Ottawa-backed Toronto clothing startup opens ByWard Market showroom

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After a successful pitch on the CBC show Dragon’s Den, followed by the setback of the deal falling through, startup Rent Frock Repeat landed $1.15 million in funding led by Ottawa’s angel investment community.

RentFrockRepeat president Kristy Wieber(left) and CEO Lisa Delorme

by Alexia Naidoo

“Dragon’s Den was disappointing at the time, but there was a silver lining.We learned so much from not getting the bid about having to be creative and resourceful,” said Kristy Wieber, co-founder of the designer dress rental company, which launched its Ottawa showroom Wednesday.

Part of that resourcefulness was Ms. Wieber and her partner, Lisa Delorme, opening a pop-up shop in Ottawa in March, 2014. When new customer and angel investor Coralie Lalonde walked through the door, they were prepared to pitch. It turned out Ms. Lalonde was just the person they needed.

“I hate fashion. I don’t understand it. The busy executive wants someone to hand us a dress, tell us what shoes to wear, and what to do with our hair.” said Ms. Lalonde, CEO of Katsura Investments. “I made an appointment to get a dress but I almost cancelled it on the way. Who wants to try on dresses for an hour? But Lisa just started handing me dresses. Every single one of them was beautiful and the time flew by. I started talking to her about the business and it was such a great experience I chose to invest in it.”

Ms. Lalonde figured there were other women out there who would buy into the idea, so she reached out to her investor community, including Caroline Somers, who chairs Ottawa’s Capital Angel Network.

“Coralie phoned me up and she said you really need to look at this. Go and rent a dress and try the experience first. And sometimes that’s how investments happen – someone phones you up and says, ‘Wow, you really need to pay attention to this one,’” said Ms. Somers.

Ms. Somers added that men have had the ability to rent tuxedoes for years. It makes sense women would have the same service.

The two worked together to gather 15 investors for the company, 11 of which are from the Ottawa area.

“Ottawa was really the reason we were able to expand the business,” said Ms. Delorme, “through the community that started here.”

Opening a permanent showroom in the capital made sense for other reasons.

“Ottawa has so many events per capita. When we looked at Google Analytics and traffic to the site, number one was Toronto but number two was always Ottawa, so that told us people needed the service here,” said Ms. Delorme. “The pop-up was a great test for us to dip our toes in the water and the outcome was fantastic.”

Getting the right people to believe in their company didn’t happen overnight, but both Ms. Delorme and Ms. Wieber say tenacity paid off.

“On the days we got the ‘no’s like the one from Dragon’s Den, we called each other saying, ‘Let’s go for lunch and cry into some chocolate and then tomorrow morning we won’t feel sorry for ourselves - we’ll just move on,’” says Ms. Delorme.

While Rent Frock Repeat currently has two showrooms, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa, with a third planned for Calgary, the base of the business is online, with Web-based ordering, Skype consultations, and shipping to and from remote customers.

“This has really simplified my life,” Ms. Lalonde. “Now, I get a dress. It comes in the mail. It comes with a bag. I put the dress back in the bag the next day and hand it to Canada Post. It’s that easy.”

Organizations: Katsura Investments, Canada Post

Geographic location: Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary

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