Written by Olivia Putnal Tuesday, February 28 2012
Snapshot: Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, Co-Founders of Rent The Runway
|Jennifer Hyman, left, and Jennifer Fleiss.|
Womenetics: Who or what inspired you to create Rent The Runway?
Jennifer Hyman: The concept for Rent The Runway originally started when I was home during Thanksgiving break and my sister, Becky, had a “closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear" moment and I thought, “There has to be a solution for this.” Jenny and I created this company so that women everywhere can live the life they’ve always dreamed of by having access to designer brands that otherwise would have been unattainable.
Jennifer Fleiss: We knew there was something to this idea when we observed a girl try on her first rental dress. The look on her face and her description to her friends about how she felt like a princess was all we had hoped for and more. I knew we had created a Cinderella experience for her, and we want to create that experience for all women.
Womenetics: How do you keep up with the changing fashion trends?
Hyman: We have a fabulous fashion team that is an integral part of the company. If women didn’t like the dresses we offer, we wouldn’t have a business. I attend shows with the team and give my input but really defer to their expertise on the final buys.
Rent The Runway carries over 150 contemporary to high-end designers so that every woman can find something she loves. On average, we add a new designer twice a month and are constantly adding seasonal and trendy styles throughout the year.
Fleiss: We also look to our customers to see what is resonating with them. Each Fashion Week we launch “Style Council” on our Rent The Runway Facebook page as a way to engage customers and gather immediate feedback on what they want to wear.
Womenetics: How did you secure funding to take “the leap” when you first began? How did you embrace that risk?
Hyman: When we were first launching Rent The Runway, we spoke to as many people as possible without sharing our idea because we continually wanted to iterate on the concept. At the very beginning, we bought all of the dresses in our sizes, just in case it didn’t work out, and tested the concept. We took videos of customer testimonials and data from marketplace trials, and through these effective channels we were able to convince investors to partner with Rent The Runway -- even when we were often pitching our concept to a room full of men.
Fleiss: The first venture capitalist we approached was Boston-based Bain Capital Ventures. We knew that we would face a challenge convincing male investors who could not personally relate to the Rent The Runway concept at all. We had to figure out ways to engage them and convince them to partner with us.
Womenetics: As young, female entrepreneurs, were you ever told you couldn’t do it? How did you handle any skepticism?
Hyman and Fleiss: Yes, but the “nos” encouraged us to stay motivated and keep rethinking, tweaking and testing our concept. Some of our best ideas came when someone told us we should not do something, and those have been the most worthwhile lessons. Designers were initially skeptical when we approached them, but we listened to their feedback on why they were saying no so that we could develop long-term, meaningful relationships with them in the future.
Womenetics: What has been your biggest challenge?
Hyman and Fleiss: One of our biggest challenges has been familiarizing ourselves with the technical side of the business since neither of us came from a technology background. Technology is the backbone for our entire company.
|One of the most requested dresses:
Nicole Miller's Bold Bright Beauty.
Retails for $550, and you can rent it
for $100 at www.renttherunway.com.
Hyman and Fleiss: We still have so much expansion across the United States, which is evident when we travel for business. We look forward to sharing Rent The Runway with even more members. We want to continue delivering the head-to-toe experience for women, and we will certainly be expanding in various areas to foster a one-stop shop for all of life’s special occasions. Nothing is off limits at this point!
Womenetics: You only began your business with the two of you in 2009, and you now have a staff of 100 employees. Remarkable! How does that make you feel?
Hyman and Fleiss: It’s been so exciting!
Womenetics: Tell us a little bit about your Runway Rep program that allows college students around the country to help promote your business.
Hyman and Fleiss: The Runway Rep program was instituted in 2009 and since its inception has grown exponentially from 50 to 125 schools and 150 to 500 Runway Reps nationwide. Runway Reps are tasked with integrating Rent The Runway into their campuses through grassroots marketing efforts, public relations and event planning. It is an amazing opportunity for college-aged girls interested in fashion to hone their business skills early.
Womenetics: Who are your fashion/style icons?
Hyman: I am historically drawn to more sophisticated, feminine styles, or I’ll channel the large part of me that wishes I were in a rock band and whip out my leather leggings. Matthew Williamson, Haute Hippie, Proenza Schouler, Prabal Gurung and Narciso Rodriguez are just some of my favorites.
Fleiss: My personal style is flirty, fun and modern, yet classic. I particularly love styles that are comfortable and can go from day to night since I am constantly on the run! I love Theory, Calvin Klein, Nina Ricci, Diane Von Furstenberg and Catherine Malandrino, to name a few.
Womenetics: In your spare time, what are some of your favorite things to do?
Hyman: I love eating at neighborhood spots (I live in the West Village) and grabbing pre-dinner cocktails with my boyfriend at the Jane Hotel or meeting a bigger group of friends at the Standard Beer Garden.
Fleiss: I am an avid runner, and I’m currently spending a lot of time with our new baby girl!
Here are some other stories about young, fashionable entrepreneurs:
Green Box Brings Fashion to Chinese Kids
365 Days of Sewing
Hanna Rochelle is the Voice Behind Lyric Culture
Olivia Putnal is a writer and editor in Atlanta. She formerly wrote web articles and blogs for WomansDay.com in the areas of health, fitness, beauty, fashion, entertainment, news and food.