Website that rents luxury accessories takes off in Hong Kong

If your glamour budget doesn't stretch to the tens of thousands, a site that rents high-end accessories might be right up your street, writes P. Ramakrishnan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 12:11am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 12:11am

It isn't a novel idea, but it's a good one: a website that offers luxury designer bags for rent at a fraction of their retail price. launched in November and is the secret of savvy sartorialists, local celebrities (or their stylists) who use it to pick up rare baubles such as the Swarovski Dragon Minaudière by Judith Leiber (retail price around HK$33,000) for HK$627 per day. Others include a dual-beaded leather clutch from Valentino that usually retails for about HK$20,770 but can be rented for a mere HK$395 per day or HK$2,405 per week.

The owners of these glamorous accessories are fashion purveyor Bobo Rok, model and celebrity Rosemary Vandenbroucke and Tim Kau, a businessman with a hi-tech backgound.

Having seen a similar site in New York (and more notably in the film Sex and the City, which name-dropped the site Bag Borrow or Steal and nearly broke it with a click avalanche), co-founder Bobo Rok says: "When we first launched, we thought why isn't there a similar site and why hasn't anyone done this in Hong Kong?"

The company's office and storage unit in Kennedy Town houses a breathtaking array of accessories from Chanel, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Elisabeth Koch and enough other emblematic labels to make any fashionista salivate.

Their Judith Leiber assembly is a prized collection in itself. "Leiber stopped making bags in 1998 and there are only 50,000 bags in the world she herself made. When we buy rare pieces online, we've found ourselves competing with the House of Leiber, which is buying back pieces for a museum retrospective in New York," says Rok.

But do the brands frown on this "borrow, don't buy" platform? "Hardly," says Vandenbroucke. "We are not cutting into their market - we are helping these brands, educating our audiences and manually curating this collection. We buy the bags at full cost. We are showcasing the fine 'it' bags - the most trendy and seasonal bags for the consumer - for them to try it out. If they want to buy it, they can."

"It's like test driving a Ferrari," says Rok. "Guys do that all the time. Look at a site like net-a-porter, an online portal which sees 40 per cent returns. People try [something], but if they don't like it they return it. When the site stopped the return policy, the trial option, they saw a dramatic drop in overall sales. We've seen that ladies who particularly like a piece will go out and buy their own after trying it out."

Vandenbroucke says: "We buy unique pieces from the fashion houses and they are aware of it. We even collaborate with brands that are perhaps not as well known and they are using this site as a platform to launch their brand into Hong Kong or Asia."

European fashion houses clearly like their business, as Rok has been invited to Paris to speak at the Luxury Conference.

"Hong Kong might have not have been savvy in fashion a decade ago but ... now consumers are well versed. They are looking for the experience, not just the brand and logo. It's educational for our audience as well as the suppliers," she says.

"Initially, people came to the site as they were attracted by the brand names. But designers they are not familiar with, such as the many brilliant European brands who don't have the advertising budget of a Louis Vuitton or Dior, want to expand into Asia. They have beautiful designs and quality to match the deluxe brands. And a banner on a site is a fraction of the cost of a billboard."

The biggest surprise they've seen? "The mighty pink dollar," says Rok. "I never expected men to come and rent clutches. With my past in the mining industry, the fashionably fabulous wanting to rent clutches or request 'murses' [men's purses] has been a pleasant surprise. They've requested a men's line. That's something we will have to expand into - clearly, there's a demand for it."

Indeed, expansion plans are ongoing. "We already have hats, jewellery is next and we've opened an office in Shanghai," says Vandenbroucke.

Kau continues: "Hong Kong is our home base and we will actively expand more product lines here. We are also soon to launch in major cities in China. The great part about spreading our vision of trying new fashion is that it's a global concept and not limited to one place."

With fashion's ever-changing trends and a constant need for the new, the trio need to keep stock of what's in style and sell stock that is no longer considered the 'it' bag or accessory. "The other surprise is once people have been photographed with a particular bag or accessory, they won't be seen wearing it again," Rok says.

Surely you mean the celebrities in tabloids?

"No. Everybody. We're in the era of Instagram, everybody is a celebrity who's been photographed and 'selfied' - and no one wants to be seen wearing the same thing on their own account. It's a new online world out there."

[email protected]