Smart Living | Lifestyle

Lifestyle | 04 Jun 2021

Fashion rental apps: A more ethical way to wear clothes?

Our wardrobes are bulging and we throw away many of our old outfits, so it's no wonder hiring rather than buying, and renting out rather than discarding, are growing in popularity as more ethical ways to manage what we wear.

Did you Marie Kondo your wardrobe during lockdown and feel guilty that you only wear half your clothes?

Sadly, our obsession with fast fashion means that 300,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year– that’s the equivalent of £12.5m we’re throwing away.

Lockdown not only gave us a reason to clear out our wardrobes, but also to think about how we can become more sustainable. One way is by using fashion rental apps to rent out our own clothes and hire other people’s.

So if you’ve been living in jogging bottoms for the last year and want to refresh your wardrobe, you can borrow other users’ clothes at a fraction of their retail price. In short, these apps can save you money and make you money.

And it’s definitely a trend that’s catching on.

By Rotation app screenshot

By Rotation, one such peer-to-peer fashion rental app, has seen a 700% increase in users since lockdown began. And globally, the online clothing rental market was thought to be worth $1.26bn (£888m) in 2019. It’s a particularly big hit in the US, with hundreds of similar apps, including Rent the Runway and Onloan, showing there’s a huge market for those who want to steer away from fast fashion.

But how do these clothes rental apps and websites work and are they really worth using?

Supply chain concerns

Eshita Kabra started By Rotation – dubbed the Airbnb of fashion – in October 2019 after she went to India and saw first-hand the effects of textile waste. The entrepreneur believes the success of her app shows that people are becoming more aware of how sustainable they can be in their fashion choices.

“During lockdown people started to learn about supply chains being broken down, and they became more aware that fast fashion is a problem,” says Eshita.

“This meant people started voting with their wallets – shopping locally, and spending money on the brands and companies that resonated with them.”

Most fashion rental apps – others include Wardrobe HQ and Hurr – have similar business models in which you can rent luxury fashion straight from designers and then buy the pieces if you love them.

Sacha Newall, co-founder of My Wardrobe HQ, says: “It seems that the messaging around the damage that fashion, particularly fast fashion, is doing to the world, is starting to get through.

“Our mission is to decarbonise as many wardrobes as we can and make three million wardrobes carbon neutral by 2025.”

Fashion expert and founder of fashion rental platform Satatland, Karishma Gupta, agrees: “Customer trends have shifted; at least 60% of people in the UK want to support sustainable fashion now.”

Fashion rental is also a money saver for anyone who wants to own designer clothes but can’t afford the typical price tags, she adds.

“For people who aspire to dress in designer clothes, it means that they get them for one tenth of the price.”

Eshita, who admits to using By Rotation to rent out her own designer wardrobe – and has made around £4,000 in the process – says: “It’s a great way to make a passive income – some people are more serious about it than others, but most like the idea of making the money back that they’ve spent on the item, knowing that they still own it.”

Sarah Korich, founder Infinite Closet
Sarah Korich thinks we may not need as many work outfits in future as we move to more flexible working

Sarah Korich, who will launch Infinite Closet later in 2021, a platform where you can rent clothes from up-and-coming designers and brands, believes fashion rental platforms are particularly popular since Covid has changed, not just how we live, but how we dress.

“We’ve realised how much stuff we have and what we don’t necessarily need – people aren’t going to be going back to the office as frequently, their jobs are becoming more casual, and they don’t necessarily need to own a bunch of work clothes or special outfits which they only wear once.”

The easing of lockdown has also increased rentals on both Wardrobe HQ and By Rotation – with the latter seeing a 600% increase in bookings on their platform.

Sacha reveals that as soon as lockdown restrictions were lifted, Wardrobe HQ saw an immediate spike: “We have been taken by surprise by the speed of the rental recovery – we had previously thought that we may need to almost start again in encouraging consumers to consider borrowing.”

But there can be some drawbacks – especially when you love an item or it’s been rented out too many times. “When a piece of clothing has been passed from person to person, from my research, I’ve found that people are worried about the hygiene,” says Karishma.

“Here, in the UK, more than in the US, despite us wanting to be more sustainable, we’re more interested in asset ownership.”

But, Eshita says, fashion rental apps are most importantly about “empowering the normal consumer – so they know that when they buy something new it can go beyond their wardrobe.”

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