Marie-Philip Simard worked for a large Montreal law firm before ditching her lucrative career and starting a business based on an initial observation: Outfits for young professionals were expensive. That was how Chic Marie started in January of 2015—as a rental service for designer clothing.
Each month, subscribers receive up to three boxes containing three clothing items they selected online. After the items have been worn, they can return them by mail in the box. The clothing is sourced from Quebec, American and European designers.
« I started without asking myself a lot of questions first,” recalls Marie-Philip Simard. “People who knew me were surprised to see me quit my job as a lawyer, but I felt restricted as an employee. I prefer being my own boss. »
In the same way that Airbnb and Communauto first carved out the collaborative economy niche, Chic Marie got started in clothing rental at an opportune time. “Millennials have no concerns about sharing clothing,” emphasizes the entrepreneur.
However, in the beginning, Chic Marie did not experience the rapid rise its founder had hoped for. Just before the company’s first anniversary, Marie-Philip picked up the phone and called 500 clients to understand how she might be able to improve the quality of her services. After these consultations, she decided to lower of $40 the monthly subscription fee and change the inventory of clothing offered in order to better conform to young women’s expectations and to enlarge her offering. “We had too much business clothing when people are increasingly dressing more casually to go to work,” she explained.
Chic Marie’s new direction
Leaving the suits behind immediately showed results, since Chic Marie recorded an average growth of 30% last year. The startup presently employs 10 people and just expanded its rental service with about a hundred different accessories—items ranging from jewellery to scarves, hats and sunglasses.
To better respond to her clients’ requests, maternity and plus-size clothing may soon find their way into Chic Marie boxes.
In the meantime, the company will be tackling the American market this fall. A warehouse will be opened in New Hampshire or New Jersey to serve six cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Plus, the number of designers offered will increase from 40 to 120 in order to enrich the range of clothing available.
AI stylists are on the horizon
Marie-Philip is counting on the originality of her idea to make the company a success—her concept has no equivalent south of the border—but also on artificial intelligence (AI). Chic Marie is currently collaborating with Concordia University and the National Research Council of Canada to incorporate AI into its online service.
By looking at clients’ past clothing choices as well as their activity on social networks, the company hopes to better understand clients’ personalities and tastes in order to send them an unexpected surprise box full of items they will like. “Some clients are so busy they don’t have time to visit our website and make a selection,” explains Marie-Philip. “With AI, we will also be able to make suggestions that are outside of their usual choices, just like a stylist would.”
The more clients provide feedback on the AI-recommended clothing, the more the AI is able to develop its intelligence. With time, it should be able to identify clients’ expectations 80% of the time after only three boxes of shipments.
While this tool is still in its testing phase, Marie-Philip is already thinking of going further. “Montreal is becoming a leader in AI,” she states. “We have the resources to apply to retail, but at the moment this area remains under-exploited.”
Chic Marie in numbers
- 92: Percentage of user retention
- Between 70 and 100: Average number of boxes sent every day
- $500,000: The value of the clothing and accessory inventory in Canadian dollars