This article originally appeared in Women in Retail Leadership Circle's (WIRLC) e-newsletter, Inner Circle. WIRLC is the sister brand of Total Retail.
Meet Jen Forman, the founder and CEO of Charlotte’s Closet, an online platform where teens can borrow designer dresses for every occasion at a fraction of the retail cost. Jen is the subject of our latest installment of the Inner Circle Q&A!
When yet another party invitation arrived for her young daughter, Charlotte, Jen dreaded the idea of buying a dress she knew her daughter most likely would only wear once. After months searching for a buying alternative for this young and fashion-forward target, and guided by the belief that every girl deserves the opportunity to feel and look spectacular, Jen founded Charlotte’s Closet, the first-to-market online destination where teens can borrow designer dresses for all occasions, including prom, sweet 16’s, sorority formals, bat mitzvahs, the ultimate party guest, and everything in-between at up to 75 percent off the retail price. The brand is on a mission to empower young women to rock their most important occasions with confidence in a new look at an affordable price. Since its launch in March 2016, Charlotte’s Closet has successfully dressed thousands of girls in 48 states and continues to garner satisfied clients daily. In the end, it’s about owning the memory and not the dress.
Melissa Campanelli: Tell me about your professional background.
Jen Forman: I was a public relations executive for more than 25 years with a focus on media relations. This background helped me to launch Charlotte’s Closet, where I used my media contacts to test the teen rental concept by appearing on national and local broadcast outlets to talk about ways to save on teen fashion, especially at prom season. The concept resonated with both producers and viewers, and helped put our brand on the map.
MC: How does Charlotte’s Closet work? What’s the value proposition?
JF: Charlotte’s Closet is the go-to destination providing teens with access to borrow designer dresses for all of their special events at up to 75 percent off retail. Teens can easily shop online from more than 30 brands and 500 styles; they choose one size and we will include a second size free as backup to ensure the perfect fit. Customers can also try dresses on before they commitwell in advance of their event through our popular home try-on service, which allows them to try up to three dresses at home for a small fee. Once they choose their rental, we’ll even apply part of the home try-on fee towards their order. Either way, customers rent it, rock it and return it. Charlotte’s Closet also handles the dry cleaning and offers free returns.
MC: What was the reason you started Charlotte’s Closet? What was the white space you saw a need to fill?
JF: Charlotte’s Closet was born out of a personal need and void in the marketplace when my then tween daughter Charlotte was entering her first party circuit as a bar/bat mitzvah guest and requested a new dress for each event. As a working parent with little free time and knowing my daughter would most likely wear that dress once (having no use for it after she snapped her social media pic!), buying a new look for each event wasn’t a realistic option. With my public relations background, I began the immediate search for a buying alternative for this fashionable, savvy yet untapped Gen Z set. Finding no options, I created the solution with Charlotte’s Closet. Our brand truly addresses the pain points of teen shopping, which include being expensive, time consuming and, most importantly, wasteful. Charlotte’s Closet is on a mission to empower teens to rock their most important occasions in a new look at an affordable price. It starts with a dress, but our message of empowerment goes much deeper.
MC: How do you promote and market your products and brand? Do you work with influencers or use any other social media tactics? Any brand partnerships?
JF: We reach our target audience through digital, social media and public relations efforts. We believe our TrueCCgirls (how we affectionately refer to our clients) are our influencers and stars in their communities, and we’re working on a plan to further engage new users. We’re also working on a number of strategic partnerships, including a recent effort with The Black Tux, a men’s fashion company specializing in the online tuxedo and suit rental industry, around prom season to further engage users.
MC: What advice would you give to women thinking about starting their own businesses, or at least side hustles?
JF: Go for it! Although launching a startup is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, it’s also one of the most rewarding. If you’re truly passionate about something, my advice is to get up every day and keep moving forward. Make your dreams a reality. There’s no greater feeling!
MC: What’s next for Charlotte’s Closet? What are your goals for 2019 and beyond?
JF: We’re proud to say that since launch in March 2016, our brand ships on-trend fashions to teens in 48 states. Although Charlotte’s Closet is a digitally native brand, we believe there’s a need for a brick-and-mortar extension to bring our unique shopping experience offline. Therefore, we’re working on a partnership with a leading mall operator to launch our first brick-and-mortar experience in the coming months.