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Beyond Rent the Runway: The Startups Growing the Rental Economy

Startups focusing on very different groups of young consumers are spreading the rental economy beyond the “runway.”

Why buy when you can rent? It’s a question that more young consumers seem to be asking themselves—and a slew of startups are ready to give them more rental options than ever before. While traditional retailers are struggling, and a Less is More mentality might be impacting young consumers’ shopping habits, rental services are allowing them to use everything from tech devices to furniture—without ever actually buying a thing. But it’s fashion that has really been the epicenter of the rental economy. According to one survey, almost a quarter of consumers in the U.S. say they have rented clothing, and almost 35% say they find the idea appealing. 

For some time, clothing rental has been focused on occasions—which makes sense. Big dances, weddings, and fancy events that requires out of the ordinary outfits don’t come around every day—so why buy clothes for each one? But, perhaps thanks to the mainstreaming of sites like Rent the Runway and the Black Tux, that mentality is now spreading into non-occasion clothes as well. Forget filling up your closet every season, rental services instead provide a rotating selection of new clothes, for less than a major shopping trip.

Here are three of those startups, each targeting a different group of young consumers—spreading the rental economy into everyday fashion: 

Armoire: For The Millennial #BossLady

For working Millennial women (for working women of all generations for that matter) busy is a state of being. Armoire is the startup that wants to eliminate the stress and time-consuming nature of clothes shopping for these #bosslady consumers. For $149 a month, Armoire subscribers can select four items from a curated collection of 10-15 high-end designs that an algorithm has selected for them based on their tastes. Those four items can be kept for as long as desired, and swapped out at any time, and sent back to Armoire for dry cleaning. When we interviewed the CEO of Armoire, she explained that their target consumer is “likely in that Millennial group because Millennials are comfortable and attuned to collaborative consumption. They do it with their apartments, they do it with their cars, and clothes are just another extension of that.” The startup, currently a part of MIT’s accelerator program, reports that they have an active waiting list, and that their happy customers are already doing their marketing for them. 

Curtsy: For the Campus Fashionistas 

This currently members-only app is designed for campus fashionistas who want to rent dresses from other girls at their school. The startup began at the University of Mississippi by a sorority girl who realized she could make a living renting her closet out to other Greek girls, who reportedly need at least 20 dresses a year for events and formal occasions. The startup grew quickly, and its focus on college campuses is giving it a unique market.  Their site calls it “Borrowing Clothes Without The Awkward.” Because Curtsy users are on the same campus, and only shows clothes available near them, there is no reason for a delivery portion of the service—they simply drop by to try on and carry away their new style for the week.

Gwynnie Bee: For the Plus-Size Girls Making a Statement

Plus-size clothing rental service Gywnnie Bee has found that what their consumers want is “pretty far from what most stores are trying to sell them.” Setting themselves apart from other rental brands, the service makes sure to ask shoppers “What other brands do you want to see? What cuts and styles do you want to wear?” After learning about their desire for “statement” pieces, Rachel Antonoff was bought on to design a line, which debuted at fashion week event CurvyCon. Although brands like H&M and ASOS have expanded their size offerings, not as many high fashion designers have taken on the task—making Antonoff “one of the first cool-girl designers to make the leap” into plus-size fashion. 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.