Rent The Runway Creates Own Clothing Brand, Invents Imaginary Retail Prices

slate_willowYou may have heard of Rent the Runway, a service that lets shoppers rent outfits (generally dresses and accessories) for special occasions. Instead of buying a $400 dress and wearing it once, you rent it for $65 and then send it back. Only they’ve made an interesting change recently, offering house brands alongside those runway designers, and assigning “retail” value to items that were never sold at retail.

However, over at Buzzfeed, Sapna Maheshwari raises an important question: is this misleading? The company never actually spells out on the site that the dresses come from the company itself: even the brand’s page on their site bills itself as “a collection of color, confidence, and celebration.” The page doesn’t mention the year it was founded, which was around 2013, when Rent the Runway applied for a trademark for the name.

Putting disclaimers on each Slate & Willow listing would probably make customers ignore them unless they’re significantly cheaper than dresses from designers that they’ve actually heard of. Besides, a company representative explained to Buzzfeed, those estimated “retail” prices are based on the dress’s quality.

“Just like the items from the designer partners in our inventory — which are also not sold, just rented — we include the retail value to add context for our customers so they can make informed purchasing/renting decisions,” the spokesperson explained. That’s fair, but how much of the value of a garment is in its brand name recognition, rather than the materials and workmanship?

There’s nothing stopping Rent the Runway from selling their Slate & Willow clothes and accessories and Ella Carter accessories instead of renting them, and perhaps someday they could. With “Rent” right in the business name, though, that seems unlikely.

This is the same problem that outlet stores and closeout and discount fashion retailers have run into recently: customers are questioning the prices on tags that say “Compare At…” and “Suggested Retail Price,” and some have filed lawsuits. Just in the last year, we’ve reported lawsuits against Kate Spade, Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, and Michael Kors.

The company did tell Buzzfeed that they plan to declare the brand to be “exclusive” to Rent the Runway, which is at least closer to explaining the entire truth to customers. They’ll still probably be given made-up “retail” values, though.

Rent The Runway Quietly Puts Its In-House Labels Alongside Designer Names [Buzzfeed]