Meet Isabella West: The Female Tech Entrepreneur Under 30 Launching An Industry-Leading Fashion Rental Company

Isabella West

Zoa is the UK’s first ‘white label’ fashion rental software, it can power any brand in the world of rental – from start up’s who want to be circular in their fashion offering, to established retailers who want to increase revenues by renting returned, or un-sold stock.

Zoa can be thought of as a ‘Shopify for sharing’. Shopify powers over 120,000 retailers – giving brands an easy way to start selling their products. Zoa does exactly the same but for rental. We also offer optional integrated warehousing, dry-cleaning and fulfilment through our partner.

From January 2021, any British brand looking to trial rental can do so without any up-front cost or risk – they can simply focus on the important parts like educating the customer about the importance of sustainability.
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How did you come up with the idea for the company?

Before Zoa, I launched Hirestreet, one of the UK’s first fashion rental platforms. I know from experience that one of the biggest barriers to launching a successful fashion rental business is the technology. Over the first 18 months of Hirestreet we trialled solutions on both WordPress and Shopify, taking their basic e-commerce plug-ins and trying to adapt them for rental. As demand grew, it was quickly apparent that this wasn’t a viable, long-term technical solution.

20 months ago we started building our own bespoke website. Using our knowledge of the limitations of existing software solutions, we built a platform that is optimised for fashion rental. The first version of the site was launched 12 months later, in March 2020.

Just as we launched our bespoke rental platform, Covid19 struck the UK. Many retailers suffered from issues relating to excess stock and consumers began asking more questions around the sustainability practices of many of their favourite brands. Rental solves these problems for retailers by giving brands a sustainable channel to utilise excess, un-sold or returned stock and attracting new, young and loyal customers.

As a business, we stopped thinking ‘brand first’ and started thinking ‘industry first’ – modifying our technology so that others could use it too. We have always believed rental has a key role to play in the future of British fashion – but our role in the sharing economy has now shifted to be a facilitator rather than just a participant.


What advice would you give to other aspiring female entrepreneurs?

At the very start of my rental journey, I went to a VC with the idea, I was told ‘my wife likes this idea’ but that no one would want to invest in a sole founding female who was my age (25) – because I was too much of a risk. Going forward, I spent months searching for a male co-founder, ultimately to be told by the incredibly talented guys I was interviewing that I didn’t need them, that I should, and could do this on my own.

My confidence was initially knocked, time was wasted, but I learnt a lesson – don’t let society (or anyone!) tell you what you can and can’t do. If you believe in your idea, then you’ll find a way to make it happen. My funding experience forced me to spend longer than I would have liked working at the initial Minimum Viable Product stage, but ultimately this was where I learnt the most. I had to be so resilient, so scrappy, so involved with every aspect of the business – that it has shaped how I run the business today.

The other key lesson I have learnt is to always have a plan A, B, C, and D. Never leave yourself with just one option – it’s very difficult to be objective if you don’t have a set of good alternative actions to consider.

What can we hope to see from Zoa in the future?

We are starting our rental software journey in fashion because it is an area we know. We understand what features most enhance conversion because we have tested them all under our own brand. But Zoa is designed to be headless – this means it can plug into any existing technical solution and power circularity.

There are many industries that could become more circular. We have seen some incredible rental start-ups over the past year – you can now hire everything from art, tableware and ski wear to babywear and furniture – just to name a few! Our role is to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs or brand strategists to automatically include rental as part of their core consumer offering – whatever the industry.