Fashion Rental: a Game Changer?

When we spend most of our time renting things such as music streaming services, tv shows and films, why not items that we wear?

As we become more aware of our impact on the world and are looking for ways to reduce our footprint, how about renting clothes? According to Forbes in 2015, The fashion and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world and with approximately £38.8 billion worth of unworn clothes in UK wardrobes, could hiring clothes be the best way to reduce our footprint and maintain our wardrobe? Ex Sweaty Betty director Sue Pickering thinks so, she’s starting up a new rental subscription business, SuperLooper for maternity and baby wear – “Customers are becoming more environmentally aware and conscious. Rental is potentially saving clothes from landfill, however the logistics of getting garments to customers and the cleaning of the items could still have an impact. Our company accepts donations of clothes and rents them out via a subscription service. Maternity and baby clothes are only needed for a short period of time and customers are not wanting to buy clothes that their child will grow out of quickly”.

Rent the Runway, the US $8 billion enterprise determined to shake up fashion.

Clothes rental is not a new concept. For example, Moss Bros started hiring its suits in 1897 and still is at the forefront of wedding and occasion wear rental for men. So, can this business model be transferred to everyday fashion, high street retailers as well as high end brands? And can the retailer benefit as well as the consumer? Ben Hawksley, who previously led Moss Bros merchandising and logistics explains that one large difference is that Moss Bros has high street stores across the UK with ready to wear suits available to hire straight away and, especially several years ago, it was about need rather than fashion. The rental businesses now are about fashion, trends and are not just for weddings but occasions where consumers do not want to spend a lot of money for a piece of clothing to be only worn once. The rental retailers are also mostly online, which does mean that clothing and returns must be couriered, and timings taken into consideration. The cost of logistics, insurance, damages needs to also be planned.

When I spoke to my friends about fashion rental the same comments kept coming up; Worrying about accidently damaging the clothing and would it be obvious that someone else has worn it before. One business, Front Row, that has been in operation since 2016, has an optional insurance that customers are encouraged to take out, this would cover minor damages. Each item is to be returned without washing and Front Row handles the dry cleaning before it is sent to the next customer.

Hurr is a rental company within the UK market, however its model allows customers to rent out their own wardrobes, hopefully helping the impact on landfill and allowing others to benefit from clothing bought for one off occasions, whilst the lender is making money on clothes they wouldn’t wear again.

Urban Outfitter’s Nuuly.

Rental companies are still fairly young in terms of business and so it’s hard to focus on financial viability yet. However, taking into account the cost of an item of clothing, predicting its lifespan, popularity and therefore charging accordingly, companies should be able to make a profit. Currently most rental companies are lending high end designer wear, making it more affordable and easier to have a label wardrobe, if only temporarily. Alternatively, Urban Outfitters recently announced it was starting an online subscription rental service in the US, called Nuuly. This will encompass its own brands as well as labels such as Levi’s, Anna Sui and Fila. Showing that potentially high street fashions can also move into this area, hopefully aiding a move into sustainability.

Whilst the Rental game is still in its infancy, with the fashion industry looking for ways to improve its environmental standing and consumers becoming more conscious of the impact of throwaway fashion, the trend for clothes lending looks sure to rise.