Rent the Runway filed for an IPO this past summer, a time that people found surprising. The brand was still recovering from the pandemic, which significantly ate into its business, and its valuation had dropped from more than $1 billion to less than $750 million. Nobody was going to the type of events that typically call for rented clothes, like weddings or galas. And some analysts said that Rent the Runway had missed an opportunity for a big debut.
But on Wednesday, the company proved naysayers wrong. Rent the Runway debuted on the stock market with a $1.4 billion valuation, near the top of its expected range of $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
It’s likely that some of the emergency changes Rent the Runway made over the course of the pandemic played a part in restoring confidence among investors. They included closing stores and overhauling its subscription plans, including dropping the Unlimited option altogether.
In the second quarter of 2021, combined customer counts for all of the fashion rental market increased by an average of 44% year-over-year, according to Bloomberg Second Measure research. But Rent the Runway was at the top of the pack, with 78% growth in customer count in the quarter. The only rental company with a better recovery was Nuuly, which, according to Bloomberg, has fully returned to pre-pandemic levels of business.
“Consumer trends of late have been pivoting toward fashion that incorporates sustainable and ethical practices,” said Paul Magel, president of the business applications division at business tech company CGS. CGS data found that Gen-Z consumers were five times more likely to shop resale than boomers. “The fashion industry has been making strides to eliminate waste, provide visibility into the supply chain, and other sustainable efforts to enhance their brands. Yet, many shoppers have changed their buying habits and are using subscription services and second-hand or consignment shops, especially for luxury items that may be out of their price range. The industry needs to keep evolving as consumer demands change.”
In April, Angie Hellman, svp of brand and customer strategy at Rent the Runway, told Glossy that the team had been monitoring how rental behavior was changing over time, which informed its choices.
“Throughout the pandemic, Rent the Runway has served as an interesting bellwether for Covid-era psychology,” Hellman said. “Last March, at the onset of Covid, subscribers leaned heavily into casual inventory like athleisure and loungewear, transitioning into more optimistic styles like colorful maxis only as infection rates declined and temperatures rose over the summer. Right now, we’re seeing a renewed joy from our customers around getting dressed up again and experiencing fashion. Members are opting for bolder colors, prints and styles the closer we get to the end of the pandemic, with sexy cuts like crop tops and short hemlines trending higher than ever before on-site.”
Perhaps because of those trends, share prices in Rent the Runway rose nearly 20% over the course of the day as confidence grew among investors.
Those numbers bode well for other fashion and apparel companies that have gone public or are planning IPOs soon, like Ermenegildo Zegna and Authentic Brands Group. Allbirds’ upcoming IPO is most relevant, as both Allbirds and Rent the Runway straddle the line between the fashion and tech worlds and could potentially court investors from both sides.