By Amanda Orley, CNBC.com
Have you ever eyed a movie star on the cover of a magazine and thought, "I wish I could afford that outfit."
Rent the Runway, a website started by two Harvard Business School classmates, makes that possible.
Jennifer Fleiss, 28, and Jennifer Hyman, 31, created Rent the Runway in 2009. Their goal was to provide women with "aspirational products from top designers that a woman otherwise wouldn't be able to afford" says Fleiss. Today, Rent the Runway has over 2.5 million members and has raised over $30 million in funding.
The concept is simple. Create an account for free on Rent the Runway's website for access to over 25,000 dresses and 4,000 accessories. Shoppers can rent a dress (and a second size for free) for four or eight days at a time at prices ranging from $30-$250. Additional fees apply for the eight-day rental period. To return the dress, you simply package it into the enclosed pre-paid envelope and drop it in any USPS blue mailbox-no dry cleaning required.
[Related: Less About Branding From 'Project Runway']
Rent the Runway dominates this niche of rental e-commerce, but a few competitors have sprung up such as Girl Meets Dress, Wish Want Wear and Ilus.
How has Rent the Runway gained such a following? One of the keys to its success is social media, tapping into its fan base on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Rent the Runway has 115,000 fans on Facebook, a platform it uses to start a dialogue with its consumers.
"Our Facebook page has really become a platform for consumers to share photos of themselves in Rent the Runway dresses and talk about the events they went to and how they styled their particular outfit," says Fleiss. "Natural dialogue is happening between our consumers."
Rent the Runway was one of the early adopters of Pinterest and now has over 6,000 followers, curating collections on 36 boards, including fashion, beauty, photography, and inspirational quotes. "Pinterest allows us to have an editorial voice beyond the world of fashion," Fleiss says.
Fleiss and Hyman take part directly in Rent the Runway's social media efforts. The co-founders host regular "style chats" on Twitter with consumers to discuss style tips. They also oversee "style counsels," where they post dresses on Rent the Runway's Facebook page after a fashion show and ask members to vote on which ones they want purchased for the website.
Not only is social media a way to interact with consumers but it is a critical aspect of its business model. Shoppers upload pictures of themselves on social networking platforms where they become, in a sense, marketers for rental site. "We can market and tell you something will be a great experience, but you need to see it for yourself on a real person," says Hyman.
Photos are such a big part of Rent the Runway's growth and popularity that 10 percent of renters are submitting photos on Rent the Runway's Facebook page or through the reviews section of the website, according to the founders.
More from CNBC:
Unusual Retail Experiences
Signs That You're an Entrepreneur at Heart
World's Most 'Liked' Brands
By Amanda Orley, CNBC.com