Impact & Opinions | Tionchar & Tuairimí

In Conversation: Dorothy Creaven, Rent the Runway
Dorothy Creaven
VP, Managing Director and site lead at Rent the Runway Galway
Image: Andrew Downes.
SDG Champion

In Conversation: Dorothy Creaven, Rent the Runway

17 November 23
 | 14 MINS
Since its 2009 launch, Rent the Runway has made headlines as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, and more recently as the first female-founded company with a female CEO, COO and CFO to go public. Rent the Runway’s e-commerce service allows users to rent clothes from 800+ designers, disrupting a trillion-dollar fashion sector. At its European HQ in the heart of Galway City, University of Galway alum Dorothy Creaven is transforming the company’s digital infrastructure as VP and Managing Director. We sat down with Dorothy to discuss the impact of her work in building a sustainable future for fashion.

Meadhbh McNutt: Tell us about Rent the Runway and why sustainability is at the heart of your company’s mission?

Dorothy Creaven: Rent the Runway is disrupting the trillion-dollar fashion industry and changing the way women get dressed through the ‘Closet in the Cloud’, the world’s first and largest shared designer closet. Our customers can subscribe, rent items à-la-carte and shop resale from hundreds of designer brands. Our platform, built out of Galway and New York, is powering a new frontier for fashion, where women buy less and wear more. So, our customers are contributing to a more sustainable future.

“We estimate that our business model has displaced the need for new production of 151,523 garments in 2022… We have a 100 percent diversion rate and none of the Rent the Runway garments that we dispose of end up in landfill.”

Dorothy Creaven
Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway takes a really unique approach to sustainability because of the business model that we have, and we go beyond the typical commitments, such as decarbonisation, that you see from other brands.

The majority of fashion’s environmental impact occurs at the manufacturing stage. Rent the Runway’s rental subscription model allows us to prioritise access to fashion over excess production. We’re encouraging customers to rent versus purchasing new. From our November 2022 Member Survey, we can see that 82% of subscribers buy fewer clothes than they did prior to joining RTR. We estimate that our business model has displaced the need for new production of 151,523 garments in 2022 (full details are in our 2022 Annual Report).

Several ambitious sustainability initiatives have already been successfully implemented at Rent the Runway. For example, renters have 100 percent of their estimated carbon emissions offset from shipping, mitigating the footprint of back-and-forth shipping. That sustainability thread extends through the life cycle of Rent the Runway’s clothes. We send nothing to landfill, even after the clothing has come to the end of its life. We have a 100 percent diversion rate. Rent the Runway was founded on the concept of a circular economy, and none of the Rent the Runway garments that we dispose of end up in landfill.

MM: What role does the Galway technology office play in supporting Rent the Runway’s growth and sustainability targets? Is there much collaboration with your colleagues in the US?

DC: The Rent the Runway team in Galway is essential in designing and building innovations that allow us to deliver on business and ESG targets. We are a digital business and technology is the foundation. The infrastructure we have built has enabled Rent the Runway to disrupt the trillion-dollar fashion industry and set new sustainability standards in the fashion world.

A good example of this is our recent design and development of an award-winning machine learning algorithm, which was built on user garment fit feedback from 18 million rented items in the US. The success of this innovation has driven more effective utilisation of inventory and enhanced the customer experience. Rent the Runway engineers in Galway continue to work and innovate in other deep learning technology areas which have innumerable potential applications for the field of fashion.

Having two technology locations (New York and Galway) allows for a super productive workflow. Our engineers in Ireland can work uninterrupted in the morning as the US comes on stream in the afternoon. Similarly, the US has their afternoons uninterrupted by the Galway office and collaboration happens in that cross over period. This kind of model helps the company to have services always online, with the team split across several time zones.

The technology teams on both sides of the Atlantic are always working collaboratively to make improvements to our tech stack. Recently, we completely migrated to the cloud to allow for greater scale, enhanced resiliency, and faster site-speed. This is an important milestone which we think will be key to unlocking even better resiliency, performance and reliability at Rent the Runway, as well as helping us to scale the company more efficiently.

“Proximity to the University of Galway formed a strong basis for our decision to set up our European Headquarters in the heart of Galway.”

Dorothy Creaven
Rent the Runway

MM: Why was Galway selected for Rent the Runway’s first office outside of the US, and did the University of Galway play a role in the decision to locate here?

DC: Ireland has a strong reputation for top tier technology talent, especially given the significant investment the government has made in education over the past three decades. Rent the Runway attracts tech talent from across Ireland and internationally but the strategic positioning of the Galway office near some of the best universities in Ireland gives Rent the Runway access to strong up-and-coming talent within the area. And this includes the University of Galway and ATU engineering department graduates. So yes, proximity to the University of Galway formed a strong basis for our decision to set up our European Headquarters in the heart of Galway.

In addition to academic excellence, Galway was also chosen as it feels like a natural second home for Rent the Runway. We feel strongly that the diversity and values of both the city and the company are culturally and creatively aligned.

“Since 31 January 2023, 75% of our U.S. corporate employees identify as women or non-binary, and 44% of our U.S. corporate employees identify as a racial or ethnic minority.”

Dorothy Creaven
Rent the Runway

MM: Rent the Runway famously was the first female-founded company with a female founder/CEO, COO and CFO to go public. How important do you think diversity has been to the success of RTR?

DC: Rent the Runway has disruption at its core and diverse teams bring diversity of thought which helps the disruptive process. Great ideas come from the widest range of people and their diverse expertise and experiences.

Lots of companies talk about diversity, but we walk the walk. This awareness of bias helps us avoid accidental exclusion at the hiring stage, and our company teams and structures directly and positively reflect this. Since 31 January 2023, 75% of our U.S. corporate employees identify as women or non-binary, and 44% of our U.S. corporate employees identify as a racial or ethnic minority.

MM: What advice would you give to graduates entering the tech workforce today?

DC: We often see in industry that different technologies come and go, but the core fundamentals remain the same. My advice for graduates is to make sure you are extremely competent in the core fundamentals of any technology or programming language. Continue to educate yourself and have a growth mindset. Read as much as you possibly can about a topic, subject, or industry. Aim to become an SME (subject matter expert) in the area that you operate in, no matter how big or small that area may be. That includes reading all documentation, industry articles and whitepapers, or by simply asking people more experienced than you about their thoughts on a particular topic. Join tech discussion groups, both in the office and outside, to see what nuggets of gold you can pick up along the way. You will always learn something from everyone.

Learn more about Rent the Runway here.


SDGs discussed in this article:

SDG 5: Gender Equality  SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production


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