I have a love-hate relationship with dressing my children. I’m the first to admit kids’ clothes are the cutest. But my two daughters have opinions, and getting them dressed, fed, and out the door in the mornings can sometimes feel like a full day's work. I’m not going to lie: There have been tears and tantrums all before 8:30 a.m. more than a few times. To mitigate morning melt-downs, I’ve wised up and we’ve gotten in the habit of getting my older daughter to lay out her clothes for the next day before she goes to sleep at night.
Right now, she’s on a pants-only kick. Leggings paired with an undershirt and sweater are her chosen uniform for school. Meanwhile, the younger one only likes dresses. If you come near her with pants, she’ll lose it. Luckily, we’ve landed on a handful of kids’ brands we really like and buy the same staples from these places on repeat, but inevitably within a few months, the kids have grown out of what we’ve got, and we have to start over. Holes appear at the knees almost instantaneously, and pajama bottoms that we bought in a bigger size somehow look like capri pants after only a few weeks. It’s a cycle of consumption.
Leave it to Rent the Runway, a company founded in 2009 by Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss and now has a valuation of $1 billion, to come up with the solution. Next week, they’re launching Rent the Runway Kids on their hugely popular site and app and are poised to change the way parents (and their offspring) think about children’s dressing from here on out.
My daughters tried it for a week and reveled in the ability to pick and choose what they might want to wear easily without the weight that comes with a forever purchase. My older child was immediately drawn to a silky Philosophy di Lorenzo dress that, with its hard-to-care-for fabric, never would have made its way into our collective shopping cart as an actual purchase, but as a one-time rental? Bring it on. My younger child selected a sleeveless Stella McCartney dress covered in colorful fruit that was a little too springlike for the still brisk temps we were facing in New York City. Buying it in the appropriate size at that point in the season would mean risking her growing out of it by mid-July, but with a rental, you don’t have to worry about such mundane things. Done and done! She hasn’t taken it off since it arrived.
“It was such a natural extension for us,” says Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO of Rent the Runway, who is about to give birth to her second child any second. “We have so many members who are moms, and they are primary consumers for their family. Rationally, everything you buy for your child isn’t going to fit in a few months. When you’re purchasing you’re prone to making decisions that are not necessarily what you love. Should I really spend the money on this and invest in this if it’s not going to fit a few months later?”
These are questions I’ve certainly asked myself when ogling an adorable designer dress meant for a mini me. I love it, but clicking purchase would be crazy. I do the “per wear math” (a.k.a. how much the item would cost per possible wear), and it just doesn’t add up. The speed with which kids grow coupled with how messy life is when you’re under ten doesn’t justify the expense. “We remove that burden,” Hyman says. Out of necessity, Rent the Runway has the single largest dry cleaners in the country. “Kids are messy. We own the burden of the stains—enabling customers to have fun with their kids.”
This new expansion category will start out with 60 spring styles for girls ages three to ten, including looks by Chloe, Fendi, Stella McCartney, Little Marc Jacobs, Marni, Philosophy, Milly Minis, LoveShackFancy Kids, and more—and new designers and inventory will be added frequently, just as with womenswear. “We decided on the launch group because we wanted the very best brands in the world who produce kids, and we wanted them to be as fashionable and as trendy as humanly possible. These are the items that every mom wants to dress her kids in, but it hasn’t made a lot of rational sense until now.” In addition to carrying these highly coveted brands, Rent the Runway is also working with designers to help them get into the business and add kids to their offering.
In a world where it sometimes feels like everyone is trying to make every aspect of their lives Instagram-worthy, it makes sense that the inventory they’re starting with is meant for mommy-and-me photo shoots, fun birthday parties, and special-occasion dressing—just like with the women’s business. Customers can rent RTR kids’ styles for four to eight days via RTR Reserve, and prices range from $30 to $125 depending on the look and rental time. As part of this launch, RTR is also adding an “Extra Spots” ability for members, meaning RTR Update and Unlimited members are no longer limited to only four spots. Members can flex up to Unlimited spots with a minor fee attached ($25 for RTR Update and $39 for Unlimited).
The goal is for renting to be stress-free and for parents to involve their kids in the selection process. “That is our hope,” Hyman says. “I just had this experience this morning. I brought home four dresses, and my daughter has an opinion. Kids are so playful. It’s fun to see what they want to pair something with—that they’re putting on this amazing Fendi dress and pairing it with cool sneakers. I think it’s introducing a whole idea of dress-up and having fashion be fun at earlier age.“
What about the moms and dads who worry that exposing children to what amounts to a virtual version of the closet Cher had in Clueless might introduce and encourage materialism, consumerism, and an awareness of labels at way too early of an age? “I think that our members as well as the millennial generation are moms who care about the sustainability of their choices,” Hyman counters. “This is a much better way to figure out getting dressed. Kids is the fastest growing part of the U.S. apparel market, but it’s also very wasteful. Just to be able to experience the fun and whimsy of all of these incredible brands and give kids the same Cinderella moment we’re giving their moms. I teach my daughter about the fact that she gets to wear it and twirl around and feel great, and that it’s not yours, you’re sharing it. I think that teaches a value set—it’s a shared closet.” As they say in preschool, sharing is caring.