Rent the Runway turns its attention to the home

Mar 25, 2019

Rent the Runway lets women rent designer clothes and accessories on a short-term basis. The company's next move might well be called "Rent the Living Room." It has partnered with home decor retailer West Elm to offer rentals of throws, quilts, pillow sets and other items. Customers can accessorize their homes using subscription packages that will begin at $89 a month.

Rent the Runway says its customers, mostly millennial women, have been asking for this expansion into home goods. Theirs is the Instagram generation — a group that’s taking and posting photos to social media all the time. “Our homes, in some ways, have kind of become a backdrop that they never really were before,” said Maureen Sullivan, chief operating officer at Rent the Runway. “And so I think people are more cognizant of their style and how that translates into their personal space.”

Shama Hyder, chief executive of digital marketing company Zen Media, agrees. Hyder thinks the move is a great idea, especially for West Elm. She said many customers will experiment with a look or two, then buy. “Once people see that pillow on their couch, or that throw on their bed, they’re gonna say: this looks good, I want to keep it,” she said. Hyder added that, with the partnership, Rent the Runway and West Elm are trying to answer a question all of her retail clients are asking: how to get customers to try a product?

However, not everyone will be entirely at home with the concept of borrowing items for a bedroom or living room, according to Shawn Grain Carter, a professor at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “Some customers might find that they're not so comfortable with that idea, that notion of renting something that someone else used to sleep in,” she said.

Carter said that changing up your wardrobe every few weeks was one thing, but that the home was more intimate. “The home is your oasis,” Carter said, “the home, psychologically, is the stability in your life, where you can go and get away from all the stresses going on in the world”. Not, she suggested, a place that takes on a different look every few weeks.