Rent the Runway Offers High Fashion for a Low Price

Recession spawns Rent the Runway

Image from Flickr.

Rent the Runway, a web site that uses the Netflix mail-order model, would have been a good idea even when the economy wasn’t bad. However, it appears Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Carter Fleiss, the site’s creators, are destined for success during a time when everyone is trying to save money.

Rent the Runway is a service that allows women to rent super-expensive, haute couture dresses for between $50 and $200 for a four-night rental. So in and emergency, someone could get a small short term loan and be able to show up for a function in red-carpet-worthy attire. Purchase prices on the dresses range from $500, to “seriously?!”

Understanding fashionistas

I’m the type of person who would pay $50 for a dress that I could keep and wear several times. But I watch “Project Runway.” I know that for some people, fashion and wearing clothes created by Diane Von Furstenberg and Catherine Malandrino is of utmost importance.

Furthermore, fashionistas also believe it is crucial to wear a different super-expensive dress to every function. However, many fashionistas have had to resign themselves to the fact that spending $3,000 on a dress every time an invitation shows up in the mail just isn’t feasible. As you probably know, this is a huge group of people, and they will be all over the Rent the Runway service.

Most successful startup ever?

Rent the Runway has several things going for it. There’s the fact that many women already spend thousands of dollars on dresses they wear only once. The recession means more women are trying to find ways to save money, and Rent the Runway is a perfect way for them to continue their high-fashion, low-usage habits without spending so much money.

Furthermore, Rent the Runway means women who have only dreamed of being able to afford haute couture will have access to it. I don’t know whose idea it was to run a feature on Rent the Runway in the New York Times right at the start of the holiday season, but that move might bring this startup company more business than it can even handle.

Rent the Runway challenges

Of course, the No. 2 rule of being a fashionista, after wearing a dress only once, is that you must never wear last season’s dress. So Rent the Runway will have to make sure it always has the lastest fashions. Because Rent the Runway buys its merchandise, this will be an expensive venture. However, because of the convenient rent-by-mail model and the huge customer base, this shouldn’t be a problem. Or at least it wouldn’t, except…

Right now, Rent the Runway is a by-invitation-only service. If you go to, it says “Sign up here to be added to Rent the Runway’s wait list.” This move is geared toward making the service appear more exclusive and maintaining its value. However, I think this is a terrible business decision.

Why nix the invitation requirement?

Women who think renting a dress is tacky (i.e. really rich women) won’t use Rent the Runway regardless. The invitation requirement only will keep women who want to use the service from being able to; it will not encourage women who are concerned about exclusivity to use it.

Perhaps the invitation/wait list business is meant to keep orders under control so that Rent the Runway can handle them. After all, if a customer doesn’t get her dress on time, disaster ensues. However, Rent the Runway could not only do more business, it could give people jobs if its service gets too popular. I have two suggestions for Rent the Runway:

  1. Get rid of this invitation and wait list business and let your service grow and serve as many women who want to use it.
  2. Figure out a way for people to catalogue the even they’ll be wearing their dress to, so women can check to see if anyone else has ordered the same dress they want to wear. After all, we all know Fashionista Rule No. 3.

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