Rent the Runway is on a mission to be the Netflix of luxury clothing.
The company launched Rent the Runway Unlimited in March, a service that charges consumers $139 for monthly rentals. Though it was originally offered with mixed reviews — a former employee told Fortune that the company is still “very much a prom dress rental company” and is overextending itself — it has since gone on to offer a discounted unlimited service to employees at Condé Nast.
At its core, the company has continued to focus on accessibility, staying true to its origins of offering discounted designer goods to a wider net of women who wouldn’t normally be able to afford them.
Amid the updates, Rent the Runway lost seven of its major executives in 2015 and underwent a wide scale leadership transition, yet through it all CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman remained at the helm.
From the onset, the fashion industry wasn’t sure what to make of Hyman and her co-founder Jennifer Fleiss when they came on the scene in 2009. The idea that consumers could rent designer apparel and return it for as little as $30 was not only novel, but borderline threatening to brands that were worried it would detract from sales.
However, over the past seven years, the business has evolved to include six million members and is valued at an estimated $500 million, with brick-and-mortar retail locations in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas.
We spoke with Hyman about the evolution of Rent the Runway and how it has continued to push boundaries within the industry. The interview was edited lightly for clarity.
What initially drew you to fashion?
Fashion is a big way that women and men express who they are and derive a lot of their self confidence. Whether it’s what we wear at work, or what we wear out to a party, fashion is really the armor that we have to the world. It’s one of the few ways that people really communicate a story about themselves.
What was the impetus behind starting Rent the Runway Unlimited?
We really started thinking through what a service focused on work wear would be. We thought about it holistically in terms of every aspect of our lives outside of how we get dressed — we now have a subscription to music, to entertainment, to food or makeup, so shouldn’t there be a subscription to fashion so that you have a rotating closet of designer looks every single day?
How has your client base changed over the last seven years?
The diversity of age and demographic of people we serve is much wider now. We serve women of all ages who live everywhere in the country, who have very diverse jobs. We tend to serve women who are smart and who lead very busy lives. We’re not serving a customer who can afford to spend her whole day shopping.
How has the rise of resale companies like the RealReal and ThredUP had an impact on Rent the Runway’s place in the market?
I don’t view the other business in this space as being competitive with ours. Together we’re all redefining the economics of the closet, and there is no reason why we need to have closets filled with things that we buy and that we own forever.
What’s an unpopular opinion you hold about the fashion industry?
Rent the Runway itself was not the most popular of opinions. If you really think about it, it was one of the most controversial ideas ever in the fashion industry. We had to show the value of rental — how it helps increase the market for fashion by increasing the customer base and getting younger women to appreciate the value of designer clothing. That didn’t happen overnight.
What advice do you have for young professionals beginning a career in fashion?
I feel very lucky that even in jobs I didn’t love, they helped to teach me about what I should be going after and what I do love. Even in work situations that might not feel 100 percent right, or where you know it’s not the right fit in the long term, there’s always something to be learned, and always something you can use to find what your next steps are going to be.