Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman
Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman

With any given item stocked by Rent the Runway, the team can tell everything from who has worn it and how often they have worn it, through to whether it has stood the test of time after three dry cleans or 30 dry cleans.

That kind of data about how clothes are actually utilized is like gold dust in an industry that only otherwise has information on their sell-through rates, explained Rent the Runway’s CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman at NRF’s Big Show this week.

“Data is such a fundamental piece of what we do. We’re exchanging a massive amount of it [with designers] on how their products are being worn, what events they’re being worn to, and how their products or dresses last over time. The data we have in renting clothing over time is so important to the manufacturing of clothes,” she said.

The company is able to tell a designer why their sell-through rate might be high, but their loyalty is low, for instance, based on insights around quality or particular elements of their garments that should be adjusted at the manufacturing level. “We can identify problems and challenges for brands and fix them through the data that we give them,” Hyman added.

It’s for this reason her business, which sits at the center of the sharing economy, has always insisted that rental is a new business channel rather than one that cannibalizes the existing retail market.

“[In the early days of Rent the Runway], if I said I will rent your clothing at the exact same time as those pieces are on your shop floor, designers thought it would destroy their businesses. We had to overcome that huge hurdle by showing them we were getting a huge new market of customers to think about designer clothes in a new way… A lot of that was about showing them data over time so they could see we were a partner who would help them grow their businesses. They wouldn’t work with us unless we could show we could help them get bigger.”

The other thing the company is doing is starting to use data to allow designers to experiment with things outside their core business. “A designer might do dresses, but want to do sportswear. We can give them data about what their customer wants to show if it has the potential to be successful,” Hyman explained.