January 30, 2023

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‘We put the closet in the cloud’

The fashion-tech company’s CTO discusses the importance of data and computer vision, and how sustainability fits into its IT strategy.

Larry Steinberg is CTO of fashion-tech company Rent the Runway, which has a base in Galway and announced plans to bring 150 jobs to the region in 2019.

Steinberg has spent his career working across a variety of tech roles at many different companies. He also built a software company in the enterprise management space, which was eventually acquired by Microsoft.

In his current role, Steinberg is responsible for Rent the Runway’s engineering, product and infrastructure teams.

“We heavily leverage technology and data as an enabler to our business, which helps women get dressed in a smarter, more sustainable and cost-efficient way by allowing them to rent designer apparel,” he told SiliconRepublic.com.

“We literally put the closet in the cloud and had to build technology from the ground up to support it, given our first-of-its-kind business model.”

‘We have an uncommon bi-directional relationship with our customers’
– LARRY STEINBERG

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

The biggest challenges we face are the need for agile and flexible solutions for our business, employee base and customers.

The pandemic and current economic environment are creating rapid changes in requirements across all areas of our business.

We have adopted elastic technologies to respond to our business and customer needs so we can scale as appropriate – and we can do it quickly.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

The transformation within our industry is focused on understanding our customer needs in almost real time and fulfilling them as quickly. We are continually evolving our personalisation experience for customers to ensure they can find what they need just based on the interpreted intent.

We use fit algorithms to ensure they find the correct size and we’re constantly analysing data from our customer base to refine these models.

In our fulfilment centres, we have transformed what used to be very manual processes into a warehouse with deep automation including robotics, trolleys and smart routing algorithms.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

Sustainability is a key focus area for Rent the Runway. At a base level, we are one of the few businesses in fashion today asking customers to buy less and wear more. Given our disruptive model, our financial goals and sustainability goals are uniquely aligned: extending the life of our inventory and achieving more wears per garment is better both for our business and the environment.

On the tech front, we recently moved to Google Cloud’s carbon-neutral infrastructure, which supports the company’s overall decarbonisation goals. We are also innovating our customer experience with more sustainable intent.

For example, we are in the process of rolling out a new solution where shipment pick-up and drop-off occur simultaneously, consolidating transportation and its associated environmental impact. This is also really convenient for our customers who take advantage.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

I think the move to managed services and providers will continue to grow and democratise computers and data, such that every business can enable technology solutions to their benefit.

Other trends that are having a big impact on our business and industry are data and computer vision. We have an uncommon bi-directional relationship with our customers where we can collect deep levels of data.

We can use the data to better serve our customer, our business and assist our brand partners to more efficiently manufacture.

Further, computer vision enables a systematic analysis on our apparel, which is revolutionising wear rates, personalisation and garment care.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

The security industry and solutions will need to continuously evolve as the bad actors advance their techniques.

It’s imperative that our business partners, competitors and ourselves act accordingly to keep our companies and customers safe.

Security is an area where we can all band together for the greater good to create safer experiences and environments to protect our customers as well as ourselves.

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