Rent the Runway's mission, according to Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss, is to bring the Carrie Bradshaw clothing experience to budget conscious fashionistas and turn them in to loyal customers of designer brands. Rent the Runway is a membership-only designer rental company where women can rent dresses and accessories from over 100 designers and brands including Herve Leger, Diane von Furstenberg, Proenza Schouler and Badgley Mischka. Dress rentals start at $50 for 4 days and $10 for accessories.
The idea for Rent the Runway came to Hyman during a Thanksgiving break from Harvard Business School. Her sister was searching for a dress to wear to a wedding and had one of those ‘closet full of clothes but nothing to wear moments.' Rent the Runway was the answer to having 'access to this magical Carrie Bradshaw experience where you could constantly refresh your wardrobe and wear the latest in designer fashion for all the special occasions in your life,' said Hyman. As soon as Hyman returned from break, she told Fleiss, one of her section mates, about the idea. 'We immediately went out and started selling the concept both to designers and to customers,' she says.
Even though Hyman and Fleiss were at Harvard Business School they didn't write a formal business plan. But they did use their Harvard connection to arrange meetings with designers and investors. 'I was like ‘I'm at Harvard Business School. I have an idea. Can I come and have five minutes of your time?'' said Hyman. Initially designers were hesitant about the concept because they thought Rent the Runway was cannibalizing their customers. But the company has proven to do the exact opposite. 'Over 90% of our renters have reported that they have purchased something from the brand they rented, post rental,' said Hyman. 'We are effectively grooming the next generation of women for high fashion.'
Bain Capital Ventures initially invested in Rent the Runway and Highland Capital came on as a second round investor. Since launching in November they have over 450,000 members and have been growing at a rate of 20,000 members a week. Rentals have doubled every month. They initially started with dress rentals and expanded to accessories this spring; more accessories like rings and clutches will be added soon. Hyman and Fleiss plan to expand into the bridal market with Rent the Runway Weddings in the fall. Brides will be able to rent attire for all events associated with their weddings, from the engagement party to the rehearsal dinner. Although wedding gowns will not be available, bridesmaids' dresses – to the great relief of nearly every female member of a wedding party – will be in ample supply.