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Starting Up in Style

By Melody Y. Guan and Brianna D. MacGregor, Crimson Staff Writers

From producing the fashion show Eleganza to promoting high fashion through the Vestis Council, Harvard students have proven that they know how to rock the world of style and couture. Three student fashion startups strive to combine students’ love of style with a desire to give back to their community.


Inspired by the belief that fashion should be accessible to all, Harvard Law School graduates Joana Florez and Bridgette L. Hylton launched their fashion business ShopRagHouse this summer. The business partners want to allow insider access to the fashion world by allowing users to submit their original clothing designs.

“ShopRagHouse is for the everyday fashion enthusiast who believes that they have something to contribute to the conversation around fashion,” said Hylton.

By opening the design floor to fledgling fashionistas, even those who don’t have a background in art or fashion, Florez and Hylton hope to make fashion more inclusive.

“Companies are being forced to be more responsive to the consumer market,” Hylton said.

The resulting start-up is an online platform that allows users to vote on the submitted designs, and the most popular sketches are transformed into samples available for purchase through the website. The designers of the winning sketches receive a 20 percent cut of the profits made from sales of their designs.

The ShopRagHouse website, which went live this fall, already has about 200 members. Over 30 designs have been submitted by users, and ShopRagHouse recently produced its first sample based on a design created by Florez and Hylton.

The duo highlighted the importance of technology as a means of conducting business.

“We really believe that tech-space is the future of retail,” said Hylton.

Using an online platform, ShopRagHouse plans to reach people all over the world. A recently submitted design came from a user based in Italy.

The two founders cite their experience at HLS, and their professors, as factors that encouraged them to found their own business.

“From the first day of law school, they were constantly encouraging people to go out into the world and think outside the box,” Florez said.

“It’s not just an in-class experience,” Hylton agreed. “The community itself breeds innovation.”

In the future, the HLS graduates would like to provide mentorship for emerging designers.

“We’ve learned so much in the couple of months that we’ve been working on [ShopRagHouse], and we think that we’d be able to offer them a lot of insight into the fashion industry,” Florez said.


Valti—a business that allows women to rent dresses from one another for formal events—started as a CS50 final project last fall.

“At the [CS50] fair there was interest from a lot of people so I thought, hey, maybe I’ll continue this after class and see how it goes,” founder Laura A. Evans ’13 said.

Working with Ethan P. Barhydt ’14, she submitted the business plan to the I3 challenge after last winter break, ended up being a finalist, and was granted advising resources that allowed her to advance her business. After working on it over the summer at the Harvard I-lab and the HSA innovation space, Evans, Barhydt, and two others launched the business this fall.

All the dresses that are being rented out on Valti are stored in a vault at HSA cleaners, with which Valti has a partnership. This makes it easier for women to pick the dresses up and ensures that each dress is dry-cleaned upon its return, Evans said.

Evans was inspired to create Valti when she transferred to Harvard from UC Berkeley and was overwhelmed with “an insane number of formal events” that required many more dresses than she owned.

“I was just repeating the same dresses over and over and I didn’t have the money to buy new ones, so I would be cool if I could rent dresses from fellow students,” she said. The people behind Valti are also on a social mission to promote women’s empowerment and size acceptance, “which are not always seen in the fashion industry,” she said.

“For every photoshoot we have real women as our models. So far they have all been Harvard students,” said Evans. “We’re trying to emphasize diversity.”


Marjorie Lacombe ’13, founder and president of i like fall, started the company last October as a personal endeavor to get rid of leftover clothes.“They were great clothes that other people would wear,” Lacombe said. To display the clothing to potential buyers, she made a website.

After putting up 40 items the first week and selling them quickly, she realized that a lot of other students could benefit from this, by both selling and buying clothing.

After working on the business over the summer and this semester, Lacombe has resold over 200 garments, shoes, and accessories through i like fall. The sellers get 90 percent of the profit.“We’ve also expanded to focus on improving local community initiatives,” Lacombe said.The organization has partnered with Rosie’s Lace, a women’s shelter in Boston, and donates all unsold items at the end of the semester. Like Valti, i like fall also challenges the beauty standards set by the fashion industry, through photography and media campaigns, LaCombe said.

“We have women of different colors, of different shapes, and different sizes…who are modeling our clothes and our items just to question how fashion is portraying women.”

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