Fashion

Hire calling: why rental fashion is taking off

Urban Outfitters is one of the bigger names to announce a rental offering.

Urban Outfitters is one of the bigger names to announce a rental offering. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

It could be a wedding invitation. Perhaps a job interview is coming up. Or maybe it’s just a big night out. There are many reasons people shop for new clothes. But environmentally conscious and cash savvy consumers are increasingly opting to rent rather than buy when they want a new outfit.

Fashion rental is on the rise and not just for event wear. Where once someone may only have hired a tuxedo or formal wear for a special occasion, today companies are renting customers everyday clothing, handbags, even trainers for one-off fees or via low-cost subscription. Designer labels, children’s clothes and maternity wear are also proving popular with consumers who are reluctant to invest in items they may not need for long or those who want to keep up with fashion without feeding mass consumption.

“The benefits of renting fashion are wide-ranging,” says Samantha Dover, senior retail analyst at research firm Mintel. “Not only can renting clothes be a more environmentally friendly alternative to buying into fast-moving fashion trends, but consumers can also save space in their homes. Fashion rentals can fulfil temporary fashion, such as clothing for women during pregnancy, while some fashion rental companies are tapping into demand for more niche and everyday fashion products such as streetwear.”

Evidence suggests people are already shopping less frequently. The percentage of those buying clothes every two to three months declined between 2017 and 2018, according to Mintel, while there was a marked increase in those shopping just once a year. Importantly, there has been a consistent fall in the percentage of shoppers indulging their habit once a month or more.

The US has led the way in fashion rental with market leader Rent the Runway, operating since 2009. It offers users unlimited rentals for a regular monthly subscription of $159 (£127). The UK has been slower to catch on to the rental trend, though several services have emerged in recent years. Girl Meets Dress has a monthly fee of £99, for which subscribers can have unlimited dress hires. Wear the Walk, My Wardrobe HQ and Front Row rent out high end and designer labels for a monthly subscription, plus a rental fee for each item, typically between 10% and 15% of the retail price. Meanwhile, Dutch label Scotch & Soda recently announced plans to launch a men’s clothing rental service this autumn.

Sacha Newall, founder of My Wardrobe HQ, believes that renting clothes will become the norm in future and could address growing concerns about the negative impacts of fast fashion. “I used to work in the car sharing industry, where for every car shared 11 are taken off the road,” she says. “Apply a similar approach to the crisis in the fashion industry and you have the potential to make a real difference.”

Consumers are beginning to wake up to the effect that cheap, throwaway fashion is having. A damning parliamentary committee report recently outlined the contribution of the fashion industry to climate change. The findings were stark: the textile industry creates 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 a year, and is responsible for the consumption of vast quantities of water, while 35% of the microplastics in the ocean come from the synthetic fibres in abandoned clothing.

Newall adds: “Rental can be for fun. It’s a one-night stand. But you can look good with the virtue factor of knowing you haven’t done any damage to the environment.”

While more people are aware of the damage fast-moving, disposable fashion is doing to the planet, social media is encouraging consumption of clothing among some users. One in six young people say they do not feel able to wear an outfit again once it has appeared on social media, a study by charity the Hubbub Foundation found. Almost half of young women polled said they felt the need to wear a different look every time they went out.

“The increase in fashion rental should drive the production of clothes that are more durable, which is good in terms of sustainability,” says Heather Poore, Hubbub’s creative director. “But the rental model is new and still being tested. A lot of the focus is on high-end items. The real strength of it will become evident when the big, everyday brands start to trial it. Plus, you have to balance the potential mass scale of rental with sustainable ways to get clothes to people. Online deliveries already have a big environmental impact.”

Urban Outfitters is one of the bigger names to announce a rental offering. Its online rental service, called Nuuly, launches in the US this summer, in part to mitigate the high level of returns the retailer experiences. H&M has said it is looking into the renting model as part of its sustainability agenda. The Westfield Group has run trials of rental services.

The benefits of launching rental services can be considerable for fashion labels and retailers. Individuals who might otherwise feel unable to afford a brand can give it a try through rental, which may lead to future sales. Environmentally and ethically aware consumers are also increasingly seeking evidence of sustainable behaviour on the part of companies they deal with. Plus, rental can be a way for brands to generate extra revenue from excess inventory.

Shika Bodani, founder of rental service Front Row, believes that education is necessary to remove the stigma associated with rental in some brands’ eyes. “A lot of them are still worried that renting will devalue their brand, making their products appear second hand,” she explains. “It’s about changing the brands’ perspective. Educating people is easier. Once they understand the process, they soon see the attraction of the sharing economy. The rise of the conscious consumer is something fashion brands can’t ignore.”

[“source=theguardian”]