After observing her younger sister risk credit card debt just to flaunt a new gown at a wedding, Jenn Hyman, co-founder of Rent the Runway, had a "lightbulb moment."
It was the early 2000s, and with the rise of social media 20- and 30-something women like her sister were frequently posting photos of their outfits online. While women were seeking more variety in their wardrobes to show off on Facebook (Instagram wasn't a thing yet), their budgets seemed to limit their shopping options to fast fashion or "off-price" stores (think T.J. Maxx), according to Hyman.
"The only places you could buy a quantity of items was at places that were selling them at a very cheap price," Hyman, 36, tells NPR's Guy Raz in a recent episode of "How I Built This."
"I had this thesis that we had entered the experience economy," she continues. "People were getting married later and starting to value experiences like travel over owning things." And that's what they wanted to spend their money on. But they still wanted to look good to share these experiences on social media.
So Hyman wanted to create a service that allowed women to rent a dress for an occasion, rather than have to own the dress at full price. It would be shipped to the customer's home and when she was done wearing it, she could send it back.
The idea percolated as Hyman worked at various jobs — she started a successful wedding registry at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, worked at then-start-up Weddingchannel.com, did a stint at global talent management company IMG. Then in 2007, Hyman enrolled in Harvard Business school.