Kelsey Doorey ’07, a seven-time bridesmaid, knows all too well that the excitement of celebrating a friend’s wedding often comes with a high financial cost. But the wedding industry entrepreneur is trying to change that — one bridal party at a time — with Vow To Be Chic, the online bridesmaid dress rental company she founded to make the bridesmaid experience easier and less expensive.
“You’re usually a bridesmaid when you’re in your 20s, right out of college — you don’t have a lot of disposable income,” says Doorey. “You really want to be there for your friends but it’s a very expensive process.” In fact, the entire wedding process is becoming more expensive each year. From 2014 to 2015 the average wedding cost jumped from $31,213 to $32,641, according to The Knot’s annual Real Weddings survey. And in November 2015, PR Newswire reported that bridesmaids spend an average of $1,695 to be in a wedding, with $234 of that going to the dress. Vow To Be Chic’s rentals start at $50.
To use the site, a bride picks out a dress or a selection of dresses she wants her bridesmaids to wear. The bridesmaids send in their measurements and Vow To Be Chic mails the bridesmaid two sizes of the bride’s chosen dress to try on. After the wedding, bridesmaids mail back the dresses in a prepaid return package, and they are cleaned and then shipped to the next batch of bridesmaids. Says Doorey, “I’m a millennial; I’m used to online shopping; I like things that are super easy. That hasn’t really been an option in the bridal industry, so for me it was important to take this industry that was, for the most part, offline, and bring it online.”
Doorey says the idea for the dress rental site came to her after seeing the ease and affordability of the tuxedo rental process. “Look at the men’s side,” she says. “They’ve been renting tuxes for decades and saving all this money, while women have been wasting hundreds of dollars on a dress they’ll never wear again.”
A psychology major with a concentration in behavioral economics, Doorey went on to study at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. She earned an M.B.A. in 2013 soon after winning the $15,000 top prize in the school’s prestigious Knapp Venture Competition for her business plan for Vow To Be Chic. After that win, she decided to devote herself to making the business real.
The Santa Monica-based company houses thousands of dresses in a range of sizes and is searchable by designer, fabric, color, cut and price. Doorey says she works extensively with designers to stock their most-popular dresses (what she calls “a curated collection of the best of the best”) so that brides can select dresses that are for sale in traditional bridal stores as well as several dresses that aren’t, like a dusty blue Jenny Yoo number that Doorey says the designer created specifically for the site.
Sophia Lin ’07, an angel investor in the company who has known Doorey since they shared economics classes at the College, says, “It’s an industry that’s continuing to grow, and Kelsey’s on top of all the fast-moving trends that go along with it. You know that when you rent a dress from her it’s going to be completely on-trend.”
Adds Lin, “For me, investing was a no-brainer because the business has great management, it has a great team and it’s filling a hole in the market.”
The market has responded positively: Doorey reports the site has grown 45 percent month over month for the past year (the company officially opened to the public in January 2015). When the site soft-launched in March 2015, it was featured on Yahoo!’s front page on March 14, which drove 25,000 users to sign up in one day. By the end of that week, 40,000 new users had joined, while Doorey was still a staff of one (the team has since grown to 15 full-time employees). The site has also expanded its offerings beyond bridesmaid dresses and now rents white dresses for brides and sells wedding accessories.
Doorey, who interned with a wedding planner while at the College, says that she had always wanted to start a business, but that being a part of the bridal industry is especially gratifying. “We’re so lucky because we work with weddings,” she says. “It’s just such a fun part of someone’s life to be involved with.”
— Anne-Ryan Heatwole JRN’09
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.