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Are Rental Platforms The Future Of Fashion? | Essence

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“My shopping habits have undergone a complete transformation,” said Amber Lee, a user of the rental application By Rotation. She says that she currently invests in better quality pieces and always opts to rent before considering a purchase. Lee expresses that she finds tremendous inspiration in engaging with other users on the app–she relishes in discussions about sustainability, style, and inclusive fashion. According to her renting clothes makes her feel good.

The flexibility of choosing from such a wide selection and not worrying about wasting materials or money is noteworthy. By Rotation is currently available in the United Kingdom and the United States. Founder and CEO Eshita Kabra launched the company and its platform in 2019.

Rental fashion represents a transformative wave that is reshaping our relationship with clothing in the 21st century. Numerous brands have risen to the challenge, offering consumers the opportunity to rent clothing and accessories for specified periods including Urban Outfitters’ Nuuly which debuted in 2019 and the mainstay U.S.-based company Rent The Runway. CEO and co-founder Jennifer Hyman and co-founder and board member Jennifer Fleiss launched RTR which launched in 2009. These platforms offer convenience while empowering customers to select items to rent which are swiftly delivered directly to your doorstep.

Embracing rental fashion can be a practical and budget-friendly approach to maintaining a fresh wardrobe without breaking the bank. The environmental impact of fashion, from overflowing landfills to carbon emissions and unsustainable manufacturing, has fueled a growing demand for eco-conscious choices. It’s evident that consumers perceive clothing rental services as a way to reduce their environmental footprint, with the rental market gaining renewed popularity.

Sacha Newall, the founder behind My Wardrobe HQ, a London-based fashion rental company acknowledges that issues such as the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh bring forward the true cost of fast fashion into sharp focus. More than 1,100 people were killed in the factory collapse and 2,500 were injured. “Fashion involves a lot of guilt nowadays,” she said. “This has prompted a re-evaluation of our approach to event dressing, wherein impulsive outfit purchases are often made with the expectation of one-time wear at best, with the best-case scenario being a resale.”

Newall mentions that the worst-case outcome looms large, with dresses contributing to the mounting landfill crisis. CBS reports that some landfills are illegal and are located in countries like Chile–Senegal, and Ghana have also been utilized. One in Chile located 30 minutes from the port city of Iquique has used clothing that amounts to approximately 30,000 tons of waste in a pile.

Earlier this month, the company announced it would be merging with fellow U.K.-based fashion rental and resale platform Cercle, according to a Fashion United report. $3.7 million in seed funding was also announced alongside the merger news.

This funding will reportedly assist with strengthening My Wardrobe HQ’s U.K. presence and “setting itself up for international expansion with a strong focus on the business-to-business unit of the business, enabling brands to create their own rental and resale offering while being powered by My Wardrobe HQ.” Additionally, Newall will transition into the role of chief operating officer, she will spearhead international expansion plans.

In the past, My Wardrobe HQ has hosted sales of high-end designer clothing. These events are open to the public and they offer a way to engage with the platform’s customers in person. But, they also subvert the notion that all engagement should be strictly online for rental platforms. Before the pandemic RTR had a total of five showrooms in New York City and other cities—the company closed each of them by 2020 (in-person sample sales were also the norm for the brand years ago).

According to one of My Wardrobe HQ’s clients, Elena Siems renting has changed her life. “I live near the My Wardrobe HQ concession in Harrods, and [it’s] completely transformed the way I shop.” She says her core wardrobe is even more tedious now. And for special items she rents. Renting has made Siems think about the environmental impact of clothes in a way that she wasn’t previously considering.

The world of rentals offers peace of mind. Customers can access designer originals at a fraction of the cost of without purchasing cheaper imitations. And there’s a unique sense of liberation in returning them after memorable wear. This revolution empowers customers to make bold and daring fashion choices while adhering to sustainable principles. When renting, individuals actively seek exhilarating statement pieces they may only wear once, stepping outside their comfort zones. In contrast, our purchasing decisions often veer towards safe and predictable items, rather than the exciting pieces that quicken our heartbeats.

Notably, for every garment shared through rental, 11 are effectively removed from the cycle of constant consumption, according to an excerpt from Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. This not only represents an environmental victory in terms of conserving resources but is also a significant step in reducing the ever-expanding mountains of discarded clothing, as we increasingly export our waste abroad. 

This shift towards rental fashion yields substantial benefits for both individual consumers and our planet. However, high-quality items are dispersed after their shelf life ends. Rent The Runway notes on their website that when items are no longer able to cycle through rental that they are donated to vetted nonprofit organizations. Or they become available for purchase at a deeply discounted rate. These options are set in place to keep the clothing out of landfills for as long as possible.

By Rotation also highlights how it enables individuals to transform their fashion consumption habits for the better by sharing more, thereby creating less waste in the fashion industry. By sharing their wardrobes with each other, the growing community of over 400,000 Rotators in the UK and US are contributing to the circular economy. 

By choosing to rent rather than buy new, individuals can access higher-priced contemporary designer items for less and save money while experimenting with their style and discovering new designers through sharing their wardrobe with others. The rental market helps cut waste fashion revolution reported that renting is “extending the life of clothes by an extra nine months.” This reduces its carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20 to 30% each.

When considering the environmental impact, By Rotation’s peer-to-peer fashion rental model proves significantly more sustainable compared to linear and inventory-based models already on the market. As featured in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which conducted a study in 2022 on Circular Business Models and used By Rotation as an example. They found that using By Rotation’s model, clothes produce about 42% less carbon dioxide throughout their life cycle compared to traditional rental models that keep inventory. Plus, this circular model boosts how often each garment is used, with dresses being rented out over 26 times on average through the By Rotation app.

RTR has been experiencing a shift in users in recent months. Wall Street Journal reports the company currently struggling to convince customers to make payments between $90 and $240 a month. The retail landscape was shaken by the onset of COVID-19, and RTR is still grappling with this. In the report, Heiman says their subscriber base declined due to not having the right inventory levels for customers (its active customer base is currently 132,000 subscribers as of last October). Separately, Nuuly which is priced at roughly $88 a month has over 200,000 customers, according to Modern Retail.

Aside from the figures above renting from any rental fashion app is a somewhat a seamless process for loyal renters. As peer-to-peer rental platforms are often similar to the “Airbnb of fashion,” potential renters can access over 90,000 contemporary designer items, ranging from UK sizes 4 to 28. From an app like By Rotation for example wardrobes are spread within their community. You can request items from lenders directly on the app and arrange delivery with them.

Renters can choose a postage option or an in-person pick-up, which is ideal for last-minute outfit emergencies. Nuuly and RTR offer a postage option for delivery, and once you’re monthly rental items are done you are tasked with dropping all pieces to a UPS location in your neighborhood (with Nuuly you can purchase items you rent at a discounted price).

After completing your rental on By Rotation you can simply return the garment via next-day delivery, with the lender taking care of the cleaning process. All shipping and cleaning costs are included in the total price of the rental. The ease could well prove that rental fashion is the future of fashion.

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