Rent The Runway ladies: While studying business at Harvard, Hyman had the idea to start an online fashion company that offered designer clothing for rent. Rent The Runway has since become a multi-million-dollar business with 5 million customers renting from its collection of 55,000 fashion and accessory items every day..
Hyman’s latest big idea: in March, Rent the Runway launched a new subscription service called Unlimited, which allows customers to borrow three garments or accessories, and keep them as long as they want, for a monthly fee of $139.
“My parents are both massive feminists and always led me to believe that I could dream big and do anything that I wanted in my life, almost to a delusional degree. I was convinced at a young age that I was either going to become Jem from the Holograms or a Broadway star. I starred in basically every [school] play from the time I was 5 to when I went to college. I got very used to being in front of crowds, not being shy, and having a big dream.” Hyman says.
“After graduating Harvard in 2002,I [got a job] at Starwood Hotels, where I had the idea, at 22, to start a honeymoon registry. Brides and grooms could register for their trip to Bora Bora and their friends and family could give them hotel room nights or massages or scuba diving lessons instead of buying them pots and pans.”
“I pitched my idea to the president of Starwood. He kind of gave me a nonchalant, ‘Sure, whatever,’ as a response. I took that as a YES in capital letters, and I went after it.”
This was a long shot coming. Hyman spent years going back to business school and working as an entrepreneur before her real idea came to mind and it was all due to social media. Hyman says,
“I was home for Thanksgiving in the fall of 2008, visiting my sister at her apartment in New York City. She had just bought a $2,000 gown to wear to a wedding. I was looking at her closet, which was filled with dresses she’d only worn once. Her excuse was that she had been photographed in all the dresses in her closet and the photographs were up on Facebook, so she needed something new.
In that moment I realized that social media had actually made us all into celebrities with a lot of pressure to have newness in our wardrobes every single day and for every special occasion. So I had this idea around the question, Can we rent dresses for all of the occasions in our lives??
After at least a year of speaking with several CEO’s and making cold calls, putting in extreme amounts of work, Hyman’s dream finally came to life. The biggest aspect to making all of this work was money. The Rent The Runway industry would need to invest in expensive clothing and get designers to sign, so that customers could easily rent an article of clothing from the site, and return it after their rent period.
It was very hard to get designers to sign on to this concept. About 250 said no. We were proposing buying inventory and putting it up for rent at the exact same time that it’s in stores being sold for full price. We had to convince designers that this was opening up a completely new market for them. The first designer to sign on was Badgley Mischka, who to this day is the No. 1 brand on Rent the Runway.”
Rent the Runway launched in 2009 with 28 brands and no warehouse. We were renting space from an architecture firm in New York.
“We had four full-time employees and about 12 interns in a space meant for four people. We stored our dresses at a dry cleaner four blocks from the office in exchange for using his business. Initially we sweet-talked him into it, but it ended up being a very good deal for the dry cleaner. By leveraging our media contacts, we were able to land a big story on the front page of the Business Section in The New York Times on the day of our launch, which helped us sign up 100,000 members in our first week of business. We reached 1 million members just over a year after launch.”
To this day nine years later, Rent The Runway now carries 375 brands and is becoming more and more popular by the minute.
I think the hardest thing is that you’re continuously doing a job you don’t know how to do. Every month the business grows and therefore my job grows. Nothing can prepare you to learn how to be a leader while your business is growing so quickly. So you surround yourself with a great team, great friends, and great mentors you can learn from. I try to be humble and learn from my mistakes.”
If you haven’t checked out Rent The Runway and what they have to offer yet, please do now! Rent The Runway