HERMES, FENDI, GUCCI - YOU WANT IT? SHE’S GOT IT AND SHE’S SHARING

JANET MANDELL: ENTREPRENEUR

Most of us will never in our lifetime own a Birkin. I still do not. In fact, most people may never know what it feels like to slip on Chanel or slide into some Dior stilettos. Luxury designer pieces are expensive because they are in fact - art! The are crafted with every detail in mind and made of only the finest materials. But just because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to feel like the queen that you are. Okay??! My Naked guest this week, Janet Mandell, had the brilliant idea of starting her own high-end luxury and couture designer clothing rental service. And WOW. All I can say is HOME-FRICKIN-RUN!! One day a blogger - her husband meanwhile owned a construction company - and now they’re running their own Chicago-based business sharing their massive inventory with fashion addicts all over the country. They’re now servicing celebrities and their stylists… and who knows, maybe you too? Enjoy my chat with the owner of BY:FASHIONAHOLIC! Love, Catt

ByFashionaholic.com

ByFashionaholic.com

Catt:
At the core your business is really about how you can make your customers feel like royalty even if they are not. What first sparked the business idea?

Janet:
I thought to myself one day, why hasn’t anyone started a rental service in high-end luxury and the couture designer clothing market? If that type of service were available, I would be their best customer, especially since I always buy and then feel so guilty afterward. Like why did I just do that? It became an addiction. So, we took a risk and just went for it and honestly, sometimes that’s all it takes. I believed this could change people’s minds about the way they shop designer clothing without breaking the bank.

C:
You were a blogger first. Did you feel the pressure of finding fabulous outfits to wear on a budget? Was that a struggle ever?

J:
As a blogger, it was so hard to mix high and low. I didn’t do well with that. For me, it was all low or all high. My followers had a hard time relating to my crazy outfits. I take big risks in fashion. That’s just who I am. I didn’t care about what others thought and always wore what I loved and what I felt good in. 

C:
When you were growing up, what did fashion mean to you? Was it important? Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?

J:
I grew up with a mother who never stepped out without a scarf around her neck, Chanel ballet slippers and red lips. She was always dressed to the nines and loved to accessorize. She has a room just dedicated to her St. John separates (ha! That was a thing back in the ’90s). I truly believe I was born to be in fashion. I worked at fashion boutiques during high school so I could buy clothes whenever I wanted. I was the one that wore a multi-color chiffon blouse with hot pink tights and a hot pink skirt every day to school. Style and fashion were what I lived for. My immigrant parents told me they would disown me if I thought about pursuing design school. So, I listened to them and went to college and studied finance but never gave up on my dream to be in fashion one day.

My inventory started from my closet and then expanded into sizes from 0-12. I love to shop – can’t you tell? I curate all of my pieces here in the showroom. Half my day is spent on shopping and searching for one-of-a-kind runway pieces or for vintage collections from the early ‘90s. People tell me I have a great eye and, to me, that’s my best asset. I buy knowing my customers will love it. I don’t need to love it as much as my customers do. It’s all about them and making them feel special and princess-like.

ByFashionaholic.com

ByFashionaholic.com

C:
Did you even think you needed to be in LA or NY to start the business? Why is Chicago such a special place?

J:
We actually didn’t think about LA or NYC until after we opened in Chicago. Chicago is our home, and it was easy for us to start here. I also believe Chicago needs something like this more than LA or NYC. We are a big city but are still in the Midwest. Fashion is a work in progress. There are lots of fashionable and inspiring women here and they like to be educated on what works and what doesn’t. 

C:
How do you attain your inventory - You have endless beautiful things? Do you shop for them or do people now find you?
When choosing your inventory, what is your policy? Like are there certain designers only? You range from vintage to new, correct? Why is that important? Are most of your clients already familiar with luxury brands or are you introducing a while new audience to some of these finer pieces?

J:
When I buy my inventory I buy for my clients, but I also buy items that you wouldn’t necessarily want to invest like 4 grand in - like for a studded or embellished one-of-a-kind dress. It’s about access and if you can’t access that over-the-top dress, then you come to our showroom. We carry macro designers like Fendi, Gucci, Chanel, and Hermes. However, we do inventory high-end emerging designers with price points from $1500 and up like Isabel Marant, Zimmerman, and Alessandra Rich. Vintage is important to us because it really sets us apart from other rental services in our industry. We dress a handful of major celebrities, and this is really what they are looking for. We invest a ton of capital on vintage. A Gucci dress by Tom Ford from 1992 may cost $4500 or more. It just depends on the year and designer. The new unknown up-and-coming designers do not do well for us. My clients can go buy a dress for $500. 

ByFashionaholic.com

ByFashionaholic.com

C:
What does it mean to you to see such gorgeous clothes, shoes and accessories make such a difference in how a person feels when they get dressed?

J:
To us, when we see our customers find that perfect look head-to-toe, they are on cloud nine. They come in with a sad, stressed feeling and leave relieved and happy to find that perfect outfit. We all know as women that the pressure of finding that perfect dress is everything. It’s a tremendous amount of stress – trust me, I have tons to choose from and it’s still mentally exhausting. 

C:
How critical to your business is it to have celebrities or influencers wear things from BY:FASHIONAHOLIC?

J:
Dressing celebrities has elevated our business. For whatever reason, people have a negative association with the word “rental” in the luxury clothing market. We have flipped that notion on its head with celebrities wearing our clothes. It validates us as a company and as a brand, especially because we are a start-up and in our first year of business. We are also the only company with designers like Chanel and Hermes in ready-to-wear clothing for rental. Our inventory is sought out by celebrity stylists because it gives them the access that they might not have with the fashion houses, especially with the one-of-a-kind runway pieces and with vintage.

C:
Your husband has left his construction business behind to start this venture with you. You were a blogger. What did it take for you to make the leap and why was the timing right?

J:
My husband left his family business in demolition, which he helped build and manage. His father and uncle started the business back in the ‘50s. He worked there for over 30 years. But he was done and wanted out. The timing was perfect! He sold his shares and we started BY:FASHIONAHOLIC. We didn’t know where we were headed next, but I truly believe everything happens for a reason. My husband always says, “I invested in you! I believe in your dream.” I built my network and community as a blogger so I am very thankful for everyone that I have met through the years and for their support. 

ByFashionaholic.com

ByFashionaholic.com

C:
What are you three favorite pieces in your entire collection right now?

J:
My favorite is this purple/lavender high-low tulle Oscar de la Renta dress that reminds me of the “Sex in the City” dress that Carrie wore running in the middle of NYC streets. My other favorite is the Chanel Lego statement bag that I have in black and white with Swarovski crystal embedded. And a final favorite is this one-of-a-kind Saint Laurent black velvet one shoulder crystal embellished dress. 

C:
For others in the business of fashion, what key components are important for success?

J:
For anyone starting their own business, one important thing to remember is balance and patience. Everyone can work hard if they really want something, but the hardest part is balancing your lifestyle, family and having patience. Most people are so focused on growing their business and making money that they forget it takes time and a lot of work to start your own company and to keep pushing. We all have dreams and goals, but without having a good plan in place and without balancing your mind and taking care of yourself first, it’s hard to follow your passion. Listening and being a team player is also crucial to our business. We don’t know everything and you have to team for a reason: to help you grow and succeed. 

C:
Who are your fashion icons?

J:
My fashion icons are Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Bianca Jagger and Diana Ross, but my mom is also my icon. 

C:
Anything else you’d like to share?

J:
This is how our service works: you get to rent a handmade piece of couture or one of the world’s most covetable handbags – like a Birkin – for seven days. It’s yours – dress like you own it! Our clients not only get access to this one of a kind closet, but they also become part of the BY:FASHIONAHOLIC family.


ByFashionaholic.com
BY:FASHIONAHOLIC’s Instagram: @byfashionaholic
Janet’s Instagram: @janetmandell

Catt Sadler