• Simonne Santana.
    Simonne Santana.

The luxury fashion sector endured its fair share of hits during the global financial crisis. But the picture wasn't so grim for fashion leasing providers. Love Me and Leave Me director Simonne Santana believes business is good.

I have always loved designer fashion but could never afford it. I would flick through fashion magazines or walk past a boutique and fall in love with a Chanel or a Louis - only to be crushed when I saw the price. Everything I loved was out of reach and I found it frustrating.

I began developing a concept which would give fashion conscious females throughout Australia access to formerly unattainable premium fashion. After much brainstorming, in late 2005 the Love Me & Leave Me business model dawned on me.

As I explored the fashion leasing concept, I discovered similar businesses operating in the UK and the USA. This gave me more confidence that the business model would work locally.

Just over a year later, Love Me & Leave Me launched. As it stands today - three years later - it is the only online fashion leasing service where members can borrow the latest handbags, accessories, jewellery and dresses and have them delivered to their door, anywhere in Australia and New Zealand. I have watched my business move from a mere concept to a successful online business offering.

But it wasn't easy. In the beginning, my biggest task was to educate consumers, to make them understand that there was an alternative to regular retail. The first year was tough. No one really understood the notion of "borrowing" fashion. We were the only concept of our kind operating in Australia so there were no guidelines to follow or local business models to copy.

We had to get our name out there, explain to people who and what we were about. Thankfully, we managed to do this successfully through PR. Even today, PR continues to be instrumental in our success. Two years in, the Sex and the City movie was released - who could forget Carrie's assistant and her Louis Vuitton rental! This feature in the film not only introduced the concept to mainstream, but also gave it credit. Since then, we have gone from strength to strength.

While everyone was preparing themselves for doom and gloom because of the GFC, my business thrived. We experienced record member intakes and rental orders. It seemed that consumers were not prepared to sacrifice luxury, but rather, find another way of having it without the associated guilt and debt.

It can be hard to please everyone all the time. This kind of business model requires a lot of stock and the stock we carry comes with a high price tag. It can be difficult to keep up with demand, especially in the case of all things Chanel! In saying this, the success of our rental business has aided us in launching an associated e-Boutique through the website. Now, people can not only borrow designer items from Love me & Leave Me, they can also buy it outright online.

Because of the online nature of my business, there have been many operational advantages. I can monitor business activity from anywhere in the world, I'm not responsible for huge overheads and the world can be my customer. Soon, I will sell to selected countries through our e-Boutique. While selling internationally can be beneficial for business, it can also be risky. Online businesses have to make allowances for fraud and implement procedures to combat it effectively - not an easy task.

As 2010 approaches, I am excited by what the new year will bring. I believe my business will continue to grow and diversify which will stem from our newly re-vamped site, global distribution and ongoing personal service.

What are your thoughts on fashion leasing? Do you believe it's a source of competition to traditional retail operators?

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