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posted: 10/27/2012 6:00 AM

Rent the Runway taps its users as models

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  • CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway Jennifer Hyman, left, and co-founder Jenny Fleiss run an online company that allows consumers to borrow, for a fee, designer clothes and accessories.

      CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway Jennifer Hyman, left, and co-founder Jenny Fleiss run an online company that allows consumers to borrow, for a fee, designer clothes and accessories.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS/RENT THE RUNWAY

 
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A reality check is coming to Rent the Runway, the online company that allows consumers to borrow -- for a fee -- designer clothes and accessories. It has unveiled a social-shopping platform with 12,000 customer photos to see how styles hang on different shapes.

"You haven't seen this diversity of models anywhere else," says Jennifer Hyman, CEO and co-founder.

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Accessibility drives Rent the Runway, and that doesn't only mean cost, she says.

The site offers dresses and accessories by a revolving roster of 160 designers, often attracting renters looking for special-occasion looks or the chance to wear a top-tier label without a four-digit investment. The Our Runway program also aims to open options of silhouette and style to women who might not think there's a strapless dress or full poufy skirt out there for them but then finds it with the guidance of her peers, Hyman explains.

She also might learn a few styling tips, set new ideas for handbags and jewelry, and how to adapt one dress to many occasions, she adds.

Over the past year, the company has been collecting input from users and found that -- without any incentive -- more than 35 percent of users chose to post photos and reviews of the items they rented. Hyman says she was surprised at the level of detail that came with these reviews, including a majority listing height, weight, body type and bust size. "What it's all about is, 'Will it look good on me?' and 'Will I feel comfortable?' They like to see how they will look in a dress before they rent it from someone who looks like them, and they're willing to pay it forward."

The target audience of the site is 15-45. "These are the same women who live their lives on Facebook and Instagram, and are creating an image for themselves," Hyman says.

She reports that rental rates double when a user interacted with a customer photo verses a model.

Hyman had posted 47 photos of herself ahead of the launch. "I'll tell you what dress fit me and which one was tight in the hips."

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