Walking into The Fitzroy‘s Dundas West location in Toronto feels like walking into your best-dressed best friend’s closet; it’s warm, it’s inviting, it’s fun, and it’s filled with all of the things that you wish were in your own closet at home. The best part of this closet, however, is that it’s open to everyone, and there’s always a great dress (or more!) in your size, that you’re bound to love, and are welcome to borrow, or rather, rent.
With the rise of fast fashion brands, the majority of us have fallen victim to buying into the vicious cycle of disposable clothing. Now, thanks to the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, the longevity of one piece of clothing’s lifetime in your closet has been cut down even further. Not sure what we mean? Just think about it: Ten years ago no one would have known if you had worn the same dress to two different weddings in a row, but now, with images flooding feeds within seconds of being taken, it’s significantly more challenging to recycle a great outfit even more than once.
This is why I love that the owners of The Fitzroy recognized this issue, listened to their customers, and completely pivoted their business to accommodate what has now lead them to a bigger, better and more successful business model. Being open to change is a huge part of life as an entrepreneur and business owner which is why I’m so excited to share the amazing story of my lovely and talented friends, Angela and Julie of The Fitzroy. Keep reading to meet them!
Business Name: The Fitzroy (Dress Rental Magic)
Name & Title: Co-Founders and Owners: Angela Pastor & Julie Buczkowski
Location: Toronto–born and raised!
Education: U of T & Western
Edit Seven:Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Fitzroy: We make magic and play dress up! We really are the luckiest. Every day we get to meet amazing women from all over Toronto and beyond, women from all walks of life who come to us because they have a special event coming up and don’t want to buy yet another one-wear item. We listen to their needs and help style them in the perfect dress from our curated collection of rental dream dresses! It’s a super fun all-day dress-up party every day!
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
Fitzroy: We started out back in 2011 as a retail pop-up business selling cute clothes from mostly Australian lines. We were both super inspired by our travels (and living in different places around the world) and we wanted to bring in lines you couldn’t really find in Toronto back then. At our last pop-up shop we decided to test out renting dresses due to customer feedback (saying they would only wear certain pieces once) and frequent requests to borrow dresses. When we saw customers coming back again and again for the rentals and lining up to try them on, we knew we had an idea and decided to open a permanent dress rental studio.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
Fitzroy: We feel so grateful for the opportunity to make women feel amazing, special, beautiful and confident. It’s what drives us to work harder and keeps us going through the tougher days. We also love that we’re making a small impact on the environment by reusing dresses and extending their lives.
E7: What makes your business special?
Fitzroy: The fact that we provide an alternative option for women besides fast fashion and wasteful over-consumption. We have curated a collection of designer dream dresses from all over the world that women can access and wear whenever they need to without having to own. We truly believe that the sharing economy is the future, and that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice killer style to participate in it. You get to have variety without the waste and the price tag. Win, win, win!
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
Fitzroy: You really have to listen to what your customers want, and go above and beyond to make sure you’re providing it for them, adding value to their lives in some way. Otherwise what’s the point? What we love so much are the countless relationships we’ve formed with so many amazing women we’ve met through Fitzroy. Toronto has an incredible community of strong badass successful women and we are proud and honoured to dress them.
E7: Your business originally started as an online store that didn’t focus on dress rentals. Tell us about that start, and how/why you transitioned and evolved into what you do now?
Fitzroy: We transitioned because we noticed a shift in terms of what people wanted to spend money on, and fancy dresses that they only wanted to wear one time (once Instagram came around) made us realize we should be renting these items, not selling them. Unique dresses by their very nature do not need to be owned, only worn. We also felt like we wanted to be part of the solution and create a business with a sustainable impact that we genuinely believed in. The way our customers reacted so strongly to the idea from the get-go let us know we’d made the right choice and gave us the confidence to end the retail side of our business and move into full time rentals back in the Fall of 2016. Since then our business has grown exponentially and we haven’t looked back.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
Fitzroy: Do your research. Test everything you do before jumping in. We started off as a pop-up shop (for years!) testing the market, different areas of town, getting to know our “Fitzroy Girl” and what exactly she was coming to us for. When we started the rental program we tested it first to see if it had legs, and what types of dresses people wanted to rent. Test test test. But definitely just get started, even if it’s just little by little. Testing is what helps you figure it all out.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
Fitzroy: That rentals would be the future! LOL.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the retail and rental business to prepare for?
Fitzroy: Change and competition is a constant in the retail (and now the rental) industry. While it’s important to watch the industry and competitors, focusing on what makes your business shine and excel are key to standing out and rising above.
E7: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from changing your business model?
Fitzroy: Logistics is a major part of our business and not something we had had any training or background in, so it was a learning process and a challenge at first for sure. There’s a lot more work involved than with our former business, but a lot more reward as well.
E7: What advice would you give to another entrepreneur who is interested in (or needs to) change their business model?
Fitzroy: Look at what your customers keep coming to you for. What is it that makes you special, sets you apart, what is it that customers keep requesting … we think the answers to those questions are where you should focus your efforts. Narrow down to the most important products or services and make those the most amazing, or as we say magical, offerings you have.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
Fitzroy: Our customers sending us photos, comments and positive feedback keep us motivated and inspire us to do our best work for sure. For balance, we always try to exercise and eat right as much as possible. Try to slow down and spend time with friends and family as much as possible. See also: white wine and pizza.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
Fitzroy: Badass Boss babes who are revolutionizing their industries and coming up with incredible new business ideas that benefit other women. Audrey Gelman (The Wing), and Maryellis Bunn (Museum of Ice Cream) to name a few. Locally here in Toronto we look up to the countless amazing women running their own ships and not taking any shit from anybody.
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
Fitzroy: Ange: running, cat cuddles, Seinfeld re-runs, white wine in bed. Jules: gratefulness & positivity always, green tea lattes, forcing cuddles on my two year old, did we say white wine?
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
Fitzroy: Real women who are killing it in their respective industries. Travel continues to inspire us as well as film, music, art and design, and all the creative entrepreneurs out there bringing the hustle.
E7: What’s next for Fitzroy? Any plans for expansion or new services?
Fitzroy: We are growing like crazy! More dresses and bags are coming in every week, we will have coat rentals starting in Fall, and we will eventually be looking for a bigger location to house it all and be able to accommodate more people! We are also (hopefully) looking to expand to a second physical location beyond Toronto (as we currently ship to clients all over Canada but would love for them to be able to come in and try on the dresses like our Toronto girls can).
E7: Who is the Fitzroy client and why should they visit your studio?
Fitzroy: The Fitzroy girl is someone who has her own unique style and wants to feel great in what she’s wearing. She wants a variety of options but doesn’t want to waste money to get those options. She’s a hardworking boss babe who is smart, fun and knows where to go to find interesting items and have unique experiences.
She should visit because she will find something special, something that no one else is wearing and she wants to have that magical experience of walking into a dream closet, trying on a bunch of beautiful pieces and walking out feeling like a badass Cinderella.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)