If you have ever been a bridesmaid, you know how much fun it can be to be included in a wedding party, but you also understand the often significant financial obligations that come with the honor. And speaking of costs, let’s be honest: bridesmaids never wear those expensive dresses ever again!
Delaware native Kelsey Doorey has already done the bridesmaid walk eight times and says close to half of her friends aren’t even engaged yet. The possibility of appearing aside another few blushing bride friends in gold taffeta presents a daunting – and expensive – prospect.
So the Brandywine High (’03) and UCLA business school grad decided to turn this perennial twenty-something challenge into an opportunity and in 2015 launched a bridal industry first: designer bridesmaid dress rentals at a fraction of their retail cost.
Her ecommerce business – Vow To Be Chic – carries 13,000 dresses by top bridal designers, including luxury style dresses, a line of little white numbers for pre-wedding festivities, and even fashionable options for the mother of the bride. Every dress rents for under $100.
Think of it as a Rent the Runway for bridesmaids. In fact, Kelsey worked at Rent the Runway when that business was just getting off the ground. “They were the first ones doing rental. So, it was a great useful experience.” Doorey also did some wedding planning earlier in her career.
But the inspiration for her new business came with her first bridesmaid “proposal” from her good friend while they were still undergrads at Columbia University. Thoughts of the expenses began swirling in her mind.
“I knew that after the wedding I would tuck away the bridesmaid dress at the back of my closet and probably never wear it again. And that’s when I thought – men have been renting tuxes forever. So I asked myself, why aren’t women enjoying the same advantage?”
The wedding industry is a $100+ billion dollar business and every bridesmaid will spend on average $1,600 to take part in their friend’s special day. Doorey saw pent up demand for the solution she now offers.
She launched the business in 2015 and now has 30 employees working full time at their headquarters in Santa Monica as they strive to outfit today’s millennial brides who want their dream wedding that doesn’t cost their friends a fortune.
“It’s kind of a win-win. In the end they’re both happy,” said Doorey.
With designer dresses that typically retail at $300 or more renting between $69 and $99, Vow To Be Chic has dressed “tens of thousands of women” and says they have already saved consumers $5 million. They have shipped product to every state in the US, including many brides here in Delaware.
When Sarah Meany Tunell began planning her for her October 2017 wedding at the Granogue Estate, she looked for bridesmaid dresses in stores before discovering Vowtobechic.com. “Having seen the prices and selection on Vow, there was no question that I would be renting my bridesmaids dresses. Vow To Be Chic had pretty much the same dress selection and colors as in a bridal store for about half the cost!”
While each of her bridesmaids wore the same color full-length gown by the same designer, her bridesmaids got to choose the style they liked the most.
And what to do if the dresses need to be hemmed? Vow To Be Chic offers a “Great Fit Guaranteed” policy, and typically two dress sizes are delivered per customer a few weeks prior to the wedding.
Tunell says sizing wasn’t an issue for her friends because dresses come in a choice of ‘long’ or ‘regular.’ And if the sizes delivered aren’t quite right, customers can call Vow To Be Chic to request a better size.
With few bridal stores in Delaware, the process of shopping from a huge selection online generated more options and helped save time for Tunell and her friends.
“It doesn’t matter where you live – you can still access a designer dress, and it can still be affordable,” said Doorey. Customers also have the option to purchase their dresses.
“Honestly, I would highly recommend Vow to any brides,” said Tunell. “My bridesmaids not only loved the price and easiness of shopping, but they loved the dresses, too!”
Launching a business is never easy. But Doorey did her homework by determining which styles her customers would want most and making sure she could meet demand.
One third of her business comes from just three styles. And while she carries 15 designers, 80 percent of her business comes from just three. “We asked designers what were their best sellers and amazingly they were really forthcoming, because we’re helping them grow their business.”
Michael Phelps and Nicole Johnson’s wedding…
The concept of helping friends have their dream weddings without sacrificing on the bridesmaid dress is something that’s caught on even with celebrities. Last year Vow To Be Chic dressed Michael Phelps’ wedding and also found a dress for his mother. And they’ve dressed three groups of bridesmaids from “The Bachelor” franchise.
Doorey’s young company is meeting demand and exceeding many of her own key performance indicators. While she says she is still in the conceptual awareness stage, Doorey is thinking big and knows how far her enterprise can go the more people hear about Vow To Be Chic.
“David’s Bridal is the largest player in the bridal space right now. We want to be the biggest player by focusing on millennial brides and bridesmaids and what they want – online shipping, shipped to your door, saving money, and a choice to rent or buy the dress.”