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Rent the Runway shoppers might be surprised to learn that a) Rent the Runway has two in-house labels that it sells alongside all its designer dresses, and b) that the non-rental retail prices on those dresses are sometimes marked hundreds of dollars higher on Rent the Runway than they are on other places that the dresses are stocked.
BuzzFeed is all over this story, with Sapna Maheshwari reporting that Rent the Runway recently started selling two new in-house lines, Slate & Willow and Ella Carter. Those labels were said to be exclusive to Rent the Runway, but customers started seeing very similar dresses with a different label on sites like Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor.
On Rent the Runway, the dresses were valued at retail prices of upwards of $300, with rental prices clocking in at around $40 to $60 each. Nearly identical copies of those dresses with different names, however, were priced much less at other retailers.
For example, one Slate & Willow dress costs $50 to rent on Rent the Runway with a $370 retail price. But a carbon copy of it under the label "Maia" was on sale on Nordstrom Rack, marked down to just $29.40. Another Slate & Willow dress was listed with a retail price of $595 on Rent the Runway while a similar "Maia" dress had a retail price of $118 on Nordstrom.
A customer wrote in to Rent the Runway to inquire about that second dress, saying: "I feel like Slate and Willow is a company made up by Rent the Runway to mask the fact that you’re buying the dresses wholesale for very cheap."
Rent the Runway changed the retail price to $345 and BuzzFeed reports that the customer service rep responded as such: "I actually received a follow up on the situation. Some designers actually allow us to use a different name for our website. I sincerely apologize if you feel like RTR is not being honest. We have a ton of other designers you could rent from if Slate & Willow is not a designer you trust. Our company would be in serious trouble if we were disloyal."
How did other stores get dresses that were supposedly made for Rent the Runway? Maheshwari talked with a source from one of the dress companies, who said his company was absorbed by a clothing distributor who then started mass-producing the same designs. He suggested to BuzzFeed that department stores like Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom can sell a similar version of Rent the Runway's dresses for less money because they bought in larger volumes.
"What our listed retail prices reflect is a markup that retailers with in-house labels apply over the price of production," Rent the Runway told BuzzFeed News. "The markup we apply to the cost of production is typically under the industry standard."