Hyman is featured in this week's issue as one of PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World

By Hanna Flanagan
March 06, 2020 10:09 AM

As the founder of the clothing rental subscription service Rent the Runway, Jennifer Hyman is used to paving her own path. In 2009, she threw the fashion industry for a loop by developing an innovative business model that has since changed the way millions of women across the country get dressed.

But navigating uncharted territory means hitting unforeseen roadblocks — and last fall, the billion-dollar start-up did just that. Following an influx of customer complaints, Rent the Runway temporarily stopped accepting new members in order to address “logistics problems and shipping delays.”

Hyman, one of PEOPLE’s 2020 Women Changing the World, made the announcement herself in an apologetic email blasted out to Rent the Runway’s thousands of subscribers on Sept. 27, promising that she and her team were “working around the clock” to find a solution.

Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman with daughters Aurora, 2.5 and Selene, 4 months
Mackenzie Stroh

“I really want to be known as a business that is transparent,” the native New Yorker (who co-founded the company with fellow Harvard graduate Jennifer Fleiss) tells PEOPLE. “We’re doing something super difficult. No one in the world has ever done it before. We’re going to make tons of mistakes. You’re going to be along this journey with us and the only commitment that we have to you as our consumer is honesty and continuous improvement. You’re a part of this. Tell us what we’re doing wrong.”

  • For more on Jennifer Hyman, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Hyman says the unprecedented success of the company is “incredibly exciting.” Rent the Runway currently offers rental services of over 700 different designers, partnered with WeWork to launch a convenient drop-off box system in 2018 and crossed the $1 billion mark last year. But Hyman admits that the innovative business model “comes with its fair share of failures and opportunities for deep learning.”

“When we made the decision this fall to temporarily pause the business to complete a critical system upgrade, I saw our organization step up with enormous heart to do everything possible to get the business back on track ahead of schedule,” she said of the highly-publicized snafu. “Ten years in, its extremely humbling to experience a 2,700 person team acting like founders — acting like the business is their own.”

Kelly Sullivan/Getty

She continues: “It was my team who inspired me to lead with conviction through the crisis. When you know you have a committed team who loves the company, it empowers me as the leader to do great things.”

As PEOPLE previously reported, Rent the Runway lifted its new customer freeze and was “back to business as usual,” by Oct. 8. In a statement, the company said employees completed “system upgrades ahead of schedule.”

Reflecting on the situation, Hyman says, “I learned that business leaders need to create a new relationship with their customers based not on marketing but on authenticity.”

“Our customers stuck with us through this difficult time, giving us feedback at every step along the way as to how we could improve,” she concludes. “I’m grateful that our customers care enough about what we’re doing to take time to give us feedback and insist that continuous learning continues to be the centerpiece of our customer experience.”