Rent The Runway’s ‘Exclusive’ Dresses Turn Up Much Cheaper In Retail Stores

slate_willowRent the Runway, a company that lets customers rent pricey outfits for special events, now rents out their own brands alongside designer clothes and accessories. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with promoting those brands as if they’re from noted designers, assigning them made-up retail values. Even worse: some of those “exclusive” items can be found on department store websites, where you can buy them for less than it would cost to rent them.

Observant customers pointed this out to Buzzfeed, and ultimately those complaints could lead you to question the entire nature of the industry that creates the clothes we wear. Or not.

One customer noticed the same dress she had rented from Rent the Runway, which the company said retailed for $595, on a department store’s site for only $118. That’s the regular price, not a sale or clearance price.

She complained to the company, and they offered her a refund. When a Buzzfeed reporter contacted Rent the Runway with the same questions about the discrepancy, the “retail” price on that item on the site mysteriously fell to $345.

As we shared last week, Rent the Runway is getting into the house-brand business: they’ve created their own lines of clothing and accessories to rent out alongside the designer labels that they also carry. That’s cool. What is considerably less cool is that they don’t alert customers to the difference between dresses you might pay $500 for elsewhere, and items designed and produced just for Rent the Runway that were never available for retail sale anywhere.

Instead, those items have prices that the company says they’ve made up based on the item’s workmanship and materials. “[W]e include the retail value to add context for our customers so they can make informed purchasing/renting decisions,” a spokesperson for the company told Buzzfeed.

Customers will view a dress that they’re told costs $370 differently from one that costs $27.50, right? In the most extreme example, a dress that Rent the Runway has available for a $50 rental does have a “retail” value of $370, while the same dress in a different color was available for only $27.50 at Nordstrom Rack before it sold out.

Things go on clearance, and fashion churns in and out of stores almost as quickly as rental gowns leave the dress-rental facility and come back. Yet the strangest thing started happening as Buzzfeed’s Sapna Maheshwari reported this story: the “retail” prices for these items on Rent the Runway’s site began to fall.

Yet why are those dresses, which Rent the Runway is so proud to call their “exclusive” items, available from retail stores in the first place? The designs that Rent the Runway is using came from a company that has since been acquired, and that company is selling dresses using those designs to other retailers. The different versions use slightly different materials, and are produced in different quantities, which explains some of the price difference.

Rent The Runway’s “Exclusive” Dresses Are Sold Cheaper Elsewhere [Buzzfeed]