Have you ever wished you could borrow a throw pillow, or a blanket, just to temporarily spruce up your living space? I have: I once stress-purchased a yellow coverlet because I was dating someone new and concerned about my room looking put together. This isn’t a particularly great instinct—good riddance to anyone who judges your Target bedding! But it’s one that Rent the Runway is essentially banking on with its next business move.
Rent the Runway, which made its name lending out fancy clothing, is now moving into the home décor space by partnering with West Elm, CNBC reported. Soon, in addition to being able to borrow an impressive gown for a one-off formal occasion (a good service that saves you from purchasing something expensive you will use once), you’ll soon be able to temporarily own a curated bundle of “soft goods like quilts, shams and coverlets” (a … more confusing service).
Some questions: What if I rent a “sham” that someone else has spilled something gross on? What about the fact that everything in my home bears an invisible film of dog hair and dander? Yes, I know this stuff will be washed. We sleep in hotels and Airbnbs with blissfully little consideration of the past lives of our sheets. But inviting bedding into your home that has been used in someone else’s home feels weirdly intimate.
And for what? Rent the Runway has been expanding for a while from special occasion to everyday. It encourages users to borrow goods on a regular basis, launching an “Unlimited” service in 2016, and currently offers more pedestrian clothes, like distressed designer jeans ($40 for a four-day rental sans subscription) and a fleece Nike hoodie ($35 for four days). It’s helped pave the way for other clothing companies to offer loaner dresses and jackets; fast fashion companies like Ann Taylor, American Eagle, and Express have all recently gotten into the rental game. As social media ups the pressure to live like a TV character with a constantly rotating wardrobe, it is also in vogue to KonMari your closet and worry about mindless consumption killing the planet (to that specific end: I feel positively about a service that lets you, essentially, replace disposable food containers with rental reusable ones). Rental clothing fills a sensical niche. Now, moving into the pillows-and-blankets space, Rent the Runway seems to be saying that your couch also needs an #outfitoftheday.
Rent the Runway’s COO says the service is still figuring out the use-cases, per CNBC; for now, they guess that it’s house parties and guests. A venture into “soft goods” with West Elm could just be the start of the fashion company moving into furniture rental. Rent the Runway wouldn’t be the first startup to get into this space—one called Feather already allows you to “subscribe” to furniture, including pieces from West Elm. It’s worth noting this is a long-running way for companies to make extra money off folks who can’t afford to purchase a spendy piece of furniture up front. (Through Feather, a three-month rental of a faux-marble table lamp will cost you $90, not including shipping.) Still, renting, say, a couch makes some sense if you know you’re just going to be in a city temporarily, need it quickly, and are opposed to buying anything secondhand. And given West Elm’s hit-or-miss quality—e.g., the infamous $1,200 Peggy couch, prone to losing buttons and collapsing—maybe a short-term loan is the right amount of time to spend with some of its pieces anyway.
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