Students Exchange Dresses Using New Service

UPDATED: April 24, 2012, at 7:10 p.m.

Harvard girls still looking for the perfect dress for a spring formal were in luck on Saturday when they had the opportunity to peruse a wide selection of dresses all priced at $15 at an event celebrating the launch of The Social Dresswork, a website that will allow students to rent dresses from one another throughout the year.

The rules were simple: browse the racks of dresses supplied exclusively by fellow Harvard students, find one you like and rent it for $15, and then return it to the owner by May 6. According to Laura A. Evans ’13, the founder of The Social Dresswork, the event, which was held at the Free People store in Harvard Square, was intended to serve as a pilot for an exchange process that will eventually take place online.

“What we are planning on doing at this point is having the renters go to owners’ room if they see a dress they like on the website so that they can try it on and decide whether or not they want to rent it,” Evans said. “But we understand that people have different comfort levels, so the launch party was a chance to find out how girls feel about this process and get feedback before we put up the full working program in the fall.”

According to Evans, she was inspired to create the website, along with her co-founder Ethan Barhydt ’13, when she transferred to Harvard from the University of California, Berkeley, after her freshman year and discovered that at Harvard, many clubs and organizations require formal wear for events throughout the semester.

“I didn’t want to recycle the same ones over and over,” she said. “But after I went to the store and dropped $300 on two new dresses, I thought there has to be another way to do this.”

Evans initially tested the idea for her final project in Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I.” She later become a finalist at the i3 Innovation Challenge, a program that allows student start-ups compete for project grants and incubator space.

Evans said she plans to continue to pursue the project, with hopes to expand the site to a national level.

“My goal is that this will become an online rental marketplace on every college campus in the country,” Evans said. “Right now we are hoping to create a platform so that that opportunity is available.”

Evans reached out to fellow CS50 students and i3 competitors, Merrill H. Lutsky ’15 and Erik C. Schluntz ’15, who created PollVaultr, an online survey system that Evans used to collect customer feedback at the launch party.

“It’s great to have two i3 startups collaborating like this,” Schluntz said.

According to Lutsky and Schluntz, those who attended the launch party responded fairly enthusiastically, largely reporting that they had no qualms with the idea of renting or lending dresses to strangers.

“Just knowing that the girls who would be wearing my dresses are within the Harvard community makes me feel much more comfortable,” Deirdre E. Clute ’14 said.

Others expressed excitement about the convenience the website would provide.

“I am always asking friends if I can raid their closet for events and formals,” Sara D. Li ’14 said. “Now, it is like this website does all the work for me, and everyone’s closets are in one place.”

—Staff writer Rachael E. Apfel can be reached at rachaelapfel@college.harvard.edu.

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