Eshita Kabra-Davies: how the former investment analyst is changing the face of fashion

Eshita Kabra-Davies: how the former investment analyst is changing the face of fashion

Founder and CEO of By Rotation, discusses her background working in finance, and how she used her love for fashion and technology to launch the world's first social fashion rental site.

Phoebe Sennett

Eshita Kabra-Davis

We first saw Eshita speaking live on stage at the FT Next Gen Summit in London. Very much at home under the bright lights, Eshita is effortlessly stylish and completely inspirational; it's easy to see how she has quickly become the nation's favourite fashion founder.  Whilst we at the LYPN like to keep one eye on fashion, it was the way Eshita described her career change that meant we had to speak to her. Switching from a steady career as an investment analyst to life as an entrepreneur was not without its challenges, but Eshita had found her calling. Her willingness to take the leap into the unknown has (our words not hers) been an unmitigated success. By Rotation is setting the pace in an ever-growing fashion rental economy and Eshita herself has been recognised by the likes of Vogue, Forbes and Vanity Fair. You can see why we were so excited to catch up with her.

Eshita, thank you so much for speaking to us. Why don’t we start by telling our readers a little about you?

My name is Eshita Kabra-Davies and I’m the founder and CEO of By Rotation, the UK’s first fashion rental app. A self-proclaimed “third culture kid”, I was born in Rajasthan, India, grew up in Singapore, move to the US and UK for higher education and eventually started my career in asset management! While the first 7 years of my career were very corporate, I am now on my entrepreneurial journey as the Founder and CEO of By Rotation, the world’s first social network for fashion rental!

With a background in finance, our readers would love to hear more about how you got into the field of fashion? Tell us more about why you decided on a career-change, and any challenges you may have faced along the way.

I was born in India, where we celebrate colour, dress in elaborate clothing for countless festivals and worship Mother Nature. And I grew up in Singapore, where our national hobby is shopping. In school, we were repeatedly taught the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and were made to feel guilty about wasting water (until recently, Singapore bought most of its water). I now live in the United Kingdom, where people are mostly fashion-conscious and increasingly turning up the volume on the climate crisis (note: Extinction Rebellion). We have also embraced sharing concepts such as Uber, Airbnb and even hotels because no hotel linen or towels were made just for you, so why not fashion?

And that’s when I truly began to consider my actions and attitude towards my love for fashion. I returned home to London feeling compelled to change and bring about change. The concept of fashion rental was no longer about accessing designer fashion at affordable prices: I did not want to create a system that encouraged more mindless fashion consumption with no sequences, I wanted to create a self-sustaining community in which people could share what they already owned with each other.

I have found the fashion industry to be difficult to navigate at times, due to its traditional and less diverse approach - it was quite a culture shock as an outsider. The financial services industry is all about merit, rather than who you know and where you grew up etc. Nevertheless, I’ve found my tribe and people who believe in an inclusive and accessible concept for all!

What advice would you give to other young professionals wanting to do the same?

An entrepreneur holds a position of privilege and power - and COVID-19 especially has made it abundantly clear how broken today’s world can be. I hope for entrepreneurs (including myself) that we lead with purpose beyond financial success; that we think carefully about how and why our business will positively impact generations to come. Also, all that glitters isn’t gold - it’s a tough journey and tenacity is the most important trait you’ll need as a founder, less so passion (everyone is passionate about something!)

What was the inspiration behind your start-up, By Rotation, which is making waves in the sustainable fashion space?

I was inspired to create By Rotation after experiencing an all-too-common first-world problem when planning my honeymoon to my motherland Rajasthan, India: what to wear. After researching the global fashion rental landscape and discovering the impacts of textile waste in my own hometown, I set out to create a self-sustaining community of fashion lovers who could rotate what they owned with each other. It was important for me from day one to create an inclusive community and to make it all about the regular consumers (as opposed to fashion insiders) - given my own experiences as a "third culture kid" (India, Singapore, US and UK) and having a career in a completely unrelated profession (investment management).  By Rotation takes fashion rental many steps further - from sharing and rotating your wardrobe with our community, you become much more mindful of your consumption.

It may surprise some readers to know that the fashion industry is the second most polluting on earth. What role do you think users of By Rotation’s can play, by making more environmentally-conscious fashion choices?

With the rise of fast fashion due to competitive pricing and the “wear once” mindset, the amount of clothing we consume has doubled over the last 15 years and 30% of our garments haven't been worn in over a year. The same textile production industry produces approximately 1.2 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent per year, more than the aviation and shipping industries combined.

I believe that the benefits of sharing over owning are clear:

Utilisation: Increasing utilisation of existing items (we love the 30 wears rule!)

Waste: Decreasing whim-filled shopping and borrowing instead

Space: An optimal wardrobe which values quality and statement pieces

Cost: A more cost-effective approach to a new look

Community: Connecting with the community at our events

Passive Income: A great way to make some extra cash

In addition, I truly believe that making quality fashion available to people from all walks of life will help in curbing the linear path of consumption where the average person is on. We want to transform the way that we consume fashion and disrupt the usual journey of retail through rental. We are setting out to convince everyone that we no longer need to buy fast fashion and can instead share quality clothing with each other. After all, what may no longer feel new to you can actually be new for somebody else.

The fashion industry and the UN came together in earnest at the Copenhagen COP15, in 2009. Thirteen years down the line, do you think Glasgow’s COP26 moved the goal posts for sustainable fashion and how does By Rotation continue to be at the forefront of this change?

Our business model is entirely built on sustainability, our priorities are to remain digital and fully peer-to-peer, and enhance the user's journey through our in-house developed machine learning tools and include a wide audience from all over the UK, and eventually globally. Our community and technology are our strengths.

We find that a lot of ‘Rotators’ come to us because they are looking to be more conscious with their fashion choices. We often get asked if we buy any stock and inventory as some other platforms do, but from the start we have been very focussed on being purely peer-to-peer to avoid adding any new items into circulation and eventually landfill - it defeats the point of renting in our opinion! As a constantly improving business, we strive to better our sustainability credentials with in-house innovations such as the carbon emissions calculator feature in our app and also the recent By Rotation Unwrapped year-end review feature which enabled our users to calculate all their positive savings - financial and environmental!