Meet Jennifer Hyman, advocate for female entrepreneurship, CEO of a revolutionary fashion company valued at more than $1 billion, Rent The Runway, and a fierce woman not afraid to stand in the way of adversity. When you think she’s a CEO of one of the biggest fashion websites, it’s tempting to assume she must be having it all, but she has been through a lot to come to this day.
Before creating Rent The Runway, Jennifer already led a successful career. Not only was she Director of Business Development at IMG, she also ran the advertising sales team at WeddingChannel.com – seems like she already had it all, right? It wasn't an easy road, she faced challenges as a woman and a businesswoman that pushed her to pour her heart and soul into another project, which would later be Rent The Runway.
In her very first job after leaving college, she was ready to stand tall and express herself, she wanted to be heard. She was buzzing with ideas, but it was seen as “inappropriate” for women to be heard in the boardroom. She was told she was being “too bossy” and that she had to “shut up”. If anything, this fueled her desire to become the best in the business and pushed her out of her comfort zone to discover her entrepreneurial side. In a male-dominated tech industry, some of us have probably been in a similar situation as Jennifer, but backing down is not an answer. Because your voice is meant to be heard.
Jennifer was inspired by her surroundings – her younger sister risked debt to wear a designer gown to a wedding. At the time, there was fast fashion or luxury, with no happy medium. That’s when Jennifer and her friend, Jennifer Fleiss, created the website – providing luxury gowns to rent for your special occasions without a huge price tag. You can wear all sorts of designers from Diane Von Furstenberg to Joseph and still keep your pocket happy. Soon after, what started as a special occasion dress rental business has grown into renting everyday clothes as Jennifer and her team carefully listened to what customers needed. They observed women renting a dress for a special occasion, who would wear that dress under a blazer for a day in the office before returning it to the Rent The Runway warehouse. Given how they captured women’s needs for dressing and boldly pivoted their business model to address it, Jennifer was clearly set to disrupt the fashion industry. The “cloud wardrobe” concept she created is now democratizing fashion by making more luxurious and quality pieces accessible to all.
Appealing to professional women, Hyman’s success might be traced in the way she embodies what her customers aim to be – stylish and playful with her style as well as hard-working and brave in her career. She is a multitasker - a businesswoman, a mother, a CEO, an advocate for female empowerment, a role model. At the creation of the website, she struggled finding investors as many male investors that she dealt with didn’t see the point of Rent The Runway and were not thinking ahead of the times. With a career in tech, she also, in the past, faced sexual harassment in the workplace and even by investors. She didn’t let these things stop her. She explained the situation to her board, gained their support and dealt with it in a professional manner. Unafraid to speak out despite the consequences, Jennifer is the perfect example of sticking to what you believe in. Despite her harasser/ex-investor’s best attempts of ruining her name, she didn’t let her doubt the up-and-coming business woman that she was becoming, but instead it helped her affirm who she truly was as a female entrepreneur. Unapologetic, true and genuine, but also hard-working and ready for a challenge.
Though her co-founder Fleiss has bowed down from her role, and has left Hyman to run the show, she has grown into an even more high-pressure role with ease and grace. Since gaining public funding, the company has been going from strength to strength, needless to say, thanks to Hyman and despite the difficult circumstances that she faced just under 2 years ago. Proof that, when the tough gets going, you just have to be tough on yourself and get through it - the efforts will pay off eventually. With Rent The Runway recently being valued at an incredible $1 billion, Hyman’s input into the company has made her one of the most respected CEOs in the business. She is responsible for all areas – from marketing to fashion, from sales to technology. Yet, she’s dreaming bigger. She told the New York Times that she dreams for Rent The Runway to become “the Amazon Prime of rental”. She has already disrupted the fashion industry and is planning to turn it on its head. She’s not planning on stopping!
On top of that, she is an advocate for female entrepreneurship and regularly does talks on that subject, as well as women in business, technology and economics, and she’s a member of the Fashion Institute of Technology. She also gives the opportunity to selected female entrepreneurs to celebrate women in business for them to get a $10,000 award and a 5 week course at the Rent The Runway headquarters through Project Entrepreneur. She also uses the website to celebrate hard-working and successful women. What an incredible way of encouraging women to take over! Not only with the way she achieves persistently her goals in her career, but also with her inspiring character, Jennifer Hyman proves to be a true rebel.
What amazing projects have you got planned for this year? We can’t wait to see your achievements, comment below!