They are the life savers women call upon when having the usual, “I have nothing to wear” horror moment. Call them the caped crusaders of the designers’ fashion world, for Jennifer Hyman (Jenn) and Jennifer Fleiss (Jenny), their brainchild, Rent the runway, is all that and more.
“We work to make designer dreams come true,” say the creative entrepreneur duo.
Rent the Runway works on simple principles: love, wear, return. Founded in January 2009, it was launched in November 2009 and has already 450,000 members. Nearly 20,000 members are added each week.
Basically, it’s a luxury e-commerce site which offerst rents and door delivers designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of the retail price. Membership is free. One simply choose a dress and state the date of the event, required size of the dress selected and shipping zip code of the area for delivery. Renting options range from 4 to eight days and can cost from $ 50 with to $25. The dresses come with a pre-paid postage so that all wearers have to do is to post the dress back after use. For those who want some help selecting, the house expert stylists are always at hand.
Two sizes are sent so that customers never miss a fit. They are currently operating only in the US markets although other countries are on the anvil.
“Let’s just see how it works here first. We would love to take global,” they say.
Hyman and Fleiss met as section mates at Harvard Business School. It was while watching Becky (Hyman’s sister) struggle with a closet full of clothes and yet declare she had nothing gorgeous to wear for an upcoming wedding that the idea first surfaced. Becky’s dilemma led to long discussions and many business plans until the duo was clear about what they wanted.
Many names like Glitterati and ClosetClique were considered until they decided that they named it “Rent the Runway.”
“We created it to bring the red carpet feeling to women everywhere without having to spend too much,” says Fleiss.
It caters to those with a large disparity between income and their social life.
“Think of it this way. You are young and in a nice new city. Life is all about great dates and parties. What else can you do to enhance that feeling? Wear your favourite designer’s creations, of course! Women in this age group are discovering fashion. They want what their favourite stars are wearing,” says Fleiss.
While they were sure of their idea’s success from the start, “We didn’t just take off. We brainstormed extensively and had many focus group meetings till there was little doubt that this would work. What gave us confidence were the reactions of the women who tried the dresses on. Those responses were so emotional,” says Fleiss.
The venture relies on no federal funding and raised money from venture capitalists. As women trying to raise capital for a business idea so new, what kind of problems did they face?
“Sometimes it was tough explaining to men on the venture capital boards the emotional connect that women have with clothes and our need for fashion. Finally we showed videotaped reactions of our customers to seal the deal,” says Fleiss.
Keeping prices reasonable and the profits rolling requires skill.
According to Fleiss, they buy directly from the designers at wholesale rates. They explain to the designers that through them they can build a craze for their clothes and designs that otherwise would have cost a lot in terms of advertising.
While Fleiss’s (co-founder and president) personal style in three words is “functional, fun, versatile”, Hyman (co-founder and CEO) believes her closet is her sanctuary. A year old now, they haven’t run into too many situations they haven’t been able to handle.
Hygiene is of super importance. They examine every dress for wear and tear. They discard anything that doesn’t pass their scrutiny.
The only flaw? Customers can’t keep a dress they fall in love with. Only retailers can help there though the site helpline is always available for suggestions.