Rent the Runway is a startup that was co-founded by Harvard Business School graduates Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss that allows women to rent and wear designer clothing. The company’s mission is to bring the closet to the cloud, presenting its users the option to rent thousands of items kept on rotation. The backstory of the brand is one of my favorites in entrepreneurial history. The idea was borne when Jennifer Hyman’s sister purchased a $4,000 Marchesa gown from Bergdorf Goodman that plunged her into credit card debt. Hyman is quoted walking us through her sister’s thought process on a podcast recounting that serendipitous moment that lead to the genesis of RTR: “Everything in my closet is dead to me. I’ve worn it, I’ve been photographed in it, and the pictures are already up on Facebook.”
Fashion is often characterized by temporality and seasonality. From kids and maternity to skiwear and home, Rent the Runway smartly capitalizes on this phenomenon. This is the main reason why the company strikes gold: it eliminates ownership where it doesn’t make sense. Originally, RTR was driven by à la carte gown rentals for special events like prom and weddings. Formalwear is often an expensive, single-use product, and in some respect, it doesn’t make sense to buy and wear just once. However, consumer demand actually incentivized the company to expand its product assortment to encompass many affairs driven by temporality and seasonality. What the company is really selling consumers is the experience of wearing a garment to an event, but not the garment itself. Department stores were once plagued by customers who wore and returned merchandise, especially occassionwear. Why not monetize the borrow itself? RTR simply formalizes and streamlines the rental process.
For a recent notable example, Rent the Runway just launched an innovative partnership with W Hotels that I felt truly set the stage for redefining travel and packing; this collaboration also expertly takes advantage of destinationwear and the growing resort market. If you’re traveling to Aspen, Colorado, perhaps it doesn’t make sense to buy a weighty overcoat; instead, why not rent one for a quarter of the retail price? You’ll get to wear it and stay warm for the duration of your trip. Rental is truly defined by growth and promise.
Rent the Runway has struck me with its smart product expansions, solving problems that consumers never knew they had and eliminating ownership where it doesn’t make sense. The creativity of this company is astounding. I am genuinely enthusiastic about the brand’s product assortment, including their fresh and colorful buy that allows users to experiment with bold styles without remorse or commitment. Rent the Runway has also done wonders for sustainability and democratizing access to designer fashion. The potential for this company is truly limitless.
Previous Review by K. Faulkner:
Rent the Runway is one of my favorite companies, and one of the greatest companies to ever change women’s fashion. I use it for all my formal events. Not only can I try out different dresses for every event, but I also don’t have to worry about storing dresses in my closet, moving them when I change dorm rooms, or cleaning them after every wear. Rent The Runway also makes online shopping incredibly easy because I can see photos of other women wearing the dress, along with their measurements so I know how the dress will fit me. I will be using this service for many years!