How Bernadette Maulion spontaneously started a dress-rental biz

Bernadette Maulion is relaxed, personable and articulate in her sunny home studio in the Montclaire neighborhood, wearing a silk studded cobalt Lotus tank and a gauzy lace maxi skirt. She’s surrounded by giant post-it pages full of goals and project maps for her startup, Dressed CLT, and hundreds of name brand dresses on black velvet hangers.

The idea for Dressed CLT, an online dress sharing program sourced from fashionable local women, was born from a 2014 assignment in Maulion’s MBA marketing class at UNC’s Kenan Flager Business School, from which she’s graduating this spring.

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“I wasn’t planning to actually start this business,” says Maulion, “I just had six upcoming weddings and all the events that surround them. While I had plenty of dresses in my closet, I liked the idea of having something new to wear that didn’t cost a fortune.”

Thankfully, Maulion’s professor had two daughters and was lamenting the cost of their prom dresses. He approached her and told her she was on to something.

A NYC native with a background in HR for major investment firms and large tech startups such as Yodle and local Velociter Solutions, Maulion knew the startup landscape and had the network to make it possible. She enrolled in Charlotte’s 2015 Startup Weekend, built a team, and secured second place.

Since then, she’s been amazed by the collaborative spirit of the local startup community and is working to prepare her inventory, website, and processes for a huge marketing push next month. Challenges so far have included creating a custom rental site, which is different than a traditional eCommerce template, and finding a balance between her MBA program, day job, and Dressed CLT.

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Her goal is to make Dressed CLT a full-time business with brick and mortar locations across the area, and has been strategic in moving the dial amidst her other commitments. Her studio is organized, she’s just finalized a new logo design, and she’s rolling out the profile section of her website so users can upload items for rent (and home delivery), track their payouts and set style preferences. More on how it works.

Dressed CLT is a functional iteration of raiding your best friend’s closet, offering hundreds of dresses for affordable, convenient rental (prices start at under $20). Women of all sizes and personal styles rent their own dresses to other women, for cash or credit, completing a circle of sharing throughout the Charlotte area.

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But while Maulion has always loved fashion, the business for her is about more than the dresses.

“Women buy an average of 64 pieces of clothing a year and only wear half of them once,” she says. “Clothes are depreciating assets and we can be making better choices about fashion and our finances. I want women to be able to take more risks and try new looks without a high cost, and I think it’s important to find a way to use our clothes to generate income for things that don’t depreciate. That’s what Dressed CLT is about. I’m passionate about experiences versus things and this equips women to have both.”

Photos: Dressed CLT