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Survival Skills

A toast to gutsy moves and forward thinking by entrepreneurs across all fields

Just because your stock portfolio is looking a bit threadbare, your closet needn’t suffer. Some outfitters have beaten the recession—and kept women looking current— by offering boom-time goods at double-dip prices.

RENT THE RUNWAY: The Endless Wardrobe
Retail: $5,000
Rent the Runway: $400
Since its launch in 2009, Rent the Runway has gone from two co-founders and a handful of dresses to more than 180 employees and a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in New Jersey. The company’s short-term leases of clothes, shoes and accessories from 170 designer brands represent a fraction of retail, like the gold Badgley Mischka gown (2012’s most rented dress) that retails for $850 but rents for $125, and the $5,000 Bibhu Mohapatra frock that can be yours, at least for a week, for $400.

THE OUTNET: At-Home Outlet Shopping
Retail: $875
The Outnet: $271

Shoppers too busy to schlep to the mall can scour The Outnet’s website for past-season sale items from its wildly successful high-fashion sister site, Net-a-Porter, without ever leaving the couch (plus there’s free exchanges and zero creepy communal fitting rooms). It’s worked: Since its 2009 debut, The Outnet has sold close to 300,000 dresses from exclusive brands like Marni, Chloé and Alexander McQueen; during peak shopping hours (that is, the workday), it racks up approximately 30 orders every second.

I LOVE JEWELRY AUCTIONS: Instant Gratification
Retail: $220
I Love Jewelry Auctions: $65

The first-ever accessories company available only through Facebook, I Love Jewelry Auctions allows shoppers to bid on “designer-inspired” baubles. By doing business via the social networking site, where it boasts more than 150,000 fans, the company cuts costs by eliminating the need for a store or even a website—savings that are passed on to the customer. Launched with $5,000 of founder (and Cartier vet) Jordann Weingartner’s own cash, the firm mails up to 300 packages a day from her Palm Beach house. Less than a year in, she expected to close 2012 with revenues of $2 million.

YOOX: Exclusive Designer Access
Retail: $11,000
Yoox: $6,590

Debuting in 2000 at the height of the e-commerce implosion, Yoox deals in ultra-exclusive designer overstock at a serious discount. Founder Federico Marchetti’s background in high-fashion e-commerce paved the way for partnerships with brands from around the world—many of them traditionally internet-wary, like Rick Owens and Isabel Marant—as well as designers themselves (one recent sale featured items directly from the closet of Margherita Missoni). An expansion into art and furniture from designers such as Kartell and Established & Sons has doubled Yoox’s profits.

VENT-PRIVEE: Limited-Time Steals
Retail: $2,995
Vent-Privee: $145

After a successful decade in Europe—where sales generated more than $1 billion in 2011 alone— this flash-sale pioneer bowed in the U.S. two years ago. Since then it’s gone from four 72-hour sales a week to 16, many curated by Elle creative director Joe Zee and all boasting discounts of up to 90 percent off retail. Meaning you might very well score a $3,000 handbag for less than it costs to fill up the SUV. —ALYSSA GIACOBBE

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