Remember that part in the “Sex and the City” movie where Jennifer Hudson tells Carrie that she rents all of her designer purses, and then at the end of the movie, Carrie surprises her with a hideous designer purse and says something like, “now you don’t have to lease your purses”? Yeah—no, that purse was damn ugly and Jennifer Hudson had it right the first time. Why buy what you’re only going to use once or twice?
(Seriously, what was that purse?)
Such is the thinking behind Rent the Runway, a site that lets users rent designer fashion for a fraction of the retail price. The company, founded by Harvard graduate students Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Carter Fleiss, announced Friday that it has raised $20 million in funding from all of its previous investors, including Conde Nast’s parent company Advance, Bain Capital Ventures, Highland Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The new round brings Rent the Runway’s total raised to $51 million since launching in 2009.
The company says it now has over three million members who are renting apparel and accessories from some 170 designer brands. To put this into perspective, Shoedazzle, which launched in 2008, claims to have 13 million members—adding a full one million in one month after switching over from a subscription model to a boutique-style shopping experience.
The site boasts a selection that includes over 35,000 dresses and 7,000 accessories. For the uninitiated: Rent the Runway literally rents out designer fashion—for example, a $1400 dress for $200. The item is delivered directly to users’ doorsteps, complete with free dry cleaning and a prepaid return envelope for easy returns. There is, of course, the problem of making sure the dress doesn’t get besmirched in any way. You could get damage insurance for an extra $5, but if the dress is totally destroyed, you could be on the hook for the full price.
Of course, there is the issue of sizing, which, among designer fashions, can be all over the map. You could literally be a size four in one brand and be a size eight in another, so Rent the Runway actually lets users rent the same dress in two sizes to make sure they have their bases covered.
The company also recently unveiled its first online shopping platform, Our Runway, which allows users to shop for items based on user generated photos of women with similar body types modeling the outfit.
"The aspirational woman rents the runway because she is enamored with the lifestyles created by many of Advance's Conde Nast properties. We see this as a partnership with limitless opportunity,” said CEO Jennifer Hyman, in a statement.