HAUS GUESTS: THE FOUNDERS OF THE ROTATION
When Zach Podbela asked Barron Roth to help him "dress better," Roth loaned him pieces from his own curated collection. Now they're taking the shared closet to scale with a luxury and designer streetwear rental service featuring both emerging and powerhouse brands, including Comme des Garçons, Off-White, Stüssy, Fear of God, and more.
In 2018, the dodgeball teammates-turned-cofounders spent a week coding the Rotation in Zach’s parents house and launched the first BETA of the site experience with friends and family. By Spring, their site was fully built out, showcasing potential closet options scraped from major sites like SSENSE and Bloomingdales. They went where the people wanted them to go: members could flag styles they were interested in, and Podbela and Roth would purchase the most in-demand pieces for them to rent.
Today, The Rotation offers easy, streamlined access to an extensive and tastefully curated designer wardrobe for a fraction of the price of buying retail or resale. It's SEO-friendly tagline is "Men's Rent the Runway for Streetwear," but Podbela and Roth believe they're offering something beyond - almost transcending - the clothes themselves.
I wouldn’t describe the online clothing rental market as “oversaturated” just yet, but there are enough options to cater to every user, from the option to rent from luxury designers to sensible wardrobes curated for teachers - unless you identify as a guy, in which case the range of straightforward services available to you dwindles.
You guys challenge the stigma men have against the word “rental” since, as you said, “no one wants to appear broke,” by calling The Rotation a “shared closet” instead. Can you talk a little bit more about how you identified and thought about that stigma, and how early conversations with potential users shaped how The Rotation marketed this service as a “shared closet?”
Zayn Fostock (CEO) : When you think about the history of rental for all things, not just clothing, there’s always been an adoption period for people to feel comfortable renting something they’d traditionally buy. I remember when people first heard of Uber - everyone thought ‘getting in a stranger’s car? no thanks.’ It’s always been up to the service to educate people on why it’s the future of doing things. For us, we’ve found that positioning the platform as a curated, shared closet aligns well with the recognition our brands hold in the market and spotlights the luxury vibe we’re striving for. Since we cultivate individual relationships with each of our members, it’s only fitting that the platform reflect the personal stylist aesthetic through the ‘shared closet’ moniker.
It’s always been up to the service to educate people on why it’s the future of doing things.
One of the main value propositions of any sharing economy is sustainability - specifically by reducing waste, especially among products with a faster-moving lifecycle like fashion. While that’s a feature of The Rotation, it’s also not something as aggressively marketed here as it is by other similar services. Why is that? Do you see this as an opportunity for education among your users?
Zayn Fostock: Sustainability is extremely important to us at The Rotation. Today, the growth of fast fashion has amounted to so much more waste and a much shorter lifespan for clothing. We offer a solution for this global problem with a circular ecosystem that keeps clothes in use longer, while at the same time investing in 100%-compostable shipping materials and exploring brands that up-cycle unused fabrics and create sustainably-focused materials.
What are your sustainability goals for the future of The Rotation?
Zayn Fostock: There’s so much more room for us to grow - looking forward we’re planning to implement zero-emission courier delivery options and a donation fund to ethically retire clothes past their prime.
I love that you see the behavioral shift towards an investment “in experiences, not things” as a tailwind for shared streetwear, rather than a challenge. How does streetwear become an experience, rather than a product?
Zayn Fostock: Fashion has always been inextricably linked to the cultural events that surround it - streetwear is no exception. Now more than ever, designers are the artist, spokesperson and model for their own vision. Consumers who look up to designers like Jerry Lorenzo and Virgil Abloh want to feel apart of the community they have grown to worldwide adoption. That community feeling can be visceral and highly contagious.
In addition to curating a catalog of options, how does The Rotation lower barriers to entry for people interested in, but not yet entirely familiar with, streetwear? Why is it important to include and convert the curious outsiders, rather than exclusively cater to fully-fledged hypebeasts?
Zayn Fostock: Curiosity and experimentation are at the heart of The Rotation. From the ground up, we wanted to make a platform that makes it a joy to experiment with new brands and styles without the fear of buyer’s remorse. While there’s still a place for the hypebeasts that know exactly what they’re looking for, The Rotation is, at its core, a discovery platform for anyone and everyone to expand their style and cultural influences.
The Rotation can also serve as a platform to elevate and connect users to new brands. What are you looking for in compelling, emerging brands? What’s most striking about new designers?
Zayn Fostock: The most unique aspect to The Rotation is our eclectic mix of both household names and emerging designers. In fact, our members get the most out of The Rotation when they explore the new designers we offer - we provide detailed bios for each brand on our website and dig even deeper with our ‘drop’ emails and social marketing initiatives. It’s our job to convince members to try out something new, which is most effective when there’s a story to tell - not just having cool clothes. Each of the brands we onboard have to have a distinctive voice and clear vision - whether that be sustainability, cultural awareness or artistic exploration, the brands on The Rotation each have something distinctive to bring to our catalog.
What’s something that has surprised you about the way people are using your service?
Zayn Fostock: It’s been really cool to see members take our concept a step further and incorporate the closet into their own creative ventures. As an example, we’ve seen members rent exclusively to style models for a fashion shoot. It’s been so gratifying to hear that we were able to cut production budgets by allowing members to sustainably rent designer pieces for one, two days at a time. Not only does it strengthen the content they’re creating, it also provides free exposure for the brands they’re wearing.
Join The Rotation here