Less than four years ago, Rent The Runway wasn’t even a thing–but now it’s kind of a big deal. The first piece of evidence: When co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman called off her Aspen wedding days before the event, the New York Post covered it with a tabloid-like article. The second piece: By June, the startup became popular enough to buy another startup called Go Try It On. The final piece: $54.4 million in investment. That’s hot.
Hyman and her co-founder, Jennifer Fleiss, didn’t meet at New York Fashion Week. Rather, they met at Harvard Business School, a decidedly more academic environment. And the pair founded Rent The Runway to tackle a recurring question: Why do so many women have closets full of clothes and nothing to wear? “It was initially challenging for my co-founder and I to wrap our heads around starting a fashion and technology business without any experience in either field,” says Fleiss, head of business development. What the co-founders did have was the guts to take their idea and run with it. “Starting a company is more about minimal viable product testing–testing your product on the ground before launching it in its fullest form to see if it will resonate with consumers,” Fleiss explains.
The final product–as of now, anyway–is a website where women can rent designer dresses (and buy the requisite Spanx) just in time for big events. Customers who are serious about getting the celebrity treatment can request style assessments, delivered either by email or in person at Rent The Runway’s Soho showroom. “We plan to continue to revolutionize the fashion industry and expand our products and services to help women achieve the perfect head-to-toe look,” Fleiss says.
The site also has a user-contributed section called “Our Runway,” where you can find the same dress on a teenager in the arms of her prom date, a college student posing with her sorority sisters, and a woman who could be both girls’ mother. You have to hand it to the Rent The Runway community: Likelier than not, all three ladies look haute.