We’ve all been there—getting ready for a major event, trying on dress after dress to no avail, and wishing we had access to an amazing designer closet filled with high-end dresses. Well, now we do! Enter Rent The Runway, launched in November of 2009, with a creative solution to an age-old issue among women—what to wear to that great event. So often we drool over what we see on the runway, but can only dream about ever wearing it; the idea to rent designer dresses to girls and women who can't afford to buy the duds outright is pure genius--and the purpose of Rent The Runway.
Photo credit: InStyle.com; Karl Prouse/Catwalking/Getty; Courtesy of Rent The Runway;Frazer Harrison/Getty
The Rent The Runway site is by membership request, and already has a large amount of members ready to get their hands on the inventory--obviously!! The site is easily navigable, and content is written in a fresh, funny and relatable tone that instantly makes you feel at ease—like you’re borrowing from your best friend’s sizeable closet. Dresses available for rent include pieces from designers like Proenza Schouler, Matthew Williamson, Herve Leger, Yigal Azrouel, Robert Rodriguez, Lela Rose and Helmut Lang. Rental prices start at a very budget-friendly $50 (depending on the dress) and Rent The Runway will ship your dress to your front door—in 2 sizes, just in case. Return the dress in the shipping envelope provided, and Rent The Runway even takes care of the cleaning for you, using an expert in eco-friendly luxury cleaning.
This cutting edge idea was born when CEO, Jennifer Hyman, watched her very fashionable sister struggle over finding the perfect dress to wear to an event. Together with co-founder, Jennifer Carter Fleiss, she devised the concept. Now, less than four months after the launch, their company is changing the way women shop for important events. Thanks to a good friend, I recently had the chance to interview Ms. Hyman about this exciting new retail endeavor:
Who do you envision to be the Rent The Runway woman? What is her lifestyle like? Where is she headed in the designer dresses she rents from you?
The Rent the Runway woman is one with many occasions in her life - from big corporate presentations to dinner parties, weddings to black tie benefits - she loves dressing up and uses every occasion to make a statement and try something new. She loves fashion and has always dreamed of having a revolving closet with all the latest trends and hottest designers - but likely is stuck with her go-to LBD.
Your site is membership by request and consumers are initially placed on a waiting list. How long is the wait for acceptance? Is there a limit to the number of members allowed at any given time?
Our waitlist is dependent on our inventory - the more dresses and (launching April 5th) accessories we buy - the more women we'll admit into our community. We want to make sure everyone has a fabulous experience and is able to find a dress they love.
What is the size range for the clothing items you offer?
Name some of your favorite designers from whom your customers can rent dresses.
We're up to 50 fabulous dress designers - Proenza Schouler, Matthew Williamson, Herve Leger, Yigal Azrouel, Robert Rodriguez, Lela Rose and Helmut Lang. And for accessories we're launching with an unbelievable assortment - DaniJo, Subversive, Miguel Asis, Citrine by the Stone and more.
Rent The Runway takes responsibility for cleaning of the garments, and you use a service that is an expert in eco-friendly luxury cleaning. How important is it to Rent The Runway to be ‘green’?
It's very important to us to be green. We are in the business of renting experiences and we believe that green cleaning enhances your experience with the dress and ensures that the fabric and exquisite detailing on our dresses is preserved.
What is the best event story you’ve received from a customer since launching in November 2009?
One of our customers told us (quite humbly!) that she looked better in her Herve Leger rental than the model or the actress on 90210 who sported it!! The best stories are always the ones where women felt more beautiful and more confident in our dresses - it's amazing to be a woman and Rent the Runway is a company that celebrates that! We're so excited to hear that women are getting engaged in our dresses, wearing them as fashionable alternatives to bridesmaid dresses, to red carpet events and on a random Saturday night!
While at Harvard Business School, did you envision that the company you would start would be within the fashion industry?
Not at all - I've always been a bit of a shopaholic but had never worked in the fashion industry. It's definitely true that the fashion industry has the most creative, beautiful people in the world bustling about. The business idea came from being in tune with what women want and what they complain about. And the feeling that you have to reach into the depths of your closet to wear that same old dress over again or that you have to run out after work and waste money on a dress you'll only wear once - is something that can and should change.
There’s such an endearing back story about how your idea for the business was derived from your sister’s dilemma over event garb. Has she rented anything and does she thank you for your business savvy?
Becky is actually launching our accessories business for us and is taking FULL advantage of the Rent the Runway closet. As if she wasn't fashionable enough before, now she's trying new designers and new trends all the time and having an absolute blast (just like the rest of our team!)
For more information or to request membership visit the Rent The Runway website.