Borrowing Magnolia is an Atlanta startup disrupting the wedding dress industry. Ashley Steele, Cali Brutz, and Stephanie Olvey are veteran entrepreneurs of the wedding industry who have seen it develop over the years and recognized the need for innovation in how women approach getting their wedding dress. Borrowing Magnolia allows brides-to-be to try on and rent dresses for their upcoming weddings and allows past brides to turn their old dresses into assets. These three women place a strong emphasis on inspiring people to think critically about what we accept as the status quo that guides Borrowing Magnolia. The site launched a little over two weeks ago, with over 200 dresses and plans to expand that to 800 by the end of this year.
What’s the story of Borrowing Magnolia?
We are all entrepreneurs who have been in the wedding industry for the past several years. We’ve had the opportunity to get to know modern brides and we’re noticing that the wedding industry in general is changing. It used to be an heirloom industry where people would pay a lot of money for things and save them all: archive their invitations, put their wedding dresses in boxes in the attic, have their bridal portrait hanging in their parents’ home. That’s changing a lot. You can see with the popularity of things like Pinterest and rise of DIY that people are much more focused on personalizing their wedding day, making it about the experience, and making sure it reflects themselves and their relationship.
We’ve seen changes across the wedding industry to accommodate the new modern bride, but we haven’t really seen many changes when it comes to the wedding dress. Your only options are to still go to a traditional bridal boutique and pay a ton of money for the experience, or to purchase a used gown online which can totally take the experience out of it. You’re looking at bad pictures and you’re having to correspond with the dress owners—the logistics can be crazy. The three of us just realized that there was a real need in the marketplace. You can give modern brides the real hands-on, white glove experience of looking for her wedding dress, but do it in way that’s she’s able to be budget-conscious and still wear the dress that reflects her and her style. Through our experience talking with a lot of brides, the idea was born.
What have been the most rewarding and difficult parts of creating Borrowing Magnolia?
Stephanie Olvey: One of the most rewarding things is interacting with these dress owners who have these dresses hanging in their closets. Working with them to turn that dress into an asset that can make money for them is really exciting and you can tell that they’re really excited. I think the challenging thing is that all these dresses are really different: they all have different fabric, they all have different, everyone had different weddings when they wore the wore the dress. Just learning about the different intricacies of all the gowns so that we can make sure they’re in the best possible condition is a challenge, but it is exciting to learn all the different nuances of each gown on a personal level.
Cali Brutz: One of the most rewarding things has been starting somewhere and having an idea that is almost 100% in your head come to life and have a product that you can interact with. We actually launched our website July 1st and so to see the changing product after it has only been a figment of your imagination for so long has been pretty incredible.
Ashley Steele: What I found to be a really exciting part of the process is that we’ve had this idea; we’ve had these conversations with brides and know that this is a real need. This is something women are looking for and to have it go live and have all these people who are so interested and who are saying the same thing—“Wow! This is a really revolutionary idea, look at the wedding dress”—has been really exciting. At the same time, I think that presents a set of challenges. We are doing something disruptive in the wedding industry. We are doing something a little bit different, so educating people about what that looks like and what their options are now that this is out there is the challenge.
What is your vision for Borrowing Magnolia?
Stephanie: Create a vibrant concierge service that offers women everywhere a chance to get into their dream dresses without blowing their budget. We’re really looking to create a way for women to wear beautiful, high quality dresses in ways that haven’t previously existed.
Ashley: Our big vision is that brides will think about renting one of our dresses as a first option when they think about getting a wedding dress. The international community has let us know that in other countries, renting or borrowing a wedding dress is a really standard practice. We’re looking forward to bringing the idea to the United States and letting people know that they can wear their dream designer dress without spending all of their money knowing that this is a first line option for them.
What are your whys and how does Borrowing Magnolia fit?
Stephanie: I am a huge fan of giving people access. I think luxury is wonderful and I think everyone should be able to experience it. I’m a really frugal person. I’m very practical with my money, so I get really excited about concepts that allow me to still experience those really luxurious treats and feel special at a lower price. For me, this is very much in line with how I see life. It’s really inspiring to me to see a bride-to-be—maybe she’s practical, maybe she’s eco-conscious or maybe she just has a really small budget—get really excited about her wedding dress, to feel gorgeous to feel beautiful.
Ashley: One of the things that I really care about is encouraging women to think out of the box—to create whether it’s a life or a wedding or a working arrangement that works well for them. With our other business, we offer flex hours to all of our women employees. The 3 of us are all young women entrepreneurs, which is something we really care about, but we also care about our personal lives and our families and living a life we’re really passionate about. Borrowing Magnolia is just another example of that—another example of how women can think outside the box and don’t have to be tied to the traditional ideas of what it means to buy a wedding dress or have a wedding in order to have the experience that they’re really dreaming about.
Cali: I feel very strongly that people should always be thinking critically about their purchasing decisions and their roles as consumers. People should not be doing something just because it’s the way that it has been done for a long time. With Borrowing Magnolia, we thought that people are buying wedding dresses and spending thousands of dollars on wedding dresses in a way that has been done for a really long time even though it’s failing to make a lot sense anymore for a lot of women. Borrowing Magnolia is our answer to step in and shake that up a little.
This piece is from pear-a-digms, a thought leadership blog focused on cultivating a culture of connected productivity entrepreneurs, students, business professionals, business owners, and everyone in between.
The Author: Kristine Santos. Entrepreneur. Anthropologist. Writer. Runs social media and blogging for Atlanta-based startup PEAR’d, a virtual collaboration ecosystem for entrepreneurs. A vegetarian who’s learning how to sew and wants to know all about your startup. Let’s talk on Twitter@PEARdUP
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