Rent the Runway has revealed its impact strategy, building on a series of efforts to further disseminate the environmental gains of rental.
For starters, renters will now see 100 percent of their carbon emissions offset from shipping — mitigating some guilt in back-and-forth shipping. The company is also taking a bolder stance on environmental, social and corporate governance measuring and reporting, including net-zero aims by 2040 when it comes to owned operations.
“We wanted to take a really unique approach to ESG because of the business model that we have,” Anushka Salinas, president and chief operating officer at Rent the Runway, told WWD. “We wanted to go beyond the typical commitments that you see from brands — decarbonization and things like that. We wanted to highlight and make clear specific goals around garment displacement. The results of the LCA really showed Rent the Runway has incredible power in garment production displacement.”
The impact strategy builds upon previous marketing and data-gathering efforts.
Earlier this year, RTR collected what its marketing campaign called “unwearable” fast fashion, or “garbage” from customers in its New York flagship. Even before that, the rental pioneer revealed its first lifecycle assessment showing it has displaced, or saved, 1.3 million new garments from production since 2010 thanks to shoppers opting for rental over retail.
“In order for most businesses in the fashion industry to grow, they have to produce more. Their ESG commitments are fundamentally at odds with the bottom line,” Salinas said. “Whereas for us, we are one of the few companies that really encourages people to buy less and wear more.”
Salinas called RTR’s strategy and reporting an “investor grade standard” that aims to “set the standard for sustainable fashion.” Currently, Rent the Runway is a member of the U.N. Global Compact and does not align with recent industry-favored initiatives, like the Science Based Targets Initiative or nonprofit Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.
As for some of the topline goals in its ESG strategy, RTR aims to displace 500,000 garments from production by 2026, become net-zero in owned operations by 2040 (its Scope 3, or indirect emissions, baseline is still being established), and divert all of the clothing that is no longer rentable away from landfill in favor of donation, reuse or recycling alternatives. The company also intends to phase out the majority (or 90 percent) of manufacturing waste from its private label and repair processes, and eliminate single-use plastic to customers by 2023.
The rental pioneer’s decade-deep repository of customer wear data (or about 27.1 million wears in key categories), underpinned the September study and further grounded the latest impact strategy. And wear data — as opposed to impact per kilo — is something gaining traction among fashion sustainability advocates and researchers.
As of June 2021, Rent the Runway performed 4.1 million garment repairs to extend the useful life of its rental garments.
While a higher number, in this case, is better if it means more wears extracted from clothes — it’s not exactly the best-case scenario. “Most of the time I would say yes. The perfect garment that never needs to be repaired but lasts a long time — I mean some of those do exist,” said Salinas.
Specific goals around diversity, equity and inclusion principles are also established in the strategy, including the commitment of $10 million in cumulative spend toward Black designers (as the company joined the 15 Percent Pledge) between fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year-end 2026, and to “maintain on average 40 percent representation of racial and ethnic minorities for its U.S. corporate workforce through fiscal year 2026,” among other callouts.
Today, roughly 70 percent of employees at Rent the Runway identify as women, with half of executive members identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of color, and more than half (or 55 percent) of its board identifying as women.