By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
When Rent the Runway unveils its Chicago store late this month in River North, CEO Jennifer Hyman hopes to make it about more than outfitting women in red-carpet-worthy dresses.
The Chicago shop, which will have its grand opening April 30 at 710 N. Wabash Ave., will be Rent the Runway’s fifth physical outpost but the first to launch a platform for local women entrepreneurs to promote their businesses.
“Chicago is this epicenter of a lot of transformation, with the emergence of so many different startups,” said Hyman, who is based in New York. “We thought it would be one of the most interesting places to highlight smart, entrepreneurial women.”
The 2,940-square-foot store will host talks with Chicago businesswomen and incorporate their projects into the store design, Hyman said.
The selected entrepreneurs also will have their stories posted on the Rent the Runway website, which counts 5 million women as part of its community, and appear as models on the site wearing its fashions.
“We really think we can help shine a light on some of these amazing women,” said Hyman, who intends to roll out similar programming at its growing collection of stores across the country.
Rent the Runway, which has raised $114 million since its founding in 2009, has been opening stores to complement its online service, which allows women to rent designer dresses, handbags and accessories for a few days at the same price they might pay to buy a mass produced garment at H&M or Zara. A $1,425 silk Versace dress is available as a four-day rental for $190, a $395 lace Shoshanna cocktail dress for $45.
In addition to drawing new customers who might not be comfortable renting dresses online, the bricks-and-mortar stores, in New York, Washington and Las Vegas, help fulfill last-minute wardrobe needs and come to the rescue if the dresses a customer ordered online don’t fit or look as she envisioned.
Most store customers book an appointment, costing $25, for a 45-minute consultation with a personal stylist who pulls looks for a whole season’s worth of weddings, galas and special events, that she can try on and have delivered for future events. Shoppers can also stop in without an appointment or fee and walk out with items carried in stock.
The Chicago shop will carry a rotating inventory of thousands of dresses, rompers, jumpsuits, purses and jewelry from 300 designers. Four-day apparel rentals are $30 to $800 and come in sizes 0 to 22. Accessory rentals run $5 to $400.
Hyman declined to disclose the company’s revenues but said it rented $809 million in retail value of dresses and accessories last year. It shipped more orders last year than in the previous five years combined.
While Rent the Runway was founded as a solution for one-time-wear special occasions, customers increasingly are renting for casual occasions, such as work meetings or drinks with girlfriends, Hyman said.
Rent the Runway last year launched a subscription service, called Unlimited, that charges $99 monthly (the first month is $49) to rent as many items as desired (up to three at a time) for women who might want to upgrade their Tuesday work outfit with a Nicole Miller sheath ($520 retail) or throw on a Helmut Lang leather biker jacket for a Thursday date ($895 retail), without the long-term commitment. The idea is that temporarily adding a real designer piece to your wardrobe is preferable to buying fast-fashion “junk” that will fall apart, clutter your closet and fill up landfills, Hyman said.
The shift reflects a growing embrace of the sharing ecosystem that has made it common to catch a ride with Uber, spend a night in an Airbnb or receive a week’s worth of dinner ingredients from Blue Apron.
“They are renting everything in their lives,” Hyman said.