Like owning cars, buying clothes is falling out of fashion.
Just as technology is making the hassle and expense of owning personal vehicles a thing of the past, buying expensive clothes is fast being replaced by the emergence of fashion rental.
The rise of rental
From entertainment (Spotify) to travel (Airbnb) to transport (Uber), rental is booming across industries. And the fashion industry isn’t far behind.
Of course, it’s long been possible to rent clothing for a special occasion - businesses servicing this demand have existed for many years, with the likes of, for example, Moss Bros being the go-to provider for a gentleman in need of hiring a tailcoat or tuxedo for decades.
But what is new is that technology startups are now fighting for the enormous everyday wear market, dominated by high street giants like Primark, Zara, Top Shop and H&M. There are also a growing number of tech companies looking to offer high-end brands too, with ‘wardrobe sharing’, like at My Wardrobe HQ, offering renters the chance to hire brands and designers that they can’t afford to buy outright.
Reasons to rent your wardrobe
Choosing to rent a wardrobe over buying one has many benefits. First and foremost, it’s cheaper, which means you can refresh your wardrobe more regularly. Given the rise of social media - and the social pressure that comes with it to always look #fresh - consumers are choosing to regularly update their wardrobe by renting for a fraction of the cost. Subscription models for this service are making it even more affordable.
Second, a generation of fashion-focused individuals is increasingly pushed for storage space in their homes as houses and flats (rented for the most part) get more expensive and smaller. Having the option to rent an item that you wear for a few days and then return it is helping young people especially to save much-needed storage space.
Thirdly, and most importantly, rental fashion is a sustainable solution for a generation who are worried about waste. Fashion is one of the world’s most environmentally unfriendly industries and the throwaway culture and the rise of ‘fast fashion’ means that an item could be worn once and thrown away. Renting items to wear is an answer. On the other side of the trade, keeping items that you might be able to monetise is lowering fashion wastage too.
Rent the Runway running away with it
The leader in the global fashion rental industry is undoubtedly Rent the Runway, which last month closed a $125 million funding round valuing the company at $1 billion. Seen as the pioneer of “shared, dynamic ownership,” Rent the Runway is only 10 years old but its success has proven beyond doubt the popularity of the fashion rental model. It will use funds raised to push its subscription model to a wider audience all over the world, including, potentially, the UK.
Interestingly, Rent the Runway's CEO and founder Jennifer Hyman is famous for saying that she wants to "put H&M and Zara out of business". Well, if her company carries on along its steep upward trajectory, her ambition might become a reality.
Hyman is also keen to emphasise that Rent the Runway’s model actually compliments big US departments’ stores, who had previously said that their top clients were already “renting” items from their stories by buying and returning the items they didn’t want. Noticing this trend, Hyman and her team partnered with department stores from the outset. Via these partnerships, all Rent the Runway was doing was replicating what was happening in store, and offering technology that made the process more efficient and secure.
The more likely outcome is that rather than putting the high street out of business, fashion rental will continue to eat away at fashion ownership’s market share - both on the high street and online - until an equilibrium is reached. Ownership will likely remain the favourite for everyday fashion staples and cheaper items, but the mid-end and the high-end market will become increasingly dominated by rental. For the good of the environment, that sounds like a positive proposition.
Shieldpay and fashion rental
At Shieldpay, we’re excited about the potential of the fashion rental market too. That’s why we’re teaming up with clothes rental marketplace, My Wardrobe HQ, a social community for buying, selling and renting designer items, who are the UK’s first peer-peer and brand-peer social marketplace. We’ll be powering payments on My Wardrobe HQ, so watch this space for more updates!
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