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Fashion Rental Grows Thanks to Online Apparel Pioneer Rent the Runway, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Rent the Runway, an online site that rents dresses, jewelry and accessories, makes luxury affordable to its 134,240 subscribers (as of July 2022), up from 95,245 in mid-2020.  The site offers tens of thousands of dresses, tops, pants, skirts, as well as accessories and jewelry (many from top designers such as Badgley Mischka, Herve Leger and Vera Wang) which members rent for a few days and return in prepaid and addressed folding garment bags.  The company’s warehouse operations are housed in a 160,000-square-foot facility.  In addition to packing and shipping, the facility has been carefully designed to incorporate dry-cleaning and sterilization of returned apparel, making Rent the Runway the largest dry-cleaning operation, in one building, in the U.S.  Members may also purchase clothing and accessories, rather than rent.
Starting in 2017, Rent the Runway varied its offerings from one-time, one–-item rentals to monthly subscriptions, including RTR Unlimited which allows the rental of unlimited numbers of pieces on rotation with no return dates.  Rent the Runway also opened a small number of brick-and-mortar stores.  The company reported that most people wear only 20% of their closets.  This indicates that a continual stream of rented attire may have great appeal to certain consumers.
The Coronavirus pandemic hit Rent the Runway hard.  Much of its business focused on clothing for the office or for parties, proms, weddings and other social gatherings and special events.  By mid-2020, the firm had closed its brick-and-mortar stores permanently, and instituted layoffs.  It also expanded its drop-off and pickup locations for online orders, utilizing some of its former stores.  Business rebounded by late 2021, and the company conducted a successful IPO in late October of that year.
There are a number of fashion rental web sites, each with a particular focus.  For example, Gwynnie Bee offers plus-size subscribers access to clothing in U.S. sizes 10-32, while Style Lend offers subscribers designer clothing from members’ closets, generally in sizes 0, 2 or 4.  Taelor offers men’s clothing to monthly subscribers.

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