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There are shoppers who view Ann Taylor’s family of brands, including Loft and Lou & Grey, as the destination for classic, affordable clothing (some would even go so far as to call it a cult favorite). For others, it’s just another mall brand consistently shouting that it’s 40 percent off.
Is either group willing to pay $95 a month to rent an unlimited amount of clothing from the company? Ann Taylor is betting on it.
Last month, Infinite Style quietly launched on an independent website. For a monthly fee, including shipping and exchanges, members can rent three pieces of clothing at a time from Ann Taylor’s current season. Jewelry, accessories, Loft, and Lou & Grey aren’t included, but there is an option to buy what you want to keep (at a discount). By launching something that’s like a cross between Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway’s Unlimited service, Ann Taylor is trying to win back the customers it’s likely lost to both. Both startups have surged to success over the last few years: Stitch Fix filed for IPO last month, boasting 2.1 million members and $977 million in annual sales; Rent the Runway, which has a $1 billion valuation, just debuted a lower-cost membership of four monthly pieces for $89.
“At Ann Taylor, we are exploring new ways to connect with a new base of clients as well as engage and delight our loyal existing clients,” an Ann Taylor rep wrote to Racked over email.
“We’re definitely optimistic and I think it’s going to be a great new way for this 63-year-old brand to do things in a new and exciting way,” Ann Taylor senior vice president and general manager Julie Rosen told WWD, which first wrote about the service yesterday.
When Rent the Runway launched in 2009, founder Jenn Hyman aimed to fill a now-obvious void: Black tie and eveningwear is usually worn once, so why not rent instead of invest? The company has since expanded to rent clothing, jewelry, and handbags from designers like Mara Hoffman, Proenza Schouler, and Tory Burch. Shoppers can stock their closet with basics like jeans and shoes while paying a fee to pepper in occasion-based clothing like expensive blazers, cocktail dresses, or colorful trendy prints — no strings attached. Classic clothes from Ann Taylor hardly fit this bill; the most expensive item currently on the site is a $400 leather jacket; most of its clothing is workwear like dresses and suit pants that average $100 (and is almost always on sale).
The industry, however, has been hailing rental services as the future for quite some time now. This is thanks, in part, to Rent the Runway, but also because fast fashion has conditioned shoppers to favor disposable, seasonal clothes over investing in a more expensive, longer-lasting wardrobe. Even mid-priced shoe retailer DSW recently announced it was starting to test shoe rentals.
Shoppers don’t have to commit to anything in 2017. They can stream TV shows and music, use a ride-sharing service to avoid buying a car, adopt a puppy for an afternoon, get individually packaged meal prep and never have to buy a whole jar of any one spice. While the market of shoppers who rent clothing is still relatively small — around 6 percent, according to Forrester — 62 percent of millennials and 57 percent of teenagers say they’d like to be able to rent from more brands, according to research firm Cassandra. Add this to the list of ways to (possibly) save mall brands from their ill-fated future.