Interview: Jennifer Lee Of ClosetDash

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash/Erin Nicole Brown Photography

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash/Erin Nicole Brown Photography

If you've been reading TFTT for a while now, you probably already know that I'm a huge fan of ClosetDash. The fashion start-up offers shoppers a way to swap or shop for secondhand items both online and at its Manhattan-based showroom, and also hosts various swap parties and other events throughout the year.  (You can read more about ClosetDash's easy swap process, and my own swap party experience in this post!) I revisited the showroom last week to chat with ClosetDash founder Jennifer Lee about her pre-start-up days at Wall Street, the ClosetDash golden rule and why swapping is ready to sweep the nation.

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash

Q: I'm fascinated by your career transition from Wall Street to the founding of your own fashion start-up. Are there any experiences or skills from your Wall Street days that you think have helped shape your entrepreneurial success? 

A: Whenever people think Wall Street or finance, a lot of people think it's all one thing, but it's totally different--it's actually such a broad spectrum of jobs. I worked as a salesperson and also on the trading floor, which is night and day from the investment banking world. And it was surprisingly very entrepreneurial. As a salesperson you're responsible for building your own client book, maintaining clients and getting them to transact with the bank. And the number-one skill you need as an entrepreneur is to be a salesperson. If you can't sell your company to people and your employees and really get them to love what you're doing and what the company's about, then it's going to be really tough. On the trading side, you're given a certain amount by the bank, but every single trader is evaluated on their own skills and performance at the end of the day, so you're really kind of managing a business at that point. Fashion is definitely a different industry, but I'm kind of doing the same kind of thing that I did on the trading floor, except I'm trading clothes instead of money or bonds. It's not as complicated mathematically, but we're still providing a service for people, and we're kind of like the middleman between two people clearing their closets. The two people bringing their pieces in don't know each other, so we're sort of like the central market for them.

Q: What inspired you to make that move into fashion? 

A: The thing I love the most about working in fashion and this industry is that it's a lot of women and it's female-focused. And I was craving that. I've been working with men for the past eight years! And it's not easy. Although I think my personality fits very well with [Wall Street], at the same time it's kind of exhausting. And to be working around women and making sure I hire women, it's been so awesome and so much fun, because I can finally be myself and not have to play the game.

Q: One thing I really love about ClosetDash is that you pretty much accept any clothing as long as it’s in great condition. Why was it important to you to create an all-inclusive environment rather than one driven by trend, season or label?

A: It really comes down to our motto and our mission, which is that we’re about community, we’re about sharing and ultimately about no boundaries. Why would we discriminate based on brand or style? It shouldn’t matter because at the end of the day, it’ll find a good home somewhere. Everybody’s different and we celebrate that here. We’re not trying to be uber-snobby fashionistas. But the reason that we just have really high quality standards on pieces is because of what we call the ClosetDash Golden Rule: Swap unto others as you would want to swap for yourself.

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash

Photo courtesy of ClosetDash

Q: So since launching last year, how have you seen the ClosetDash swap community grow and develop? Have you gotten positive feedback from people who maybe have never swapped or even shopped secondhand before?

A: It’s not really that surprising, but not many people know about swapping. There are some very small groups of people who know what swapping is, but they tend to stay in their own group. So I like to believe that we have actually started to spread the word about swapping, not just in New York, but across the country. We have swappers that are swapping with us online, who are coming all the way from California or Oregon. I’m getting in touch with someone from Montreal next week because she found out about us and loves that we do this. So just seeing that growth and educating people about this new way to shop, that’s been really cool to see.

Q: What swapping habits have you noticed among your shoppers?

A: There’s definitely more swapping during the seasonal changes, because obviously everyone’s trying to clean out their closets. The general trend is that people bring in way more than they take, mainly because they’re just trying to get rid of stuff. And they love the fact that we offer an alternative to donating and give them the opportunity to get something really cool. You can swap a ton of stuff and get one really, really nice item. There was one girl that brought in tons of stuff and then she just ended up leaving with some nude Manolo Blahniks, and she was just so happy. It’s a win-win.

Q: What's is the key takeaway you want shoppers to get out of the ClosetDash experience?

A: Our overall mission here is to seriously change the way everyone in the country shops. We want people to realize that swapping is the new shopping, and that you can have an awesome wardrobe but be sustainable at the same time. And there are just all these awesome benefits that come with swapping, beyond the sustainability. There are also the community benefits--you get to meet cool people when you swap, and it’s very social and sharing-driven. And you can get awesome finds for next to nothing!

 Want to see some of Jennifer's favorites from the ClosetDash showroom?

Check out the slideshow below!