Founded in 2009, New York-based Rent the Runway began as a rental service for formal gowns, cocktail dresses and bejeweled accessories. And it was a similar focus on show-stopping dressing that was behind the launch of other clothing rental services, including Carmen-backed Armarium which offers member access to rare runway pieces. However, as Lauren Sherman writes today on the Business of Fashion, once seen as a special occasion-only service, the online rental market surpassed $1 billion globally in 2017 according to a report from Allied Market Research, due to consumers now increasingly favoring access over ownership, and looking to rent, rather than buy, every-day wear.
Tapping into the growing interest in a sharing approach to shopping, Rent the Runway has now announced the launch of a new platform designed to encourage more brands to take advantage of the changing retail landscape, which follows hot on the heels of the expansion plans recently shared by peer-to-peer luxury fashion rental site Villageluxe, another Carmen-backed brand. For the consumer, Rent the Runway’s new initiative means access to more products, including every-day wear - Levi’s, J Crew and Club Monaco are among those companies that have signed up to the new initiative – with denim being the number one category. For its part, Villageluxe, also New York-based, is planning to expand across select key cities this year and has also enhanced its closet discovery capability, as well as its community-focused ‘Luxer’ Profile area.
By extending their services and with a focus on more day-to-day items, not only should the idea of sharing appeal to more women, but also encourage them to pare down their wardrobes by renting instead of buying each season. And as Brady Stewart, senior vice president of digital for the Americas region at Levi Strauss & Co explained to Sherman, “This gets people into our product while still reducing our overall environmental impact.”
It was this sustainable aspect of what Stewart calls “alternative ownership” that particularly appealed to Carmen and prompted her to invest in Armarium and VillageLuxe. Speaking after successfully leading a $2m seed round for the latter earlier this year she said, “It [Villageluxe] decreases the need for wasteful [fast-fashion] spend and allows us to share our closets and pieces we love with incredible women.” She went on to say, “Villageluxe for me is everything that I believe in. The beauty of luxury fashion and protecting Mother Earth.”