Rental service giving plus-sized clothing industry a makeover

Will plus-size wardrobe rental disrupt fashio... 04:35

Christine Hunsicker helped lead two tech start-ups until they were bought by Yahoo! and Facebook. Now she hopes to disrupt the $1.4 trillion apparel industry as CEO of Gwynnie Bee, a subscription service renting everyday clothes to women sizes 10 to 32.

"I'm surprised by how many prints there are," CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair observed, walking through Gwynnie Bee's warehouse.

"That's perfect for rental, right? So you're always going to buy and own your basics and your staples. For rental, you want those things that you wear once or twice that are really noticeable that are more statement," Hunsicker said.

Despite her knowledge of a woman's wardrobe, Hunsicker is the first to tell you she has never been interested in fashion. She started Gwynnie Bee, which now operates out of a 150,000 square foot facility in Ohio, after studying the numbers.

"If you look at it simply from a financial perspective or from a business perspective, you've got 75 percent of the adult female population is size 10 or above... 67 percent is size 14 or above. And traditional retail has ignored and systematically underserved these women," Hunsicker said.

When she started the company five years ago, Hunsicker ran it out of her Manhattan apartment. The steps of her staircase doubled as workspace. Her dining room was the company's warehouse.

"Were you nervous though? I mean, I think some people might say a formal dress is one thing, everyday clothing is a little -- ew," Nair said.

"Yeah. Absolutely. Look, I think that was our biggest concern," Hunsicker said. "There's this whole issue of will people rent clothing? When you take a look and step back and say, 'Airbnb, you're renting your bed.' You could get no more of an intimate place than the bed in your home or sleeping in a stranger's bed."

And other companies including Rent the Runway Unlimited, Le Tote and The Ms. Collection are getting into the business of renting clothes and accessories.

"The sharing economy began as something that millennials did, but it's actually a big part of the economy right now," Wired editor-at-large Janson Tanz said.

He says technology is driving cultural change.

"We are seeing a big shift between buying something once to paying a subscription fee to access a whole category of things," Tanz said.

As her company has grown, Hunsicker has developed her own methods for quality control. That includes washing, drying and pressing each garment -- and inspecting it at least three times before it's packaged.

"We're looking for any kinds of defects, holes, rips, snags, things like that -- anything that didn't get out in the cleaning process," Hunsicker said.

They even do a smell test.

"The clothing has to come in pristine condition, like new," she added.

We wanted to test that, so we set up an account and randomly ordered some clothes. They arrived looking and smelling new.

"If you're renting, you know, you only access it when you need it and then everyone else can access it, as well," Tanz said. "You're splitting the cost amidst a lot of different customers so in a lot of ways it's a lot more efficient."

"I think you've got an entire generation of people growing up now that are all about smarter utilization. And looking at how can I make my dollar stretch further for experiences and less for things?" Hunsicker said.

So far Hunsicker said they have shipped more than three million boxes, but she's pushing for more.

"We want it to be a place where managing a rotating wardrobe is actually the way the majority of people interact with clothing," she said.

The most popular subscription plan charges $79 a month to rent three items at a time. After listening to customers about the styles they were still looking for, Gwynnie Bee started designing its own collections to help fill in the gaps.