Rental fashion has recently been on everyone’s lips. Although it is not entirely new as a concept (Rent the Runway and Girl Meets Dress, for example, have been around for 10 years), the industry is without a doubt taking off the ground. Previously used for special occasions, such as weddings and prom nights in the U.S., renting companies are now tapping into a bigger market and a bigger audience. So what exactly is rental fashion, who is it for, and what does it mean for the future of owning your own wardrobe?
Rental fashion companies allow customers to rent an item for a limited period of time (depending on the company) and for a cheaper price than the retail one, with many of them offering monthly subscriptions for three to four items. The U.S. has paved the way in fashion rental with market leader Rent the Runway. The company offers users unlimited rentals for a regular monthly subscription of £127. But now, the U.K. is finally catching on to the trend. Girl Meets Dress offers a wide selection of dresses for hire for a monthly fee of £99. My Wardrobe HQ and Front Row rent out designer labels for a monthly subscription, plus a rental fee for each item. Meanwhile, even the big fast fashion name Urban Outfitters announced that it is launching a clothing rental service this summer (available in the U.S. only for now).
The fashion industry, without a doubt, damages the environment. Due to high demand, four yearly season changes, and the many short-lived trends that fast fashion creates, the industry is often faced with strong backlash, especially concerning the upcoming London Fashion Week. It comes as no surprise, then, that people are looking for another way to enjoy clothes; one that increases fashion items’ longevity and promotes a mindful approach to consumption. Yet, somehow, I still have my reservations about rental clothes becoming the norm. I can acknowledge that renting most of our wardrobes would benefit the environment, and would even allow us to have just a little bit more space in our tiny bedrooms and flats. I want to make a difference and replace cheap, throwaway fashion with well-curated pieces, but would rental fashion provide this?
Before Airbnb, sleeping in a stranger’s house would have been frowned upon. Same goes for Uber and the idea of sharing a taxi with someone you don’t know or sharing an overpriced flat found on Gumtree with strangers. Buying a house is equally one of the biggest challenges millennials and Gen Zers are facing. In other words, we live in a world where owning something is slowly losing its meaning and sharing is becoming the best alternative (for the planet and for our bank accounts).
According to Mintel, people are already starting to shop less, with the percentage of those buying clothes every two to three months declining between 2017 and 2018. As a fashion enthusiast myself, I can say that I’ve also tried to shop less, especially in stores like Zara or Topshop, and opted for more sustainable options such as charity or vintage shops. Rental fashion could be the third option. The only problem is that I don’t want to wear clothes that anyone else could also rent. I like to think of my wardrobe as my way of re-inventing myself everyday. When I go shopping, I have specific shops I like to go to, because I know they offer a curated selection of items. Rent the Runway and other bigger companies can’t offer that, even through their algorithm.
That’s where newer rental fashion companies have found a place to grow, with Onloan being the perfect example. Onloan’s main priority is also to minimise waste, but there’s more to it. Screen Shot spoke to Tamsin and Natalie, the two founders of Onloan, about what rental fashion can offer beyond the obvious, “We loan a 360 wardrobe, not just crazy pieces. You can borrow clothes for work, for going out-out or even a weekend getting hygge. We’re here to dress women for their multifaceted modern lives.” Onloan allows women to rent clothes to recreate themselves (and their wardrobes), but also to wear sustainable, better quality brands. What makes Onloan stand out from the crowd is its ‘style survey’—a questionnaire that collects information about users’ personal taste and then suggests items according to their answers, just like a shop assistant would in a store. Talking about their personalised approach to rental fashion, Tamsin and Natalie said, “We take a boutique approach to our buying. We’re really passionate about cool brands and see ourselves as a great launch for new designers.”
The need for ownership has been carved out by the generations before us, those who could afford to own houses and cars and stuff far greater than millennials, gen Zers, and most likely the generations to follow ever could. We, as well as our burning planet, can no longer afford this mentality, and need to change our mindset to one that is based on sharing. By kick-starting this change through fashion, not only would we reduce our impact on the environment and slow down the fashion industry’s nonrealistic rhythm, but we could even pave the way for a sharing industry that would involve more than just our wardrobes. So, if you’re already using rental clothing services, as Rent the Runway says, “Thanks for powering the renting revolution”.
Amidst an environmental crisis, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion is calling for the cancellation of London Fashion Week. But what would cancelling London Fashion Week really achieve, and how would it affect independent designers not participating in mass production?
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters impacting our planet right now, and it is not looking good. There is an endless cycle of clothes ending up in landfills annually (over a million tonnes of which are from the U.K. alone), the industry produces around 10 percent of the global greenhouse emissions, and chemical dyes polluting water produce about 20 percent of water waste yearly. This industry is predicted to grow by 63 percent by 2030, and the textile industry is expected to produce 25 percent of all carbon emissions by 2050.
The Swedish Fashion Council cancelled the upcoming Stockholm Fashion Week, and Extinction Rebellion demands the British Fashion Council do the same. By planning creative disruptive actions throughout the event, with a funeral commemorating the loss of life due to climate change, the organisation hopes to bring our awareness to just how harmful the fashion industry is. A number of companies within the industry are also taking a stand to boycott LFW in various ways—London-based fashion magazine Bricks, as an example, decided not to cover LFW this year.
Here is the thing, though, London Fashion Week is a platform that showcases a number of independent and emerging talent, many of whom don’t even have the means to mass-produce if they wanted to (then we would be having an entirely different conversation). Many designers each year advocate awareness for sustainability and choose to use recycled fabrics and environmentally friendly textiles. That is not to say that LFW only supports independent designers, with big companies like Burberry participating who are far from being sustainable, but the real evil is the fast fashion industry.
It is, of course, important to note that without high end fashion, fast fashion would never exist in the first place. Emerging in the 90s, fast fashion promotes rapid and mass production of cheap clothing to meet the most recent fashion trends. These fashion trends are inspired by high end fashion designers and most independent designers, and it is understandable why people choose to purchase fast fashion. In the real world, who can actually afford to splash out hundreds or thousands of pounds per clothing item? It is so unrealistic and exclusive. Plus, in the age of Instagram culture, where everybody feels they have to show off how stylish they are to their followers, overconsumption is inevitable.
By all means, this needs to change. We do engage in constant, mindless consumption, and so many of us already have more clothing than we need. But fast fashion brands don’t showcase their work during LFW—independent designers do. So is it fair to punish them by taking away their platform? Fashion is a form of art, and LFW is equivalent to Frieze Art Fair or the Venice Biennale of fashion. Many designers showcasing at LFW have worked incredibly hard to get where they are, and we simply cannot take this away from them.
Don’t get me wrong, the fashion industry does need to be regulated, ASAP. In an interview with Screen Shot, Fashion Revolution’s founder and creative director Orsola de Castro claims she is “against” canceling fashion week, saying that we need to “redesign them rather than shutting them down.” De Castro believes that, “As far as being disruptive, we need to be constructive at the same time.”
Taking into consideration how much power and energy are invested in the production of these shows: the number of flights needed to transport models, editors, influencers, buyers, and garments, greener alternatives must be found. Designers showcasing twice a year is certainly excessive, and it would be better have all fashion weeks take place once a year maximum. Recycling previous collections into their new season should also be a must—yes, many independent designers already use recycled materials, but this can be elevated.
Fashion Open Studio is also a great alternative to this, which is a week of presentations, talks, openings, and workshops shining a light on emerging designers. “We need to use Fashion Week as a place to discuss conspicuous consumption, to discuss innovation, to discuss new parameters,” says de Castro—and rightfully so. Re-showcasing work from previous seasons would also be incredibly beneficial. The second hand fashion market is set to grow bigger than the high end and luxury ones by 2022, which is great news and could help support emerging talent instead of forcing them to keep up with the pressures of creating new work and being relevant.
Let’s all start investing into second hand and thrift shopping as our go-to option. Let’s push Instagram Influencers and celebrities to promote second hand clothing over brand partnerships with fast fashion brands. We could even go as far as demanding a new law that would prohibit the promotion of fast fashion brands or brands who use unethical resources when creating clothing. We need to reconsider how we, as consumers, view fashion once and for all, and start appreciating high end fashion as an art form rather than try and replicate it. But, please, let’s not punish emerging talented artists who have worked through blood and sweat to be able to express themselves through fashion.