If New York City is the fashion capital of America, it should certainly be the fashion-startup capital as well. From Gilt to Bonobos, plenty of fashion/retail companies have gotten their start in the Empire State — but Rent the Runway (RTR) distinguishes itself as the ‘Netflix of luxury fashion.’ According to NYU professor and researcher Arun Sundararajan, the dress-rental company represents a key aspect of the sharing economy because it democratizes luxury. “Sure, they’re doing it for fashion, but they highlight the broader promise of the sharing economy: access without ownership,” he says.
After five years in business, the founders of RTR have learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in the sharing economy. And they’re not done learning yet.
The premise of RTR is revolutionary: to give people the chance to rent gowns and dresses from high-end brands like Badgley Mischka, Kate Spade, Nicole Miller, and 220 other designer brands at a fraction of the retail price. The business has grown to more than 4 million members since launching in November 2009. Its inventory of more than 50,000 dresses and tons of accessories are racked and shelved in a 40,000 square-foot warehouse in New Jersey.
Jennifer Fleiss and Jenn Hyman co-founded the shared-closet empire when they were classmates at Harvard Business School. They wanted to solve the old dilemma of finding something dynamite to wear to a wedding without breaking the bank. Today, RTR continues to disrupt e-commerce by keeping chic crowds allured by its user experience.
We sat with Fleiss at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y., who has noticed a wave of ecommerce sites blooming in the Tri-State area and beyond. There’s an abundance of new ideas: some showcase emerging designers while others focus on sustainability.