TC: I knew Natalie’s husband ever since university and I also worked with him at one stage and so we met that way.
EF: Mary and I were the same - where I knew her husband through LARDO, and then we met all for dinner one night.When was the moment you realised you’d found your perfect match in a business partner?
TC: We came together at a time when Natalie felt at odds with the fashion industry and everything it stood for, and I’d had an incredible experience setting up the first fairtrade cotton factory in East Africa which had further spurred my interest in sustainable solutions. I did a bit of research at the time and saw this staggering trend for rental, which hadn’t yet taken off in the UK in a big way, but undoubtedly would. I took the idea to Natalie and we realised it was a match made in heaven to work together.
MM: Eliza’s energy and optimism is something I really admire, especially her drive in tackling some of the new tasks and territories we encounter along the way. It's an ongoing reminder to me as to why I feel like I have the best business partner. I realised this right from the get go really. It could have easily remained a late night campfire chinwag but it was Eliza that really kickstarted the conversation into something more.How would you describe your co-founder dynamic?
NH: We are so different! I’m the true creative, whilst Tamsin is very analytical. We are like yin and yang, bringing totally different but very complementary perspectives and skill sets to the business. Our working relationship is very precious to both of us. We learn a ton from each other every day - even if we sometimes feel like we're talking different languages!
EF: I would say that there is a definite small brush vs big brush when it comes to us. Mary is really detail focused - cutting in at the corners and ensuring a beautiful finish whereas I tend to want to paint out the room quickly to see how it looks! But I totally agree - the difference is good, absolutely, and from both of us being all over all the details since we started we are now playing to our strengths a bit more now that the direction and road map is becoming clearer.
How do you find working with your friend - were you friends to begin with or have you grown closer from working together?
NH: It's great! We were friends to begin with but we have definitely grown closer. I don’t see how you can’t when you're building something together that you both passionately believe in. Of course we have our disagreements but we always find a solution. I like having my opinion challenged by Tamsin and vice versa.
MM: I’m so with you on all of this. Biz life can be so consuming but so is the juggle of life amongst this. We’ve both had personal ups and downs along the way and having a partner that understands and really cares for you and your health/happiness first and foremost I think is pretty key.
What are the things that are similar that help you work well together vs what skills are distinctly different?
NH: It's really straightforward to know who does what as our skill set is so different. Tamsin handles opps and the investment side and I handle everything to do with brand and creative. We come together on areas such as buying when it's a combination of trend forecasting and data and we of course come together on everything to do with the overall strategy and the culture of the business that we want to build.
EF: That sounds wonderful to have it so clearly defined. Mary and I share the same value sets for sure, and the vision for the business too. As much as we currently share the marketing and planning - I do think that marketing comes so much more easily to Mary - she’s a natural!Describe your business/service in 5 words; then describe the behind the scenes of your business in 5 words
A fashion rental subscription platform / Bringing wardrobe freedom to women
Luxury personal care in cans / Elevating modern plastic-free living
Sustainability-wise, what’s one hard fact relating to your market/business that you wish EVERYONE knew?
Each year in the UK, 300,000 metric tons of textiles are binned, ending up in landfill (20%) or burnt (80%) in incinerators. The amount of material being recycled to make new clothes is less than 1%.
120 Billion pieces of personal care packaging end up in landfill every year. Most of which aren’t recycled or even recyclable. Most of it is plastic. And we’re all familiar with the fact that only 9% of all plastics have ever been recycled.
NH: We like to think we play a small role in preventing some of this happening by keeping clothes in circulation for longer.
EF: We know that people are keen to change behaviour with 69% of people this year wanting to reduce their plastic consumption but options are few and far between. By making refill & reuse an easier, nicer experience we too feel like we can make a difference in some small way
What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve learned about your industry/niche so far?
TC: Rental is the ultimate 'see now, wear now', so you get to track the national mood in a way that even fast fashion doesn't quite match. This means it is brilliant for tracking consumer trends and generating meaningful data. It's been fascinating!
EF: So cool! I think that your everyday wardrobe is great too. Not just for special occasion dressing - I’m assuming you would see more relevant data because of this, is that true?
For us I would say that although the main focus for consumers to find us are those who are looking for plastic-free alternatives, if the product isn’t great, that won’t be enough to change behaviour long-term. Us humans are a fickle bunch, whereas personal needs still overturn even the best ethical positions (not for all, but for the majority!)What’s unique about building a successful brand in 2021?
TC: I think the industry is at such an interesting and pivotal time. The last 18 months have brought a heightened awareness at a consumer level of our impact on the planet, throughout every element of our lives. You can see this shift in consumer consciousness and a sense that fashion, as we knew it, is dead. We think we’re in the right place to provide a solution to this shift in demand, to excite a love of clothes again but in a more conscious and less impactful way. It's a thrilling time, long live fashion!
MM: For sure, there is much here to apply to the beauty and the personal care industry too and the wake up call to the plastic crisis we find ourselves in. People want and expect better. We’ve certainly encountered opportunities as a result of the increased focus on hygiene, the need for innovation and the importance of adopting a more circular approach.
What does a good day at work look like?
NH: Team in a good mood, the rustling of lots of RePacks going out to happy Loaners, incredible collections wafting past on rails, the hum of a modern, positive, impactful fashion environment.
EF: Seeing loyalty in our customers, the discovery of new fans, working with people we admire, planning for exciting new things, and feeling like we are contributing in a positive way.What’s been the biggest / hardest “no” you had for your business? What’s been a memorable “yes”?
NH: I think it's always hard when a brand says that they are not ready to embark on rental yet and turn you down. This happened more in the beginning than it does now and we have worked really hard to ensure we have some of the best contemporary designers that are out there, we’re so thankful for their faith in us and their loyalty.
TC: That first round of angel investment when we knew we could actually make this a reality and let the adventure start.
EF: When we put a huge amount of effort into an Innovate UK application and didn’t get through :(.
MM: When you can harness all that hard work and apply for another grant and then be successful - it feels really great.Have there been times you’ve felt like giving up? What keeps you going?
NH: The pandemic has been rough, a bit like walking up an ashy mountain - but knowing how important rental’s proposed shift in consumer behaviour is to the fashion industry keeps me going. Tamsin’s incredible work ethic inspires me too.
MM: The word ‘overwhelm’ has got to be a bit of a word of 2021 right? What keeps us going - having a really strong belief in what we are doing and why, having a great co-founder to keep the energy levels up and help ride the waves, having an awesome support crew around us who can both challenge and remind us of what we have already achieved.In your best dream, who is enjoying your product/service, and what are they saying about it?
NH: Fashion-lovers all over the UK, who rent to bring joy to their everyday life. I have one particular vision of the cool-mum on the school run, grabbing an incredible jacket she’s loaned from us as she runs out the door. Messy unkempt hair... but a rockstar attitude deriving from that jacket.
EF: We’d love to be the go-to bathroom solution for households around the world. Some use our products for their whole personal care needs, others use us for specific things, but for it to be integrated into their daily life, effortlessly, pleasurably. For them to describe us as that, then brill :)What is your vision for Onloan / KANKAN? What are the differences between you and your competitors?
NH: We'd love Onloan to be the way (hundreds of) thousands of women across the UK and Europe enjoy fashion and we want to be an important and supportive partner to the fashion brands we represent. We see ourselves as the final frontier of fashion!
TC: Amongst the other rental start-ups, we’re uniquely focused on elevated day-wear and occasion-wear. We partner directly with our designers so that we can offer our customers a unique cross section of current collection and past season favourites.
We operate as a monthly subscription service and we've researched and calculated the average basket spend at a high-street level and positioned our price point against this allowing our customer to spend the same but elevate their purchase to a contemporary level. We see ourselves offering a new fashion category with this model and subscription as a way of changing consumer behaviour.
We manage the logistics of the business in house, which means we can offer unrivalled value and customer service to our audience. We offer free swaps, manage all cleaning and cover any damage fees.
We really get to know our loaners and respond to their needs, we want to take them and our brands with us on this new exciting rental journey
MM: We really want people to be able to live plastic free but not compromise on a luxurious product experience in the process. Ensuring that what is on the inside, our soaps, are kind (and delicious) to both people and the planet is fundamental to this.
It was key to us to find a circular material that we were confident would be indefinitely kept in use (aluminium is infinitely recyclable and 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today). We wanted a simple solution for liquid soaps for refilling and recycling from home that doesn’t require specialist waste streams or additional steps for our customers.
We want to scale KANKAN into new product areas and markets to make a greater impact. We also want to make an impact through inspiring others (we hope!) The way we collaborate with other like minded brands is part of this and key to our brand.
We want to keep innovating in this space. Bringing more circular ingredients into the products themselves, creating a bespoke dispenser negating the need to dispense from the can and to further elevate the brand experience are all very much on the horizon. Oh and subscription too, we want to continue to reward and create value and savings for our community for the collective impact made.