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“If I told you it was an idea on the back of a napkin would you believe me?” asks Julia Gudish Kreiger, founder and CEO of VillageLuxe, the two-year-old high-end fashion lending platform with a waitlist of nearly 20,000.
Rather than splurge on high-end pieces, VillageLuxe users, or ‘Luxers’, can use the app or website to borrow designer clothing, shoes and accessories directly from an exclusive list of lenders ranging from fashion insiders like Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine to every day trendsetters.
“We’re bringing friendship and sustainability to high-end fashion – unlocking your closet and connecting a sisterhood of luxury consumers to discover, explore, borrow, lend, and ‘luxe’ directly from each other,” said Gudish Kreiger.
We sat down with the entrepreneur, 28, to find out more.
CT: Where did the idea for Village Luxe come from?
JGK: After graduating from Harvard, I spent five years working in venture capital. I got exposed to the early days of the shared economy and the rapid growth of marketplaces – what makes them tick, succeed, fail, etc. The idea was, ‘if we’re sleeping in each other’s beds and driving in each other’s cars, what is the next major investment to be disrupted by the shared economy? Where else do women spend their money?’ That’s really what sparked the vision for VillageLuxe. From there, it was time to idealize, envision and build the ultimate luxury-palooza.
CT: What incentivises people to open up their closets to others?
JGK: Our “Luxers” are some of the coolest to the most chic luxury shoppers – but they recognize they can physically enjoy only a few pieces at a time. They lend out everything from one-of-a-kind to their most coveted items or even right off the runway pieces. It’s their choice who they lend to, so profile details are huge. More often than not, lenders use the credit they earn from lending to borrow pieces themselves, or in some instances, to help fund that next great piece. We’re a bit like a virtual, luxury version of that incredible rotation hanger of clothes at the dry cleaner.
CT: What have been some of the most pivotal moments along the way?
JGK: Every day feels like a pivotal moment lately! There’s so much to create and build. Our lean team today wears so many hats and we’re in a constant sprint, which feels exciting and has cardio benefits.
But pivotal moments along the way? When I get to announce the incredible partners who have come on board either to invest or as critical advisors. Or when someone like hair mogul Sally Hershberger described VillageLuxe as “not about lending my clothes, but being a part of a clan of smart, creative and cool women”. Or, when one of our lenders, Emily, told us her Gucci Dionysus bag paid for itself several times over.
Mainly, when I hear the stories of women connecting and becoming friends over what started as a mutual love for feathered Louboutins and or shared size. These are the moments when I know we’re creating some real magic and that is pivotal.
CT: What were some of the crucial lessons you’ve learned?
JGK: Do your research but trust your gut. Stick to your principles even when it’s not convenient. Carve out time to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. The more centered you are as a CEO, the better you can infuse goodness and strength into your conversations with your team, your partners, your investors, your business. Oh, and be prepared – chances are everything will likely either cost more and or take longer than you previously imagined!
CT: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your own business?
JGK: Entrepreneurship is a real journey. It’s a process. You learn, grow, evolve, make mistakes, rinse and repeat. Anything worth creating doesn’t come easily. And that makes it all the more worthwhile.
I’m also a firm believer in hard work, positive energy, and the universe manifesting things when you are ready for it. I would tell my former self to not sweat the small rejections – those early investors that didn’t “get it,” and to remember that if you believe in what you are doing and put in the work to get there, the most incredible people – investors, partners, staff will come your way. And they have. And damn does that feels good.
CT: How much of an impact, if any, has being a woman made on your career and business path?
JGK: Honestly, I think it’s empowering to be a woman in business. There’s a revolution underway. [It’s amazing to know that] the more noise we make as female founders, the more we inspire the next generation of female leaders. Personally, it’s made me a stronger. And a more vocal person as well to become, out of necessity, comfortable as often the only woman in the room, referring back to my venture capital days, and surprisingly still, in C-suite circles. But it’s changing! As much as there are incredible men who have launched and led incredible brands or business, each year, each month, there are more and more women following the entrepreneurial path. It’s up to us to support, advocate and empower each other.
CT: What do your consider your proudest achievement?
JGK: I’m a Harvard dork at heart, so forgive me, but making the Forbes 30 Under 30 definitely ranks at the “lifelong dream” level for me. I’m so humbled to have joined the ranks this year alongside such incredible entrepreneurs and innovators.
That being said, honestly my proudest achievement is really being happy with the person I’ve become, and am on the path to becoming. I wake up excited to create a platform that connects a global community of amazing luxury shoppers, women who invest in themselves and in turn, want to share this with other women. My CMO and I have a mantra: Kicking ass with kindness! I’ve been lucky to have surrounded myself with a team that also feels all tides rise together. We want to be a positive beacon as both a tech and fashion company by empowering women everywhere to share, borrow, and feel good. In turn, that has to start with me and it is a constant journey.
CT: What role have mentors and community played in your entrepreneurial journey?
JGK: It really takes a village! I’m learning to get better at asking for help, which doesn’t come naturally to me. But each time I’ve leaned on my mentors or community of entrepreneurs for advice, they’ve blown it out of the park whether it’s their approach or challenge to make me think different, etc. Humility is such an important piece of entrepreneurship. We can always learn more from the experiences of others. That for me is the greater mindset that leads to becoming the best version of yourself. I’m so thankful for the mentors and community that has supported my leap into the daring unknown that is entrepreneurship. And I hope to shine a light to make that path all the less daunting for the next girl with big dreams.