Dressr rents out curated collections by local independent designers on a subscription basis, creating a sustainable and affordable alternative to fast fashion. As founder Caroline Baeten explains, Dressr understands that diversity and inclusion (D&I) makes fashion companies stronger. Odisee University graduate Neilly Ngwe used Dressr as a case study for her bachelor’s thesis on D&I in fashion, giving her even more insight into how fashion startups can pave the way to a more diverse and inclusive industry.
Cultivating diversity from Day One
D&I is extremely important within the company, explains Caroline. “It used to be very intuition-based. I wasn’t very aware of the difference between diversity and inclusion within a company.” Neilly was working on a bachelor’s in business management. After working for Dressr as a digital marketing intern, she based her final thesis on the integration of D&I in the workforce of the fashion startup. “Neilly helped determine our D&I strategy within the company,” says Caroline.
For Dressr, diversity has always been focused on bringing in people with different backgrounds. “I knew it led to better results,” says Caroline. “I mean different backgrounds in various senses: education and training, age, gender…everything that can differentiate one’s view on the world. During her MBA study Caroline noticed that having 12 different nationalities in her class led to interesting insights. “So I did that from the beginning with Dressr, bringing people together. From Day One we didn’t have a Belgian, but really an international character.”
Over the last years, Caroline has invited people to bring fresh perspectives to help her concept evolve. Seven MBA students from across the world came to work with her full-time for a month. One of her first partners was Christy Chan from Hong Kong, and she did great research on the Chinese market. “I could have never done that myself,” she says. “You also have to speak the language to do research like that.” Having a cultural and linguistic edge serves fashion companies well. “Ycloset was one of the biggest rental companies in the world,” says Caroline, citing the Beijing-based company that shut its doors last year. “That’s because they mastered the language.”
For the time being, Dressr is active only in Belgium. “The complex thing about Dressr is that we had hundreds of decisions to make before we launched,” says Caroline. “All those little decisions are based on global research, and then we had to see how that aligned with the needs of the European market.” The startup doesn’t plan to stay within Belgium’s borders for long, however. “We do all our comms in English because we want to be accessible to everyone,” Caroline explains. “We can only stay in business if we scale quickly: this business model doesn’t work if you stay local. Belgium just happens to be our first market.”
Caroline observes that the fashion industry is stronger in promoting diversity in areas where it is visible. “You have this huge B2C side of the industry,” she says. “While in B2B, diversity ends up being pushed to the background more quickly. That’s being looked at more critically now. I think the fashion industry has the potential to play a leading role when it comes to diversity, but we have a long way to go. ” As both a B2B and B2C startup, Dressr wants to help transform the industry on both sides.
A community based on diversity
Although Neilly concluded that Dressr had a strong focus on D&I, she provided recommendations on how to take D&I further that Caroline is incorporating. This included rewriting vacancies and web copy to make language more inclusive, recruiting interns from more diverse schools, and incorporating D&I into their onboarding process, among several other steps.
Communities like Start it Accelerate can play an important role in helping startups gain awareness of how to build D&I. Caroline joined the Start it @KBC training on D&I together with Neilly. “Startups have the tendency to start too late with D&I,” Caroline learned. “That is a mistake: D&I is important from the first hire. If your first hire looks like you demographically, that sets the tone for subsequent hires.” The Academy trainers, Aleria Research, provided startups with a practical toolkit on building D&I into their DNA.
Having the support of a startup community can make a difference for young companies trying to build on diversity, observes Neilly. She finished her thesis with this optimistic thought: “If more startups work together with Start it @KBC and use the necessary tools to be more diverse and inclusive, it will lead to a diverse and inclusive ecosystem of companies in Belgium.”
The Academy trainers, Aleria Research, provided startups with a practical toolkit on building D&I into their DNA. Having the support of a startup community can make a difference for young companies trying to build on diversity, observes Neilly. She finished her thesis with this optimistic thought: “If more startups work together with Start it @KBC and use the necessary tools to be more diverse and inclusive, it will lead to a diverse and inclusive ecosystem of companies in Belgium.”
Want to know more about how Start it Accelerate provides resources to help startups create an inclusive workplace and build diversity into their DNA? Check out our diversity and inclusion webpage.