Technology may seem like an unlikely partner to fashion, but Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss couldn’t do business without it. The duo’s e-commerce company Rent the Runway allows women across America to rent instead of purchasing luxury designer dresses and accessories, and with it Hyman and Fleiss aim to revolutionize the fashion industry.
“Technology is the backbone for our entire company,” says Hyman. “We’re bringing a new customer behavior online… It’s thinking about how do you take a woman’s closet and convert those 30-40 percent of purchases that you probably never should have made into rentals.”
The site functions like a hotel reservation site. Women rent a dress for a special occasion starting at $50, and they receive the dress for up to eight days. Through in-house styling and tracking past behavior, the pair, who met while at Harvard Business School, can customize suggestions to each subscriber’s personal style, body type and life stage.
“Because Jenn [Hyman] and I don’t come from a tech background, we’ve been really letting our customers and our users inform us about which direction the site should be going,” Fleiss says.
Fueled by their customers, the duo plans to socialize the site and allow women to discuss their fashion choices beginning with the recent launch of Rent the Runway Weddings. This feature rents bridesmaids dresses and allows the bridal party to discuss their wedding event style, as they would if they were shopping together at the mall. Rent the Runway has partnered with more than 100 brands, and even though they’re encouraging renting instead of buying, Hyman argues they build brand loyalty through the site.
“We target a younger customer who’s between the ages of 15 and 40, and we enable her to wear that brand for a special occasion in her life and she’s able to have an emotional experience around that brand,” Hyman says. “It builds loyalty not only to Rent the Runway but to the brand itself. And we’ve seen incredible conversion post-rental from our renters to buyers of that brand.”