Software Development
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URBN is stepping into the rental fashion game, one rapid iteration at a time

Peek inside the technical and creative development of Nuuly — a monthly clothing rental subscription brand allowing customers to express themselves through fashion in a more sustainable way.

The Nuuly office at URBN's Navy Yard HQ. (Courtesy photo)

This article is sponsored by URBN and was reviewed before publication.

It’s not every day you get to add a pair of vintage Levi’s to your closet.

Oh wait, scratch that — yes it is.

URBN — the Navy Yard-based parent company to Anthropologie & Co., Urban Outfitters and Free People — recently launched a subscription rental service for women’s apparel. For $88 a month, Nuuly subscribers can rent six pieces at a time, curated from URBN’s own family of brands and hundreds of others.

Like Monique Lhuillier. And Vintage Celine. And LoveShackFancy, oh my. Plus, it offers premium denim brands and rare vintage.

Nuuly came to fruition when a handful of URBN employees were snowed in on a business trip. Stranded, the group huddled together in a hotel room to discuss their interest in making an impact on the rental market. They decided that as its own, standalone brand, Nuuly could offer customers a unique product assortment, which would set it apart from other retail companies entering the market.

From there, URBN set forth on the young, but growing rental market (which is anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate of more than 10% from 2018 to 2023) with Nuuly.

“Our brands target a consumer whose style is ever-evolving and at the forefront of trends,” said Kim Gallagher, director of marketing and customer success at Nuuly. “Rental allows them to access much more fashion at a reasonable price, with less impact on the environment.”

The nascent engineering team at Nuuly — currently at 15 people and looking to grow — architected the brand’s platform from the ground up, creating a customer-facing app and a brand new distribution center in Bristol.

For technologists like Nuuly’s director of engineering, Chirag Dadia, the opportunity to build a new platform from scratch was impossible to pass up.

“As an engineer, the challenges and logistics of a project like that — well, it’s just fun,” said Dadia.

And Nuuly’s ambitious approach to the rental platform space has certainly posed some interesting logistical challenges. In addition to being a platform that frequently refreshes its product offerings, it also offers the opportunity to make purchases.

For instance, if a Nuuly subscriber really loves an item, they can buy it at a discounted price which reflects the item’s usage. That means the team had to build a system that could track the entire lifecycle of every single garment in real-time in order to price it accurately.

That nitty-gritty level of attention to detail played a major role in the entire creation of the Nuuly brand. Analyzing a wide breadth of existing data points and careful research has led the team to make educated decisions every step of the way. On the fashion front, buyers evaluated which pieces would lend themselves to rent vs. buy — i.e. new trends, animal prints and denim were more likely to rented than purchased. Meanwhile, the tech team applied a rapid iteration approach to building the platform: experiment, collect data, optimize, start again.

But don’t compare Nuuly to other rental options out there.

“We afford a special ‘edit’ to our customers,” said Than Hedman, software engineering manager for services and streams. “Instead of simply being a catchall for rental, we add a POV — an element of curation. We have a lighthearted, distinct and expressive tone. It’s our personality that sets us apart.”

For its fashion-forward customer base, Nuuly offers dual benefits: look good and feel good. Sustainably minded shoppers can rest easy about their lowered impact on the environment, while the cycle of monthly rentals gives customers the chance to experiment with their style, explore new brands, keep their wardrobes fresh — and eliminate laundry duty, to boot.

Check out the career opportunities at Nuuly
Companies: URBN
People: Than Hedman

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