Concerned about the inevitable stains? Rent the Runway's CEO says, "We're ready for it and prepped."

By Hilary George-Parkin
Updated Apr 05, 2019 @ 10:30 am
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Children are, by some measures, the absolute last category of people you'd want to put in a designer wardrobe: they're messy, they're constantly growing out of things, and, frankly, they probably don't care whether they're wearing Gucci or Gap anyway.

And yet, one look at those teeny tiny Stella McCartney sweaters and little Chloé party dresses, and the appeal of the market becomes perfectly clear: they're So. Damn. Cute.

Rent the Runway understands this, and with the launch of its newest category — childrenswear — it wants to give parents the opportunity to dress up their broods without committing to pieces that won't fit six months down the line. The “Netflix for fashion” rental service, which recently closed a funding round at a $1 billion valuation, is rolling out its first selection of kids' clothes on-site on April 15, with 60 pieces aimed at girls aged 3 to 10.

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In the coming weeks and months, customers should expect this to expand significantly, says Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway's co-founder and CEO. "We're thinking about kids in the same way that we think about our overall assortment," she says. "This is the beginning, and we're going to be adding so many different categories of kids' clothes over time. We're going to have everyday things for kids. We're obviously not just going to limit this to your daughters."

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The list of brands involved in the initial rollout includes heavy-hitters like Fendi, Little Marc Jacobs, Marni, Philosophy, Milly Minis, and LoveShackFancy Kids, along with the aforementioned Chloé and Stella McCartney. Alongside the kids launch, the company is also adding the option of "extra spots" for members of its RTR Update and RTR Unlimited programs, which allow subscribers to rent four items at a time for a monthly fee of either $89 or $159 (for the latter price, members can swap out their items at any time). Each additional spot will cost $25 for RTR Update, and $39 for RTR Unlimited, and subscribers can use as many spots as they like for children's inventory.

The debut kids assortment will have a "mommy-and-me" element, too, so customers can rent matching dresses for themselves and their children, a strategy that Hyman says arose from the products themselves. (Brands tend to carry over similar trends and silhouettes from their womenswear collections into kids, and standout pieces are often best-sellers across generations.)

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Hyman herself has a two-year-old daughter (and another baby due "any second"), and credits Instagram in part for the popularity of mini-me looks. "Being a mom has almost become like a brand," she says. "People are sharing photos of their kids all the time on social media, and I think it's fun to have mommy-and-me looks some of the time."

It's moms, after all, that are behind the current childrenswear boom. Kids' clothing is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. apparel industry, outpacing both womenswear and menswear, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Hyman says that many of the now more than 600 brands the company currently works with want to expand their children's assortment, or else get into the segment for the first time. To give them a leg up, Rent the Runway plans to use the data it's going to collect from its kids rollout to help inform their strategy, so they can in turn make products that will keep RTR customers coming back. "It's really a new revenue stream for a lot of our brands," she says.

The launch comes almost a year after the company expanded into maternity wear — another category that Hyman called a "no-brainer" since most of the pieces only fit for a few months. Renting kids clothes, though, comes with another huge advantage: someone else does the laundry.

Rent the Runway has the biggest dry cleaning facility in the country, and now, 10 years into building the company, Hyman says, it doesn't need to worry about steering clear of things like light colors or delicate buttons — even when it's buying for a 5 year old.

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"At this point, we're experts in restoring garments to perfect condition," she explains. "So we can handle the behavior of kids, where things might get messier, or, you know, an embellishment might fall off. We're cool with that. We're ready for it and prepped."

So go ahead: bring on the birthday cake.