Have you ever dreamed about wearing a one of a kind gown for a special occasion, without the responsibility of owning if for the rest of your life? Meet Silje Lübbe, the founder of Nova Octo; a former executive at retail companies and buyer with a keen sensibility for sustainable fashion. We couldn’t exactly pin down what drew us to the rental company, whether it was their luxurious and curated selection of dresses that any woman would feel special to wear, or their mission-focused culture for responsible fashion. Either way we couldn’t wait to sit down with Silje and find out how Nova Octo came to life.
After 13 years of experience in the fashion industry, and many conversations with women just like her, Silje imagined a concept that would give women the choice of renting a fabulous dress that only the most sought-after designers could offer, all with a single click. With the purpose of combining both, her urge to create an exceptional archive of couture pieces, and her determination to conceive a conscious brand, she put together an elite styling team with a special eye for fashion. We spoke all things style with Silje, but could hardly wait to share with you the reason behind her support for green initiatives, her every day routine, and her all- time favourite designers.
AG: Hi Silje, how wonderful it is to have some time with you to talk about Nova Octo. Could you start by telling us a bit more about the process of creating Nova Octo and what inspired you to start collecting such luxurious gowns? What is your selection process and do you have a checklist you go through before purchasing an item?
SL: I worked in the luxury retail industry my entire career as a buyer/merchandiser and eventually became a senior executive for various major retailers. I saw the trend of luxury changing and with it being severely affected by markdowns, the evening-wear category was suffering the most due to short selling windows. When it comes to evening pieces, I have quite an emotional attachment to them and the craftsmanship behind them so it was hard to watch them struggle to compete with the high street.
With the rise of the sharing economy I saw an opportunity for these pieces to have a longer shelf life and to give people a chance to really experience them. The evening-wear category shouldn’t be about trends or seasons because of all of the work that goes into them, and I wanted to build archive and extending the life cycle of these garments. In fact, we’ve found that our vintage pieces are often more poplar than new season, as no one wants to wear what someone else is wearing. We’re still a young company and we are rapidly growing our inventory based on the feedback we gather from our clients, and we’re still very much in a testing stage. We aim to expand our selection and categories and we’re working on more dressy daywear.
When choosing pieces, the main priority is the fit of an item – an item can be any season or designer, but if it doesn’t fit well it won’t look good. For this reason we also have to consider how easily temporary alterations can be made to the item and the boring stuff like how well a fabric will respond to being dry cleaned repeatedly. Where we really differ from other rental companies is that we don’t want our clients to feel the wear of other people before them so we invest heavily in the care between each rental. It really has been a learning process…you think you’re launching a fashion e-commerce business then you find yourself learning all about cleaning solutions (the glamour!)
AG: We know you’re a firm believer of making fashion sustainable. Could you please tell us a bit more why conscious and responsible fashion is so important to you and what you believe the future of sustainable fashion is?
SL: The issue around global warming is an incredibly serious one and I’ve worked in an industry that is a huge part of the problem. There has been an obsession with wearing something only once, which is mostly due to social media and visibility. People need to understand that being sustainable means reducing.
The number 1 thing you can do to be sustainable is to stop buying, but we also have to use the tools we have. The task is daunting but the key is to find a way for things that are produced to be produced in a better way. Less low quality things for few wears, more high quality lasting items like in the past. These will come at a high price because they are made to last, but we encourage people to invest in pieces they will wear over and over.
As a company we of course follow all best practices for sustainability in terms of recycling, reusing, eliminating plastic use, we only work with a green and local dry cleaner… but at the end of the day the main thing is to reduce. The reality is that people will still want what they want, but it is important for businesses to find sustainable solutions in fulfilling the demand.
The rental model really allows for people to experience gorgeous pieces that they wouldn’t be able to “justify” wearing only once from a moral standpoint, let alone a financial one. However, the concept was not born to provide people with lower prices for these items – the aim is to give access to them in a responsible way, which means getting the most out of them.
AG: We can only imagine how busy your day-to-day must be, between managing your team and selecting your newest pieces. Could you talk us through a typical day for you and share with us what you do to wind down? Do you feel like you find time for yourself easily or do you take the time to manage your work-life balance?
SL: I’m a very early riser, so I tend to get the office before my team to get through my emails. My typical day starts at 5.30am and I usually have an hour at home before I get to office – usually by 7am. At mid-morning I go to the gym, which allows for a break in my day – this is well needed because I can easily get into the unhealthy habits of 18 hours days, which is not very productive long term.
My first year I actually almost worked myself to burn out and one of the biggest challenges I face as an entrepreneur is to force myself to find that work-life balance. Switching off is difficult for a typical type A but it is incredibly important to make sure the hours in which you work are so much more productive. I learned this the hard way, and can’t stress enough what an important lesson it has been!
AG: As a massive fashion lover yourself with over 13 years of experience in the industry, are there any pieces in your library that you particularly love, and are there any obvious favourites that are most rented out? Is there a specific occasion that your clients are most looking to dress up for?
SL: Our clients and their events are as diverse as our selection – they’re going everywhere from galas and weddings (even their own!) to parties. We have everyone from the executive with hundreds of galas to go who has no issue on price point – they love our white glove styling and personal shopping service. We give them access to a collection of product that they wouldn’t otherwise find in one place, and we make it easy for them to get ready for their busy social calendar.
They rent Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford, Carolina Herrera, Giambattista Valli – these women know the brands and know the value of what they’re getting. They often rent multiple pieces to get them through several events of the season and tick the what to wear part off their to do list. Then we have the clients who just want party dresses, like a Jacquemus, Carmen March or one of our glitzy pieces by Saint Laurent, while our super feminine brands like Johanna Ortiz are popular over the summer – this is a favorite for our local clients going to summer parties in Hamptons. When it comes to my personal favorites I love all of them – I don’t buy what I don’t love but I tend to buy pieces when I know the history behind them – we have many one of a kind styles, for example a gorgeous Delpozo gown that walked the runway in red and we are the only ones to have it in a deep cobalt blue. Or a vintage Oscar de Renta gown with craftsmanship that you don’t come across anymore.
We also have a beautiful feather and chiffon gown with lace and gold embroidery by Sophie Theallet that we are the only ones to have in white, and finally a Giambattista Valli couture high low gown that was sampled in grey and we are the only ones to have it in white. My relationship with the pieces is a bit emotional, knowing their background and the designers. As I see the clients in them I fall in love with them in different ways because I’m seeing them being experienced so differently and that gives me the thrill of all of this. A lot of buyers can relate to this, but buying something you think people will like and then seeing someone feeling confident and strong in that look is very rewarding.
AG: You mention on your website that there are some pieces any women would want to wear forever, and others that they would just want to wear for a special night, hence the value of your rental company. Could you please talk to us a bit more about this concept and why you believe giving the opportunity for women to own such a luxurious piece of clothing is so special and popular?
SL: I understand if people for emotional reasons want to own and hold on to certain pieces for a special occasion. I’m personally not very attached to things in that way, but I’m a true believer that when it comes to what you wear every day you should invest in your clothes and buy quality pieces that will last you for years.
For items you just want to wear once or a few times these should be rented. It’s important to raise awareness around the fact that when you throw something away it doesn’t really go away, so we need to make sure that what we buy is worth it.
Take your pick from the selection of gowns below from Nova Octo!
Featured images via Nova Octo
PS: If you buy something through our links, TWC may earn an affiliate commission.