What do you think of renting clothes? Whatever your personal views on secondhand fashion, it is here to stay. A recent report from BCG and Vestiare Collective points to fashion’s secondhand market growing over the next five years by a compound annual growth rate of as much as 20%. The popularity of secondhand fashion has been linked to affordability, uniqueness of products, a chance to ‘try before you buy’ and concerns about the environment.
Fashion rental is largely connected with this rising trend, and in 2020 this has reached a value of US$1.26 billion pre-pandemic in the US, with the market expected to grow to $4.4 billion by 2028.
While many fashion rental companies like Rotaro, By Rotation, Cocoon, Hurr Collective, MyWardrobe HQ, Onloan, The Devout and The Endless Wardrobe took a hit when the pandemic happened – no weddings, events or dinners to dress up for! – rental fashion is regaining its footing with new COVID-safe protocols in place.
These fashion rental companies operate in different ways, and run the gamut of offering everything from everyday wear to occasion-ready pieces to handbags and jewellery. Some, like MyWardrobe HQ, function by letting you borrow designer wares from a favourite shop; others, like The Devout, operate on a monthly subscription system rather than price-per-item lending: for £79 a month, you can rent five designer items, and swap your clothes monthly.
There are also peer-to-peer fashion rental systems, which have been described as the ‘Airbnb of fashion’: see Hurr Collective and By Rotation. These let you borrow clothes from the supremely stylish and those with designer clothes to spare, as well as give you a chance to earn some cash by renting out your own wardrobe, which may be gathering dust in the closet.
Tina Lipfriend, who previously ran an antiques business, founded the designer bag rental site BagButler in October 2019 in the middle of a personal journey, nine months into a breast cancer treatment plan (the company supports Against Breast Cancer by donating unwanted clean bras from customers, as well as donating 5% of all proceeds).
“I wanted a small collection of beautiful bags that were purchased new by me rather than trawling for so called ‘preloved’ pieces which at best would provide a random collection. Also, I wanted my pieces to be in perfect condition and relevant to current collections rather than many seasons or years old. For example, we were able to offer the new Dior Bobby bag in two colourways the day it was launched in London. I also knew that the peer to peer model was not for me as I felt our customer service would be better if we owned all our own stock,” she tells Lawfully Chic.
Lipfriend sources stock for the rental company as she would for her own wardrobe, shopping at her favourite designer outposts including Chanel and Dior, which are regularly the most popular designer bag rentals among consumers.
While the need for bags diminished in the pandemic, BagButler also stocks designer jewellery. These rentals have boomed with the rise in Zoom culture, with statement necklaces or earrings becoming a signature of the video chat look. All stock is sanitised twice before it is sent out and when it comes back, plus it goes through a quarantine.
So why do people choose to rent? There are numerous reasons, from sustainability concerns to economical ones. “The ability to use items outside their normal budget. The luxury look for less,” explains Lipfriend. “Trying before buying. Sometimes customers want to live with and use a Dior saddle bag for a week to really decide if they want to make the investment themselves and the ability to wear a look for a one-off occasion in a colour or style they wouldn’t want to own.
“Increasingly the conversation around sustainability is important. We all now know that fashion is one of the most polluting industries on the planet, not only because of the processes involved but because of the size of demand for constant new items. Rental gives you the novelty factor in a much more planet-friendly way. Borrowing is the new buying!”