Rent the Runway: Saving a Fortune on Fashion Indulgences

Fashion-Rent the Runway
AP, Rent the Runway, Philippe RohdewaldJennifer Hyman (left), CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway, and co-founder Jenny Fleiss.
Ask any woman and she'll tell you: She has a closet full of clothes, but somehow, nothing to wear.

Jennifer Hyman knows the problem all too well.

At least, she used to.

Now, she borrows clothes from her rental company, Rent the Runway, which makes designer brands available to women without the designer price tag.

Hyman said the inspiration for the company was simple, and she was surprised she didn't think of it sooner. She points to brands like Spotify, Uber, Zipcar and others who make renting goods and services easy, enjoyable and sexy.

It was a business model she wanted to emulate, but put her own personal spin on. She figured her closet –- a place she used to consider a kind of sanctuary -- was the perfect place to start.

"I saw this shift in the economy where people were feeling comfortable renting things," she said. "So I thought it made sense that at a certain point in time, a certain percentage of stuff in your closets would be comprised of things that you rent instead of things that you buy."

For decades, women have been reading Vogue for the latest fashion, watching celebrities on the runway and salivating over designers on the red carpet. Hyman said the idea of renting designer brands appeals to many women because it gives them access to aspirational goods –- labels like D&G by Dolce and Gabbana, Oscar de la Renta, Kate Spade, and Vera Wang –- labels, up until now, she says many women have only dreamed of wearing.

But developing a designer wardrobe -– whether for yourself, or for women of the world to enjoy together -– is not an easy task. When she set out with her co-founder to launch Rent the Runway, Hyman said getting the actual designers on-board with the idea of renting their pieces proved to be a tough sell.

"Designers hated the idea of Rent the Runway because they thought it would cannibalize their retail sales. Whereas, in fact, what we're doing is introducing the next generation of women to these designer brands," she said.

Now, four years later, Rent the Runway boasts a lengthy list of designers, a reputation that extends across the country, and a spot on Crain's Best Places to Work in New York. But Hyman said she can't take all the credit for the company's success.

"We have nearly 250 people who work at the company, and we have to do a lot of things right in order to give you that Cinderella experience around a special event. We need to be awesome engineers. We need to be awesome operators. We have to have fantastic merchandise," she said. "So we have a lot of different talents and skill sets across the organization. I really can't credit myself. It's the amazing team we have."

And although she passes a lot of the credit to the team who helps make women's dreams come true, she's earned her place at the top of the company as well. Hyman was recognized by Fortune Magazine's "Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs," "40-Under-40," Inc. Magazine's "Top 30 Under 30" list, Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology," and Crain's New York Business "40 Under 40 Class."

She says she wakes up every day and enjoys going to work because it doesn't feel like a job -- it's something she looks forward to doing. And she credits the mentors who have helped her along the way and shown her the right way to lead and build an organization.

"I think that it's all been a dream," she said. "I feel really fortunate, appreciative every day that I get to wake up in the morning and do what I love: Work with a great group of people."

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