NEW YORK: Rent the Runway, an online platform where women can hire designer outfits, has attracted five million members by thinking like a service company, rather than drawing inspiration solely from the fashion sector.

Having launched in 2009, Rent the Runway has seen rapid growth in its user numbers, not least by recognising many female millennials are interested in haute couture, but unable to afford to buy such items outright

"If you wear a designer dress, the confidence – and self-empowerment and feeling of 'Hey, I look great', that extra bounce in your step – is really unique," Jennifer Fleiss, one of the firm's co-founders, said at a recent conference. (For more, including how the company's strategy is evolving, read Warc's exclusive report: Rent the Runway dresses up haute couture for the Netflix generation.)

"So we try and look at ourselves as a service company that's kind of offering women that 'Cinderella experience', if you will: that confidence and empowerment for all these important moments in your life."

Alongside providing access to a huge range of premium garments at affordable prices, Rent the Runway is serving the emotional needs of shoppers, especially those who have risen to prominence on social media.

"We realised that women felt like they were their own celebrities, their own brands, and the demand to wear something new and exciting and head-turning was that much higher," said Fleiss.

As with innovative digital operators such as accommodation site Airbnb or taxi app Uber, Rent the Runway has tapped into another trend underpinning the new media revolution, in the form of the "sharing economy".

While fashion may not be the first category which springs to mind when discussing this type of business model, Fleiss suggested that popular openness to this idea was clearly growing.

"I think that becomes easier and easier as the sharing economy grows, and people become more comfortable, and it becomes commonplace – that concept of sharing a car with other people, or a bike with other people, or, you know, a DVD, or whatever it is," Fleiss said.

As Rent the Runway's core client is 28 years old, lives in a major US city and is digitally savvy, it also has an extremely attractive pitch for many luxury fashion brands seeking to reach a younger demographic, too.

"We're going to offer you an experiential marketing tool, we're going to put consumers into your brands … they're going to get confidence, and then when they can afford to buy, they are more inclined to purchase your brand," is how Fleiss described this aspect of appeal to designers and labels.

Data sourced from Warc