Why Rent the Runway Used SXSW to Debut Its West Elm Partnership

An immersive pop-up helped dress and glam up sweaty festivalgoers

The company hoped to create an oasis amidst the chaos of the festival. Rent the Runway
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

If you’ve been to South by Southwest you know that it’s easy to start the day looking put together and end it with limp hair, hurt feet and in need of a space to decompress. That’s why Rent the Runway offered attendees the chance to change their outfit as well as get their hair and makeup done at the brand’s pop-up this past weekend at SXSW.

“As someone who’s been at SXSW for so many years, truthfully, these are the things that we think about like, what do I want when I’m going to a space?” said Gabby Cohen, svp of brand communications and business development at Rent the Runway. “I’ve been running around for hours and it’s humid out. I want someone to fix my hair and frankly, I want to sit down for five minutes.”

By offering attendees services that allow them to relax in the space—guests could also have their birth chart read by an astrologist and munch on snacks—the brand wanted to be a “one-stop shop” for tired festivalgoers.

Though the brand’s motivations aren’t wholly altruistic: The pop-up also served as the debut of Rent the Runway’s new partnership with West Elm. Rent the Runway unlimited members will now be able to select a bundle of products—pillows, blankets, shams, etc.—from West Elm as part of their items from Rent the Runway. “It really lets people update their home as they do with their wardrobe,” said Cohen.

“We’re a tech-driven company and showing up at SXSW Interactive, where there are so many like-minded people, felt like the right place to launch this partnership,” said Cohen.

Within the pop-up, SXSW attendees who were already Rent the Runway members were able to drop off items they’d already rented and replenish their wardrobe while there.

“We only have five stores and limited amounts of items that you can touch and feel,” said Cohen. “We have 600 designers and thousands and thousands of units online that our users want to touch and feel. We’re giving them an opportunity to touch and feel and try on the product and if they want to rent it they can take it home with them.”

Added Cohen: “For us, this is the opportunity to connect with the product versus a pop-up for pop-up’s sake. We’re really giving people an experience with the brand but also an experience to wear items.”

@KristinaMonllos kristina.monllos@adweek.com Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.