Rent the Runway, a year-and-a-half-old company that rents designer dresses to women for a fraction of their retail price, has discovered a key demographic for their business: college students, particularly Southern sorority girls, who dress up every weekend for football games, formals, and any other event where they might need to husband-hunt in a $2,000 dress without repeating an outfit. Reports The Wall Street Journal:
College campuses—and even a few elite prep schools—make up roughly 25% of the company's business and are a big source of its growth. "It starts out with prom and moves on to graduation," says chief executive Jennifer Hyman, explaining how girls transition into loyal customers as they try out Alice & Olivia, D&G, Missoni, Diane von Furstenberg, Trina Turk and other designers—often for the first time.
In order to capitalize on the demands of looking hot between classes, Rent the Runway's founders have homed in on the interests of the age group, even developing specific college-targeted slogans like "Have a one-night stand with fashion," which they only use on campuses. They've also appointed student representatives to help drum up business, like Tiffany Chao, a 20-year-old student at UCLA.
Ms. Chao and 21-year-old communications major Melissa Deni say they feel compelled to dress well. "I think there's pressure. You want to stand out and be noticed," Ms. Deni said recently at a campus coffee shop.
Ms. Chao nodded. "Because of Facebook, you don't want to have the same picture of you in the same dress."
"I try never to wear the same dress to two date parties," Ms. Deni agreed.
The same forces rule at the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina, two schools that are potent sources of business for the company. Rent The Runway learned early on that girls dress up more, and more often, at some Southern schools, with football games and parties becoming rent-a-dress events.
Which is interesting for two reasons: First off, frat dudes are usually way too drunk at most of these events to notice or care what anyone's wearing (and that probably wouldn't change if they were sober, come to think of it); second, isn't the whole point of joining a sorority so that you can borrow one another's dresses for free?