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Are people ready to step out in rented clothing again?

Caroline Champlin Oct 19, 2021
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Shoppers look through Rent the Runway's West Coast flagship store in San Francisco in 2019. The clothing rental business is aiming for a valuation of up to $1.5 billion. Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Rent the Runway

Are people ready to step out in rented clothing again?

Caroline Champlin Oct 19, 2021
Heard on:
Shoppers look through Rent the Runway's West Coast flagship store in San Francisco in 2019. The clothing rental business is aiming for a valuation of up to $1.5 billion. Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Rent the Runway
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Clothing rental business Rent the Runway announced on Tuesday that it’s starting its roadshow ahead of the company’s expected initial public offering. The company is aiming for a valuation of as much as $1.5 billion.

But how is the subscription clothing model doing at a time when reasons to go out and get dressed up are still pretty limited?

Before the pandemic started, Cait Lamberton rented a dress for a gala through a Rent the Runway subscription. “And the dresses … stayed in the closet,” she said.

Like a lot of people, Lamberton, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, ended up canceling her subscription and hung on to the clothes.

“I felt like somebody who kept a library book for too long. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so embarrassed to send this back,'” Lamberton said.

Keeping tabs on the products is one of the challenges of this business model, because “as part of those ‘reverse logistics,’ the company has to pay to have the clothes dry cleaned and sometimes repaired,” said Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali.

Then there’s the trend toward casualwear. Rent the Runway has mostly been geared toward dressy or business casual.

“We’re still not back to work,” Kodali said, “and I don’t know if we’re going to be back to work in the way that we were in 2019.”

With that in mind, Kodali added that it might be a difficult time for an IPO. But Wharton professor Lamberton said consumer surveys she’s done show people may be ready to dress up again.

“And what we’re finding is that when people think about reconnecting with those that they haven’t seen for a long time, they want to have been transformed,” she said.

Transformed, perhaps, by trying out designer brands.

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