A Letter From Our Co-Founder and CEO Jennifer Y. Hyman
It started with a dress.
It was 2008 and I stood in the bedroom of my sister Becky’s crammed New York City apartment, watching her spin around in a new very expensive dress. Behind her was a closet full of ignored clothing. I was in full-on big sister mode, begging her to return the new dress that would send her into credit card debt. “My closet is dead to me,” Becky explained. By Becky’s estimation, the exorbitant price of a new dress was worth it for the experience of showing up to the wedding feeling like her most confident self.
As I watched Becky model the dress she couldn’t afford, I realized that the traditional closet is indeed dead. It’s a museum of the past filled with relics that we no longer wear, that no longer fit us, that cost us a lot of money, and that no longer bring us joy. I asked myself: What if the closet were alive? What if it could adapt and change with us as our size, mood, style and life stage changed? Shouldn’t our clothes express how we feel and who we are today? And what if we just didn’t need so much stuff?
And so the idea for Rent the Runway was born. This vision evolved from a single dress for a single situation to our Closet in the Cloud – the world’s first and largest shared designer closet that has transformed the way women get dressed by letting them wear whatever they want, without having to own it. With Rent the Runway, closets would no longer be limited by one’s income, body shape, closet size, location, or rationality (does it ever make sense to buy the hot pink top instead of the black one?!). Rent the Runway’s closet is Unlimited - unlimited options, unlimited self-expression, and unlimited opportunities to show up with confidence.
I am obsessed with female self-confidence. That’s why I founded and have spent the last thirteen years building this business. I believe that when women have confidence in themselves, they can change the outcomes of their lives, and they can change the world.
Like it or not, how we dress has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves and how others see and treat us. This is especially true for women and the opportunities they receive, both in the workplace and in society at large. For women, clothing isn’t merely about style – it’s about power. When she gets dressed, she is making a decision about how she wants to show up in the world that day – and Rent the Runway has the honor to be part of those intimate moments and transform them.
Prior to Rent the Runway, wearing beautiful designer fashion wasn’t a realistic option for most people. We have democratized high-end fashion for women everywhere, offering them access to that power – the “Cinderella moment” that Becky was chasing.
Along the way, we’ve also unlocked the ability for brands to reach new customers. Designer brands have been facing structural shifts in the industry that make it harder than ever for them to succeed. We have always viewed our brands as partners, and we are committed to helping them compete against low-quality, copycat fashion. We’ve built a two-sided discovery engine that empowers brands with access to the new customers they need to grow their businesses, while enabling our community to discover new brands they love.
In the decade since I co-founded Rent the Runway, we have seen a monumental shift away from ownership business models and into access and sharing business models. This transition happened quickly and across industries. Access models now represent the vast majority of the market in industries like entertainment and music. Rent the Runway has proven that the fashion industry is inevitably ripe for that same disruption, pioneering the access model for retail.
And I like to bet on the inevitable. It’s inevitable that women will be entering the workforce at record rates as they’re already outpacing men with college degrees. It’s inevitable that these financially empowered women will want and need more choices in their clothing, from styles to sizes, at lower prices. They’re going to want these choices to be sustainable and they’re not going to want to own them. As a result, the opportunity in front of us is immense.
Rent the Runway is part of an industry that is in dire and immediate need of change. Fashion is one of the most pollutive industries on earth, and 70% of its negative impact comes from the production of new clothing. Fast fashion business models only work on high volume, and use psychological tactics to convince consumers to buy more than they would ever need.
By creating the world’s largest shared closet, we’ve built a more sustainable solution that helps consumers buy less and wear more – effectively transforming a broken system and turning the fashion industry on its head. Using the data from our life cycle analysis, we estimate that our rental model has displaced production of 1.3 million new garments since 2010. We are the rare company whose financial and sustainability goals are perfectly aligned. In other words, increasing the number of times our garments are worn improves our positive environmental impact and our financial outcomes.
I’m proud that our value proposition is a win-win-win for customers, brands and the environment, and we will continue to innovate on behalf of these stakeholders.
We entered 2020 with momentum behind us, poised for continued growth. We couldn’t have foreseen the global pandemic and the resulting fight for our survival. Today, we believe Rent the Runway has emerged stronger: a testament to the resilience, passion and continuous innovation of our people. It’s one thing to have a vision and it’s a very different thing to see thousands of teammates take on that vision as their own and treat Rent the Runway with the love and ownership of a founder. I am deeply humbled by our team past and present. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to our leaders, employees, investors, brand partners, and Board members who have brought us to this moment.
I owe my biggest thanks to our community. Our customers have always been our north star. You’ve made our subscription a beloved everyday ritual in your lives, enthusiastically shared RTR with everyone you know, and transformed rental from a novelty into a celebrated lifestyle. I spent the early days of Rent the Runway answering customer service calls, reading (and responding) to nearly every customer feedback email, and travelling around the country for focus groups and events. Many of our most successful product launches – including gowns in pre-altered lengths, photo reviews, and even our monthly subscriptions – were born out of your feedback. Thank you for helping us build the Closet in the Cloud, but more, thank you for being a true community of women supporting other women. Your detailed photo reviews on how to style a floral skirt, dress up a baby bump, or lounge at home in sweats enhance the Rent the Runway experience for millions of other women.
In the years to come, we look forward to bringing the magic of Rent the Runway to more customers, and to any thing we don’t need or want to own forever. Our flexible platform has the potential to power not just the Closet in the Cloud – but our lives in the cloud. This means more money saved and a more sustainable future for us all.
I am incredibly honored to lead our community into our next chapter as a public company, as we drive value for shareholders and continue to build a better future for fashion. While Rent the Runway has always been a disruptive force, our IPO will also trailblaze in the universe of public companies. We will become the first-ever IPO with a female Founder/CEO, CFO and COO – a distinction I am immensely proud of. On behalf of our entire team, we are excited to have you on this journey!
We are all like Becky to some degree. We all want the power to express ourselves through what we wear today, but we also want the flexibility to decide who we want to be tomorrow. Welcome to Rent the Runway, where women can live life unlimited.
Jennifer Y. Hyman
Co-Founder, CEO and Chair