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Rent the Runway’s ‘Closet in the Cloud’ Checking in at a Hotel Near You

Three years ago, Rent the Runway pivoted its occasionwear rental business to launch the unlimited clothing subscription model that now generates most of its turnover. Now, a partnership with Marriott International-owned W Hotels represents the next step in the steady evolution of the fashion unicorn’s mission to build a “closet in the cloud” and give modern, busy women the utilitarian luxury of designer fashion on their terms.

“Access versus ownership” remains a mantra at 10-year-old RTR, which is always looking for ways to inject new forms of convenience and value into its brand experience and “meet her where she is based on her lifestyle,” Amanda Hunter, senior director of strategy and business operations, said at the MIT Sloan Retail Conference Saturday in Cambridge, Mass.

The reasons why a woman chooses to borrow versus buy her wardrobe run the gamut: rentals reduce the burden on her bank account, especially for millennials just growing into their earning power, and she can loan pricey, on-trend styles for big life moments like bachelorette parties or an important job interview, without the hassle of dry cleaning. Just 3 percent of women rent clothing and 5 percent have even considered it, according to a recent survey.

Rent the Runway and four W Hotels launched RTR Closet Concierge to give travelers $69, four-item apparel rentals curated per destination.
Guests at the W Washington, D.C. can access four trendy styles for $69 during their stay. Rent the Runway

RTR also struck on the notion that many a jetsetter is prone to indulge in new fashion when flitting off to an Insta-worthy destination, especially now that more “people in general are investing in experiences,” Hunter said of how RTR Closet Concierge came to be.

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As a Starwood alum, CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman “always dreamed about the concept of traveling luggage-free” and streamlining a core aspect of embarking on a new adventure.

Here’s how the service works: guests booked at select W Hotels receive a RTR Closet Concierge promo code in their reservation and confirmation email.

Those interested in using the $69 service select their rental delivery date for one day before they’re scheduled to check in—and guests can decide how long they’d like to keep the four items they choose from RTR’s unlimited selection or a destination-curated assortment tailored to each unique W Hotel location based on the fashion firm’s data on trending colors, silhouettes and designers as well as the locale’s climate.

Guests then check out by entering their promo code, the hotel address and the name used to make the W reservation. At the end of their W stay, guests “leave their dirty laundry behind” with the hotel front desk, Hunter noted.

Rent the Runway and four W Hotels launched RTR Closet Concierge to give travelers $69, four-item apparel rentals curated per destination.
Rent the Runway recently added ski and athleisure apparel, suitable for destinations like the W Aspen. Rent the Runway

W Hotels expands the constellation of real-world touchpoints for RTR, which has forged strategic relationships with Nordstrom and WeWork that give women more places to return their rentals while bringing high-value footfall into brick-and-mortar businesses. The RTR tie-up “allows us to reinvent the way our guests pack and dress as they travel,” Anthony Ingham, W Hotels global brand leader, said in a statement.

“Skipping the packing process is a whole new level of luxury for our guests and is yet another surprising way continue to reinvent hospitality,” Ingham added.

Despite RTR’s growth and popularity, “there’s a huge market of customers” unfamiliar with the brand, Hunter said, and “we’re trying to meet her.”

Participating hotels include the W South Beach, W Hollywood, W Washington, D.C., and W Aspen, where ski bunnies and the apres-ski crowd alike can model styles from RTR’s recent expansion into athleisure and slopes-friendly apparel. The casual and sport styles, added on Dec. 3, span ski pants, thermal sweaters, jumpsuits, coats, hoodies, sweaters and more from in-demand labels from Champion and lululemon to Spyder and Aztech Mountain.

Rent the Runway and four W Hotels launched RTR Closet Concierge to give travelers $69, four-item apparel rentals curated per destination.
Fluorescent brights embody South Beach’s “live out loud” style. Rent the Runway/W Hotels

“Whether it’s for special occasions, a business trip or just a long weekend, the ability to travel without luggage and have the perfect RTR travel wardrobe waiting for her when she checks in—no shopping, packing, or baggage required—is redefining luxury,” Hyman said.

Closet Concierge could prove to be a valuable acquisition tool that nudges new users toward signing up for a full-fledged RTR membership, whether that’s the $159-per-month unlimited subscription or the $89 plan giving customers four items swapped out monthly. And it could serve as a precursor to even more innovation from the original clothing rental pioneer.

As its core model has shifted, so, too, has the purpose and design of RTR’s five stores. All of the tech equipping each location was originally designed to support a high-touch, stylist-driven appointment that made sense when women were primarily renting for weddings, galas and other fancy-dress occasions. But with the advent of unlimited, “people were using our stores as an extension of their home” as a “truly rotating closet,” Hunter said.

Visit the Flatiron flagship on a weekday morning and there’s bound to be a woman who will drop off what she wore yesterday, scan something new to wear to the office, return after work to swap out her corporate-wear for drinks-ready fare—and rinse and repeat tomorrow, Hunter said.

“Our girl is really cool,” she added.

Rent the Runway and four W Hotels launched RTR Closet Concierge to give travelers $69, four-item apparel rentals curated per destination.
Guests at the W Hollywood can borrow Rent the Runway fashion to fit in with the SoCal-glam crowd. Rent the Runway/W Hotels

Now, store tech is designed with self-service convenience in mind so women can get in and out quickly, and associates can become “experts in service rather than transactions,” Hunter, an alumna of MIT Sloan, noted.

“We evolved our model intentionally because of the behaviors we started seeing, and because she was telling us that this was the job that we were supposed to do,” she said, adding the most engaged customers wear RTR product 120 days a year—“more than the average American buys a cup of coffee.”

RTR has weathered this summer’s supply chain debacle admirably, given the slew of partnerships—a Rockets of Awesome and Diane von Furstenberg holiday capsule among them—helping the company cap off a year that pushed it into the billion-dollar echelon.

As a business built to take back virtually all of its products, RTR lives and dies by its logistics prowess, and Hunter expressed interest in “anything that would…improve the efficiency of our supply chain transportation network.”

“The longer you’re out of circulation with your inventory, the less likely you’re going to make margin on those goods,” Hunter said. “Anything that’s helping us streamline the transportation network of these things and again, getting the products closer to the customers that need it, is going to be really helpful.

“And I think you’ll see investing in that change,” she said.