Rent the Runway

overall rating:



Abby Williams
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The rise in the sustainable fashion movement has led to an increase of clothing rental companies as an alternative to buying new clothing often. For some, rental clothing services are considered a way for consumers to create a circular economy in the fashion industry, while still being able to consume clothing regularly. Rent the Runway is just one of these clothing rental services that focuses on renting out designer clothing to consumers. Rental clothing may seem like a sustainable option in comparison to traditional buying methods, but in reality, it is not all that much better than partaking in fast-fashion consumerism. Due to the high amount of carbon emissions that are produced from shipping garments, in my opinion, renting is not necessarily the best option when it comes to shopping for clothing sustainably. It appears that it’s better to purchase clothing items than to rent and returning clothing. That being said, I do believe that renting is a better alternative for special occasions or when consuming clothing from major fast fashion companies since at least the clothing isn’t ending up in landfills after only a few wears. 

What it's made of:


Rent the Runway has multiple options for consumers to rent clothing. Consumers can purchase a one-time rental, a membership (which allows the consumer to receive a certain amount of items each month), or buy the item for a set rate. Most of the clothing for rent can be purchased by these three methods, but some of the clothing is only accessible through membership or if being bought, making the traditional renting option not accessible for every clothing item. When trying to determine where the clothing comes from, there was no direct information, but from other sources, it appears that they directly partner and purchase the clothing from designer brands. The main downfall of their system is when it comes to the actual process of renting, as clothing is being shipped from warehouse to consumer, multiple times. According to a study published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, renting clothing is considered to have the largest environmental impact (compared to other methods for obtaining clothing) due to delivery and packaging costs. Rent the Runway did not seem to address this issue, as I couldn't find any information if the company is trying to offset their emissions or acknowledging that this is a problem. Because of this, it’s questionable if Rent the Runway's process is contributing to sustainability when consumers are looking for new clothing items. 

How it's made:


Rent the Runway appears to be contributing to a positive environment for their employees to work in. The company has set core values to set a collaborative and comfortable work environment which include trust, kindness, positivity, and the encouragement of risk and failure. The company also offers activities for employees to bond, which also contributes to a more comfortable and positive work environment. They also are supportive of DEI initiatives as they have donated about $100,000 to racial justice organizations and allocated money to support black designers. With a focus on people at the center of their work environment, Rent the Runway seems to be on the right path sustainability-wise when it comes to how their workers are treated. Though it's unsure of the accuracy of these initiatives as work environments vary from office to factory, place to place. 

Who makes it:


Rent the Runway seems to have implemented some sustainability efforts into their company, but it does not appear to be the main focus of their brand. Listed on their website, some of these practices include sending clothes in reusable garment bags and recyclable plastic, using biodegradable detergents when cleaning, and simply recycling and donating clothing after they are no longer acceptable to rent. It seems to me though, that while they are publicizing some sustainable practices that they use, this may just be a form of greenwashing. Rent the Runway doesn’t go into a substantial amount of detail about these practices other than the bare minimum, which seems that this is more of a performative measure than one to implement active change into their brand. Because of this, and the fact that renting is not the most sustainable option when it comes to buying clothing, it's not justifiable that the company is contributing to a sustainable shopping experience. I do think that Rent the Runway is a great way for consumers to have access to designer pieces for lower prices, but I don't think this necessarily justify's using their service often. I would recommend using clothing rental services like Rent the Runway for a special occasion or where you would most likely wear an outfit only once since this is a better alternative than throwing out the item after one wear or buying something new for one wear.