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Female Disruptors: Sarah Perkins is shaking up how people buy clothes

Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else — you have to believe your work and your actions come from the right place.


“Approve of yourself.” My father says this to me often. I can be really hard on myself and need to remember that if I’m trying my best and have my heart in the right place, then I need to approve of myself. This is also helpful to remember if you’re ever dealing with someone who is putting you down! Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else — you have to believe your work and your actions come from the right place.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Perkins, the CEO and co-founder of DesignerShare (designershare.com). DesignerShare is a community that allows women to rent their designer clothing and accessories to one another (think of it like an Airbnb for a designer wardrobe!). Perkins, 27, is a former lifestyle editor and journalist, with a degree in marketing from Santa Clara University and her Master’s in journalism from DePaul University. DesignerShare is her first entrepreneurial venture.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I grew up about 30 miles north of Chicago in a small town, and always loved fashion, writing and adventuring to new places. I was able to meld my passions in my career after school, becoming a member of the lifestyle journalism community in Chicago. Thanks to fate, I teamed up with my longtime family friend Bill Meyer to start DesignerShare, my next step towards promoting new ways to integrate fashion into anyone’s lifestyle!

Why did you found your company?

Keeping up appearances is incredibly hard, especially for women. We are expected to look great all the time, keeping up with trends, and the everlasting fear of being “caught” in the same thing more than once — and now with social media, there’s documentation of that on the Internet. Because of this need to change up our wardrobes often, women naturally bond over sharing clothing and accessories with one another. I was doing this in college with my friends, and didn’t realize I could monetize the process and make further fashion friends through a model like we’ve built for DesignerShare!

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

DesignerShare’s mission is to make the fashion playing field even for all women — giving them the chance to wear high-quality pieces they might not otherwise be able to afford, while also giving them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs from their own closets with looks they aren’t wearing all the time. We see ourselves playing an integral role in the sharing economy and how fashion will be integrated into people’s lifestyles in the future — the concept of ownership is changing rapidly, from homes, to cars, to now, fashion. We also are proud that our model helps with the deep environmental issues of the fashion industry — instead of buying fast fashion pieces that end up in landfills quickly, we promote the reuse and recycling of high-end pieces that will last for a much longer time and be used more often.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

I’m really lucky to have such an incredibly supportive set of parents — they have always instilled balance, hard work and kindness in my brother and me. Entrepreneurism runs in my family, and I’m inspired by the work my grandparents have done — all of them have had their own businesses. I’m also very lucky to have great mentors in the female founder space in Chicago, including Genevieve Thiers, the founder of SitterCity.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We’ve just relaunched our website (as of August 1, 2018!), and have added some great new features that make us a true marketplace, like a review system, the ability to see lender’s wardrobes, and subscription services! We are always listening to our users and trying to give them a better user experience.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “Remember when to put down the pencil.” This was a favorite phrase of my grandpa’s. He was an architect, and he would mean this literally and figuratively. You have to know when to step away from your work and give your mind a break. It will be there when you come back to it!
  2. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This is a classic one, and very hard for entrepreneurs to follow! I think we all want explosive growth and we want it NOW. So patience is definitely a virtue, and you have to remember it doesn’t all happen overnight. Overnight can be a longer time for you than others.
  3. “Approve of yourself.” My father says this to me often. I can be really hard on myself and need to remember that if I’m trying my best and have my heart in the right place, then I need to approve of myself. This is also helpful to remember if you’re ever dealing with someone who is putting you down! Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else — you have to believe your work and your actions come from the right place.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

I love the podcasts “How I Built This” and “Masters of Scale.” Listening to the stories of related businesses, like Airbnb and Rent The Runway, have given our team so much inspiration how to conduct our marketing, create a better user experience, and how we’re going to become the next billion dollar business! It’s also nice to hear the “real” stories, too — there are so many moments it can be easy to compare yourself to what you “think” your journey should be like, and it’s nice to hear that there are times of struggle for everyone!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

That is such a hard question! I admire so many strong, successful individuals. The one person I’ll have to choose is Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures. She seems incredibly smart and humble, and wrote me such a nice “no” email when I pitched to her (based on too close of a concept of another portfolio company) that I knew she was someone I would like to get to know better! Some people ignore you, just say “nope not a good fit” (which I still appreciate), or have even really dragged me across the coals, but she made me feel like I could still keep in touch.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

DesignerShare is on Facebook, Instagram (@designershare) and Twitter (designershare_).

My personal handle for Instagram and Twitter is @perky_chi! Always repping Chicago :).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity! I really appreciate it.

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