10-15 years ago, savvy second-hand fashion shopping meant visiting a charity shop or logging onto eBay. But now, we have apps such as Vinted and Depop established as quick and easy ways to share our wardrobes with others, alongside Vestiaire Collective and FarFetch offering second-life purchase platforms for designer labels. Whether this is for the planet’s sake, pinched pockets, or both, the idea of rehoming, recycling and reusing our clothes has been around for some time.
The dark truths of fast fashion
We are continually reminded to think about our personal consumption, and how, as an individual, we can do our bit for the planet. This is particularly prevalent in the world of fast fashion – one of the most polluting industries in the world, contributing 8%-10% of global carbon emissions according to the UN.
The dark truths of fast fashion are increasingly becoming exposed, with many brands facing criticism. Media coverage suggests that online retailers such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo have been exposed for labour abuse, unfair working conditions and pay below minimum wage, revealing the hidden realities of cheap, accessible apparel. This has raised alarm bells for those previously unaware of the impact of fast fashion, leading many to reconsider their overconsumption and disposal of unwanted clothing, with £140 million worth of clothing sent to landfills every year in the UK.
Whilst phrases like “buy less, buy better” and “capsule wardrobe” encourage a focus on buying quality clothing that stands the test of time, western materialistic values, and the widespread appeal for having new things and keeping up with the latest trends, makes this a little trickier to adhere to for a fashion-driven consumer, ultimately leading to over purchasing. Seasonal styles move quickly and there is often a perceived need for one-off items of clothing for special occasions and events, meaning many items in our wardrobes can be left untouched or disposed of quickly. In more recent years however, beyond reselling online, fashion consumption has taken a new turn with a focus on fashion rentals, offering a potential solution to these fashion desires while combatting wasteful and short-lived purchases.
Is rental the solution to fast fashion?
Fashion rental does however offer a great alternative to tackle these pain points. For a fraction of the retail price, it is possible to rent clothing and accessories for a select period of time, moving away from ownership to hire. This means it is possible to switch up your wardrobe to include the latest collections and labels, without buying new. This allows consumers to wear the brands they love without coughing up the large price tag and, in turn, to shop greener by curbing the demand that leads to mass production. This circular fashion model is quickly becoming powerful, offering a more ethical alternative to extend the life of clothes.
Sites such as Rent the Runway, Rotaro, The Devout and By Rotation have proven their worth, running successful business models based on rental and subscription for many years. HURR also offers a peer-to-peer service, offering a sharing aspect similar to Airbnb for clothing that has grown hugely popular in recent years. Other brands are now becoming in tune with this new fashion format, with H&M, M&S and John Lewis launching rental offerings in 2022. The service making its way to the high street suggests a retail revolution could be on the way.
What should brands consider when entering the rental market?
Rental certainly appears to be gaining ground in fashion, presenting a unique way to keep your wardrobe fresh and experiment with brands without breaking the bank. This, coupled with the environmental impact of overconsumption, could drive more of the market towards circular fashion options. But with the number of rental platforms growing, what should brands consider when entering into this (fairly) new, yet saturated market?
- How can the offer broaden to cater for more occasions? Rental, for the most part, has typically been viewed as a one-off occasionwear purchase – what other categories and other occasions can they tailor to in order to expand the offering? Whilst loungewear and gym wear may not have huge appeal, there are categories like workwear or casualwear that could bump repetitive purchase. This is a space Nivel is already diving into, providing rental for everyday looks.
- How can the offer expand beyond mainstream brands? At present, rental platforms are often selling clothes from premium and luxury brands. Rental makes these higher-end brands more accessible (e.g. Gucci, Rixo, Tory Burch and Ganni). But is there room for smaller, emerging brands that still focus on sustainability or other clothing lines, to make renting more accessible for an even more price-conscious consumer?
- How can the offer appeal to wider audiences? Whilst there is a huge brand offering now available across various rental platforms, a lot of this fashion is targeted at the Gen Z and Millennial womenswear audiences. Extending the offering for all age ranges (both younger and older) and genders could drive interest and create new target audiences. The same can be said of size inclusivity, with very few platforms currently presenting diverse and inclusive ranges, offering another opportunity to widen appeal.
- How can the experience be optimised? The current shopper journey for rental requires you to know your garment size already or take a chance on what arrives in the post. What can be done to deter multiple orders and provide a more accurate view on sizing? There could be room for specialised tech for measurements pre-purchase or simpler guidance systems to aid size selection.
- How can fast fashion shoppers be converted? There is greater education required to ensure the wider market is aware of the potential environmental benefits of fashion rentals versus buying cheaper clothing, but this alone is unlikely to encourage conversion with many consumers in the early stages of their sustainable behaviour adoption. Combining the consumer benefits with the environmental ones may be more impactful (e.g. high quality brands at cheaper prices, ease of returns, explaining how washing and repairs are factored into the package etc.). Whilst emissions from delivery, transport and dry cleaning for rental are arguable still strong polluters, there are still a host of advantages to fashion rental schemes.
What to expect from fashion rental in 2023
Fashion rental comes at the perfect time for consumers looking to curb their spending, alongside take more care in where they purchase from to reduce their impact on the planet. This makes rental a trend that is likely to continue with strong growth. Whilst there is much uncertainty for the year ahead when considering inflation, the climate crisis and low consumer confidence, both financially and environmentally, there is strong reason to believe rental schemes can become a significant part of how we engage with fashion into 2023 and beyond.