Ann Taylor launches subscription rental program

Ann Taylor is trying to cash in on the subscription service boom.

Taking a cue from Rent the Runway’s unlimited subscription model, the Ascena Retail Group-owned brand has started Infinite Style, which allows consumers to pay a monthly fee of $95 to borrow up to three Ann Taylor items at a time and swap them out as much as they’d like.

The new Ann Taylor service mimics RTR Unlimited by including free dry cleaning and unlimited free shipping as part of the fee. It also allows consumers to purchase an item they are particularly fond of at a discounted rate. Unlike RTR and other subscription models, however, Infinite Style is anything but infinite: it will only carry Ann Taylor items, eliminating a major draw of multi-brand subscription services.

“The key ingredient is variety, and [the consumer] wants constant newness and constant choice,” said Jennifer Hyman, co-founder and CEO of Rent The Runway.. “It will be very interesting to see whether the rental program within a monolithic environment will be successful.”

Hyman said she anticipates Ann Taylor will experience challenges operating as a mono-brand in the rental space, particularly given its monthly price point. While Rent the Runway’s unlimited model is $159, it recently launched a program that limits subscribers to four rented items a month for $89. The critical difference is Rent The Runway offers more than 500 brands.

The new service comes following several quarters of slumping sales by parent company Ascena. According to Bloomberg, Ascena’s third quarter performance was so far below estimates that company officials personally warned investors before announcing it publicly to cushion the blow. Many executives attributed the dive to the acquisition of Ann Inc. — which includes Ann Taylor and sister brands like Loft and Lou & Grey — and its uphill struggle to fend off the challenges afflicting mall brands.

“We are exploring new ways to connect with a new base of clients as well as engage and delight our loyal existing clients,” an Ann Taylor representative said. “With the launch of Infinite Style, we can offer her endless wardrobing options in a fresh and convenient way. It’s an invitation to the brand.”

Tanya Levina, research director at digital marketing agency Fluent, said it’s hard to predict the success of Infinite Style, given that sentiment around subscription models across industries remains mixed. Fluent’s research has found that while subscription services work particularly well for beauty boxes and meal services, reception in the clothing (and particularly rental) space remains unknown.

“Not all people feel comfortable wearing clothing that has been worn by other people before, even if it has been dry-cleaned,” she said. “On the other hand, renting a rotating closet is an excellent way for fashionistas to refresh their wardrobes, staying on trend while saving money and closet space.”

Ultimately, Hyman said she doesn’t view Infinite Style as a competitor, but said its launch is indicative of the surge in popularity for rental models and an increased interest in shared wardrobe systems.

“From my vantage point, it’s trying to normalize the behavior of renting and encouraging women to buy less stuff,” Hyman said. “It’s awesome when you’re copied by a big traditional company, because it means the message of renting is resonating so much that big companies want to try it.”

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