It’s no secret that the rise of fast fashion has made the industry one of the most polluting in the world. And while an increasing number of people are seeking out sustainable brands and opting to buy secondhand where possible, there’s another trend that’s coming to the fore: wardrobe rentals. Looking like a million bucks in a designer frock while saving the planet? Sounds ideal to us!
For the Love of Fashion
You have a special occasion coming up, and you want to express yourself in something truly stunning that’s bang on trend. So you head online and purchase a jumpsuit, knowing that you’ll only wear it once before you leave it to collect dust at the back of the wardrobe, donate it to charity, or send it to landfill. For those of us who enjoy having new items of clothing with each season and special event, our love of fashion is having quite an impact on the environment. According to charity the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the value of unused clothing in wardrobes across the UK is estimated at around £30 billion, whilst an estimated £140 million worth of clothing is thrown into landfills annually. It seems many of us are guilty of purchasing items that we will only wear a handful of times, if at all. This is where wardrobe rentals come in.
The concept of renting clothes isn’t exactly a new one: after all, men have been renting suits and tuxedos for years. Rent the Runway, which arguably kickstarted the wardrobe rental concept, began in 2009, so the ‘trend’ has been over a decade in the making. But with more people becoming aware of the impact of fast fashion, the concept is becoming increasingly popular. At last year’s British Fashion Awards, a slew of celebrities and influencers – including Millie Mackintosh, Lady Mary Charteris, Sophia Blunt and Chloe Delevingne – showed up in rented frocks from My Wardrobe HQ. Social media influencers like Venetia La Manna have also been advocating the concept, opting to rent clothing for special occasions. It seems like a win-win situation, too. Essentially, what many people may pay monthly for a handful of cheap clothes could instead buy them the experience of wearing a designer dress that can then be returned and worn by someone else.
The concept is also helping fashion brands become more sustainable themselves, by allowing them to keep current and past-season stock in circulation, thus increasing a garment’s ‘active life’ and reducing its carbon footprint. What’s more, the rising trend of buying items online, only to return them straight away, has its own detrimental impact. Many of these deliveries come packaged in single-use plastic that often cannot be recycled, and in the EU, total packaging waste in 2016 amounted to almost 86 million tonnes – that’s 170kg per person. By simply purchasing and returning a garment straight away, you could be almost doubling its carbon footprint.
We know what you’re thinking: it’s all well and good if you want to rent a fancy designer frock for one night only – but what about something more casual? The good news is that the rise of the trend means an increase in options, from casual clothing to week-long or year-long rentals. You can even sign up for a membership to rent a certain number of pieces on a monthly basis. Better yet, they’re available at varying price points. It’s not only dedicated online platforms that are offering the service, either. Last year, H&M began trialling wardrobe rental schemes in its Swedish stores; COS started testing clothing rentals through China’s YCloset platform; and brands like Ann Taylor and Urban Outfitters are offering retail rental schemes in the US.
Granted, renting clothes isn’t going to solve the environmental and ethical issues that go hand-in-hand with the industry – even the people behind these rental services, such as former Topshop brand director Jane Shepherdson, now the chairman of My Wardrobe HQ, admit that it’s no solution to the impacts of fast fashion. It is, however, part of the sustainable fashion puzzle, helping to decrease each garment’s carbon footprint, and shifting consumer behaviour overall.