Rentable designer clothes strut in Chicago


Courtesy Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway supplies residents with designer clothes at retail prices

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Rent the Runway, a fashion company that rents out women’s designer apparel and accessories, opened a Chicago location in May 2015. The store, located at 710 N. Wabash Ave., is the company’s fourth location after New York City, the District of Columbia and Las Vegas. 

The store rents clothing by appointment or by walk-in, and has no problem with last minute requests. Customers can try on apparel for a future date, pick up online orders and swap out items when they are not fully satisfied. It offers a monthly subscription service for $99 that provides customers with three pieces of clothing or accessories each month they can exchange at any time. 

Letty Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Rent the Runway, said in an emailed statement that the company was launched in 2009 by Jennifer Hyman, CEO, and Jennifer Fleiss, head of business development, after they met as classmates at Harvard University.

“Our vision is to provide every woman with a subscription to fashion,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said the company has pieces from more than 300 designers, including Roberto Cavalli, Vera Wang, MSGM, Jason Wu and Diane von Furstenberg. The company consistently partners with new designers to offer subscribers more choices, Lawrence said.

“Since Rent the Runway’s launch six years ago, it has grown to [more than] 5 million members,” Lawrence said.

Dana Connell, an associate professor in the Fashion Studies Department, said she has mixed feelings about Rent the Runway. Connell, who has experience in the retail business, said the company has great implications from a business perspective . 

“It is a really interesting concept,” Connell said. “[It is] not unlike thrift shopping.”

Connell added the only difference between thrift shopping and  using Rent the Runway is that the company gives customers an array of choices at their fingertips, instead of their having to scour the aisles. She said she also likes that the company encourages women to order two sizes of a dress to make sure one fits.

Connell said what she does not like about the company is it encourages customers to lie about who they are.

“[Renting expensive designer dresses] is like social media, where we portray ourselves publicly in a way that is not really who we are,” Connell said. “When I rent a gown, I am putting out there publicly that I am rich and famous.”

Shelby Stras, a junior fashion studies major, said she thinks the business is innovative and different, and echoed Connell’s sentiments about the similarities between the company and secondhand shopping. 

“I have never really seen something like this,” Stras said. “[It is giving] more people access to designer clothing.”

Lawrence said the business has affected the fashion world because it offers more women access to designers. She added that the customer reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

“Rent the Runway encourages women to try new trends [they] might not normally try because they do not want to commit to buying them,” Lawrence said.

Connell said the company is different in regards to its effects on the fashion industry and that it hurts the knock-off brands by luring their customers away.

Lawrence said the company has seen an influx of college students.

“More recently, college students have begun to use Rent the Runway for everyday occasions,” Lawrence said.