for special occasions. What we offer is different from that, as we want to provide ready-to-wear clothing for everyday needs. Our concept is an extension of a woman’s wardrobe—but stored in the cloud.
Kr: What were the challenges?
L: I think the biggest challenge of building something that didn’t exist before is how to educate people about our product and services. And as both Chris and I don’t have a background in fashion, we needed to catch up fast by learning about jargon and technical terms while building connections in the industry.
Kr: Who are your customers?
L: Our customers are modern women from various backgrounds and who have various interests. Some of them are from the corporate world, some are women who are going through pregnancy, and many of them are environmentally conscious women who lead a sustainable lifestyle.
Kr: How important do you think is fashion to modern women?
L: I believe that fashion is empowering women. It is not only about looking good, but also feeling good about yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. Through Style Theory, we want to propel this sense of empowerment, especially since we see many accomplished women out there making achievements in the fields that might be considered to be “male-dominated” in the past.
In addition to the rental platform, we have a blog that not only talks about fashion but also about wellness, careers, inspiration, and so forth. We also built a community where our subscribers can meet up on a regular basis to participate in many interesting activities. For instance, we conducted a chocolate-making session in Jakarta for groups of girlfriends on Valentine’s day. And on Mother’s Day, we had a flower arrangement class that was dedicated to mothers and daughters. We collaborate with brands and influencers to grow our community through online and offline programs.
Kr: Why did you choose Indonesia as Style Theory’s second market?
L: Initially, we had doubts about whether Indonesia was ready for this new concept. Would people able to relate to our services? Nonetheless, we gained confidence as we received many requests from Indonesia to take our service there. We even had Indonesians who signed up for this service in Singapore, so we saw that they wanted to be a part of this future of fashion. We’re expanding very quickly in Indonesia as we collaborate with many local designers and brands, and we also sponsored one of the biggest fashion events in the country, Jakarta Fashion Week.
Kr: How different are these two markets?
L: In general, I see that people nowadays are more aware of the long-term impacts of every decision they make. We see a huge potential for the fashion sharing economy in both markets, thanks to the ride-hailing platforms that emerged in the past few years in the region.
However, in terms of which brands are popular, Indonesia and Singapore are slightly different. Our clothing collection in Indonesia is more localized as we work with many local designers. Indonesia is a country with rich culture and the locals are proud of it. Take batik for example. Every traditional motif or pattern has a background story that represents its place of origin. We want to keep this spirit alive and promote Indonesian heritage by collaborating with designers who have an authentic style. Meanwhile, in Singapore, we have more international brands as the locals here are more exposed to western culture. In terms of clothing preference, Singaporeans prefer dresses and formal clothing, while Indonesians are more casual.
Kr: What’s next for Style Theory? How do you see the future of your business?
L: We are confident that Style Theory could be the future of fashion. In older times, clothes were passed down from one generation to the next and often ended up as tea towels. After that, fast fashion came around, where clothing is produced for mass market retailers in response to the latest trends. Although it is seen as a more efficient way of producing clothing, fast fashion has its problems, one of which is increasing textile waste. We have to think about how to create a better fashion trend to solve that problem and lighten our environmental impact.
We’ll keep going deeper in our existing markets. We want to influence the fashion industry through our unique programs. Not long ago, we introduced a new program for the Singapore market called “Style Theory Share,” where we bring good quality clothes from users’ wardrobe to our platform, and they can get profit from that. So we’re not only renting clothes from designers, but also from customers. This way, we aspire to reduce wasted clothing. The service is still in beta phase and after the trial period in Singapore, we’ll launch it in Indonesia too.
This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind Southeast Asia’s tech startups.