Designers for rent

How this entrepreneur launched the ‘Netflix of fashion,’ a company now worth nearly $1 billion

Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman (YouTube / ABC News)

The entrepreneur who devised the idea behind a popular startup that’s been described as the “Netflix of fashion” is speaking out about how her company is allowing women to rent expensive designer outfits each day — instead of dishing out the hundreds or even thousands of dollars they would have to pay in order to buy them. Rent the Runway was originally dreamed up by Jennifer Hyman, who told ABC’s Nightline that she came up with the idea after her younger sister put herself into credit card debt so she could buy a “very expensive designer dress for a wedding that she knew she was only going to wear once.”

“It was a lightbulb moment — if all we want is to walk into an event and look great in an outfit we’re going to wear once, why can’t we rent clothes?” she recalled in an interview with Rebecca Jarvis.

After a discussion with her friend Jennifer Fleiss, whom she met while attending Harvard Business School, the two women co-founded Rent the Runway and began the difficult process of attracting backing — not only financially, but from the designers who would supply their wardrobe. To begin, they decided to target legendary designer Diane von Furstenberg — the problem was, they had no contacts or connections that could facilitate and introduction to the fashion icon.

Hyman and Fleiss then came up with a shrewd solution to their problem: They sent out emails to every possible variation on “DvF@dvf.com” that they could think of. Amazingly, one of the emails went through and made it to von Furstenberg. She agreed to meet with them.

Diane von Furstenberg, Founder and Co-Chairman, DVF Studio on ‘Designing Disruption’ at The 2017 Women In The World Summit in New York City in 2017. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss of Rent the Runway came up with a clever way of pitching her the idea for the company — even though they had no business connections with the fashion icon.

“The meeting started off terribly because she hated the idea,” said Hyman. “But by the end of the conversation we learned that she would be interested in working with us if we could introduce her to women in the teens, 20s, 30s and even 40s.”

In short order, more than 500 other designers had signed on as well. The financial backing followed suit. Hyman has now reportedly raised more than $190 million for the venture, more than other woman-led startup, according to the company. Today, Rent the Runway is valued at nearly $1 billion and raked in $100 million in revenue in 2016, according to CNBC.

Initially, the company rented out one dress at a time to customers. Now, it also offers an unlimited package, in which women can rent out three pieces from their collection every day if they so choose. And the company operates what ABC News describes as the largest dry cleaning facility in the country in Secaucus, New Jersey, to clean and all of the garments customers rent and return

Eventually, Hyman predicts, the idea of spending money on buying clothing will seem ridiculous.

“I think between 10 and 15 years from now the closet is going to feel like a relic of the past — just like a landline or cd does today,” Hyman said. “You’ll wake up in the morning, put on a pot of coffee, go on your app, tap here’s what I want to where today, and it’s delivered to you within half an hour.”

Watch the Nightline report below, which also features an interview with Rachel Jo Silver, pictured above, a New York woman whose says her entire designer wardrobe is rented.

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