Rent the Runway, the platform for renting and buying designer apparel and accessories, has released its first impact strategy.
Consumers who rent or buy clothes on the Rent the Runway platform will now see 100 percent of their carbon emissions offset with each transaction. It’s part of Rent the Runway’s new sustainability commitments.
“Being an agent of change is part of the fabric of Rent the Runway: we built a more sustainable business model for fashion by encouraging customers to buy less and wear more,” Jennifer Y. Hyman, CEO, Co-Founder and Chair of Rent the Runway, says in the company’s impact strategy.
“We believe in the power of our platform to radically alter the trajectory of the fashion industry, and unlike most in the space, our ESG initiatives complement—rather than compete with—our bottom line,” Hyman said.
The platform, which launched in 2009 by Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, says it’s now aiming to be net-zero by 2040 across all of its owned operations.
“We wanted to take a really unique approach to ESG because of the business model that we have,” Anushka Salinas, president and chief operating officer at Rent the Runway, told WWD. “We wanted to go beyond the typical commitments that you see from brands—decarbonization and things like that. We wanted to highlight and make clear specific goals around garment displacement. The results of the [life cycle assessment] really showed Rent the Runway has incredible power in garment production displacement.”
RTR says its ESG strategy includes displacing half-a-million new garments by 2026, routing all unrentable clothing to donation opportunities, reusing, or recycling opportunities, decreasing manufacturing waste by 90 percent on its private label and repair offerings, and eliminating single-use plastic by next year.
A lifecycle assessment conducted earlier this year found that the platform had displaced the equivalent of 1.3 million new garments since 2010.
“In order for most businesses in the fashion industry to grow, they have to produce more. Their ESG commitments are fundamentally at odds with the bottom line,” Salinas said. “Whereas for us, we are one of the few companies that really encourages people to buy less and wear more.”
RTR also noted that as of last June, it had performed more than 4 million garment repairs, contributing to a growing market for aftercare to help extend the life of products, particularly in the luxury sector. Last December, British label Burberry announced it had expanded its aftercare program. Footwear brand Manolo Blahnik also launched an aftercare program last September.
RTR’s strategy and reporting, according to Salinas, is an “investor grade standard” that aims to “set the standard for sustainable fashion.”
The company also announced increased targets for diversity, equity, and inclusion. RTR is committing $10 million to support Black designers and maintaining at least 40 percent representation for racial and ethnic minorities in the workforce through 2026. RTR says its current employee roster is 70 percent women and half of its executive team is Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Fifty-five percent of the Rent the Runway board members identify as women.
Is renting clothes sustainable?
Consumers, particularly Gen Z are interested in clothing rental to reduce their carbon footprint, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Sustainability.
But another study published last year in Environmental Research Letters found that clothing rental platforms like Rent the Runway may be more damaging to the environment than buying and disposing of new items. The study looked at carbon emissions, particularly the shipping and returning of rental garments, and the downstream impact.
Renting clothes is not the same as buying secondhand, the study pointed out. But it has that potential as shipping becomes more sustainable, and rental facilities become more localized, decreasing the overall shipping distances.
“We’re by no means discouraging brands from developing recycling technology,” said Anna Härri, a coauthor of the paper and a graduate student in the department of sustainability science at LUT University. “But it’s important to realize that recycling and rental generate significantly more emissions than resale or simply wearing your clothes longer. This should inform how the fashion industry evaluates how to be more sustainable going forward.”
Rent the Runway was quick to dispute the study’s findings. It published its own data, some of which is included in its impact strategy, noting that renting saves water—a huge concern for the fashion industry, which produces more wastewater than any other industry. RTR also said its findings point to the energy-saving and emissions-reducing benefits of renting over buying new.