StyleLend’s Founder Trades High-Fashion Glamour For Startup

By Kristen V. Brown
San Francisco Chronicle.

Not long ago, Lona Duncan was crisscrossing the globe, walking the runway for Versace in Miami and modeling swimsuits in Brazil.

These days, Duncan, is more concerned with business models, as the founder of StyleLend, a Y Combinator-anointed sharing startup that helps monetize designer duds languishing in the back of well-heeled closets.

On Tuesday, StyleLend will be among the latest batch of startups to pitch investors at Y Combinator’s twice-yearly Demo Day.

Duncan is hoping her company will walk away with the startup equivalent of a gold medal — some serious seed funding.

Her other goal: to show women it’s possible to start a tech company, with or without knowing how to code.

“I thought I had no chance (at Y Combinator),” she said, “being a woman and being nontechnical.”

The basic idea behind StyleLend is to rent coveted items from another person’s closet or rent out your own.

For now, it’s limited to high-end dresses and operates exclusively out of San Francisco.

There’s an online catalog of all of the dresses available. When users find ones they like, StyleLend picks it up from the owner and delivers it.

If it fits, 10 percent of the dress’ retail price covers a weeklong rental. At the end, StyleLend picks it back up, dry cleans it and returns it to the owner. For the company’s service, it takes a 50 percent cut. Think of it like an Airbnb for clothes — or the sharing economy’s answer to online dress-rental giant Rent the Runway.

Duncan came up with the idea while on a months-long sabbatical around the globe with her husband, who is also an entrepreneur.

Wouldn’t it be more fun to, say, rent out a fashionable Parisian’s closet when in Paris than to wear the same 10 boring outfits from a suitcase for weeks on end?

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