Taiwanese-American start-up advances to finals for $100,000 prize

China Insight | May 2021

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American Northwestern University faculty member has advanced to the final round of the University of Chicago’s competition for entrepreneurs.

The Alumni New Venture Challenge (ANVC) is a competition for University of

Chicago alumni to showcase their earlystage ventures. The winner of the competition will receive $100,000 to fund their new business ventures. Previous winners have included Grubhub, Braintree, and more.

Taelor is a new way for men to rent clothes. The Silicon Valley-based menswear clothing rental subscription service employs a combination of artificial intelligence and personal stylists to select clothes for men based on their sizes and personal preferences. The clothes are shipped directly to customers, who can either wear them for two weeks and return them or purchase the clothes for up to 70% off the regular retail price. Customers then receive another box of clothes.

Founder and CEO Anya Cheng said Taelor’s goal is “to provide individuals with stylish, everyday menswear. We believe that every day is an opportunity to look good and feel confident ... and also help the environment, too, instead of purchasing clothes that will eventually end up in a landfill.”

Cheng, who also teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications, has a strong background in both in the digital and retail space. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Cheng spent several years leading digital innovation teams at Facebook, eBay, Target, McDonald’s and Sears before launching Taelor. She said she originally got the idea to start a clothing rental subscription service for men after becoming a huge fan of other clothing rental subscription services herself. She used to live near a Rent the Runway store and visited it daily to pick out a new outfit to wear the next day. 

“I became such a fan of renting clothes that I haven’t purchased any clothes for myself except for underwear for the past five years,” Cheng said. “But I realized that none of the clothing rental services really served menswear nor focuses on helping people to achieve career or personal goals in their everyday life, and I thought, men should be able to enjoy this service too so they can feel ready and confident for their day.”

Taelor customers can choose between a flat, monthly fee, where the receive two boxes per month, with four shirts per box. The second option is for customers to pay a one-time fee, where customers receive three boxes in total, with four shirts per box. Both options include complimentary personalized styling, dry cleaning, and shipping both ways — making the process of renting and returning clothing easy and effortless.

The popularity of sustainability practices, minimalism, and no-ownership trends have caused the clothing rental business model to explode in recent years, with some analysts projecting that the Circular Fashion industry, which includes rental and resale, could earn as much as $66 billion by 2024 in the U.S. alone.