LONDON — Disillusioned by what she perceived to be the fashion industry’s failure to keep up with the modern-day consumer, Natalie-Anne Hasseck wanted to revive the excitement of working at a buzzy Notting Hill boutique, aged 16.
“On the weekend, you couldn’t even see the shop floor because it was so busy and exciting,” said Hasseck, who went on to work as a stylist, creative director and brand strategist.
“I ended up contemplating becoming a farmer because I was so done with fashion,” she said. “I could already see so many dead ends for the fashion industry and no solutions. There was a feeling of negativity coming from people not getting what they wanted. The industry was trying so hard to keep things afloat and move in a certain direction, but the customer had something entirely different in mind.”
In a bid to answer to address those concerns, Hasseck joined forces with Tamsin Chislett, who has a business and operational background, and the two formed the rental subscription company Onloan. Their idea hasn’t just resonated with sustainably minded fashion fans across the U.K. — it is now offering a new revenue stream for brands at a tricky time for wholesale.
The company has been able to service its audience throughout lockdown — transitioning from work wear to cozy knits, Zoom-worthy tops and feel-good summer dresses — and is now expanding its offer to jewelry. It has onboarded new labels including Joseph, Sea New York and Scandi favorites Stine Goya and Rodebjer, and is celebrating a new way of consuming with a campaign called Wardrobe Freedom.
Choosing the subscription model route has been a key part of Onloan’s success, and overall mission of helping shoppers move away from fast fashion for good.
“We wanted to build a model that meant people were renting month-on-month. They know they are getting their fashion fix without having to slip into old habits,” Chislett said. “From early on, we saw that as soon as a customer hits three months of Onloan, they look around and realize that they haven’t really bought very much [during that period]. They’re spending less and experiencing better clothes, without the guilt.”
Customers can pay 69 pounds a month to borrow two items worth more than 500 pounds, or 99 pounds a month to borrow up to four items, worth 1,000 pounds.
Onloan’s model very much mirrors that of Rent the Runway, which has been offering rental clothing via monthly subscriptions for over a decade, with a particular focus on work wear. Unlike Rent the Runway, which faced declining customer interest and was forced to permanently shut all its physical locations across the U.S. last August, the fledgling business is proving more resilient given its digital-only operations and broader fashion offer.
According to Onloan, the regularity of the subscription service has allowed it to to service customers across different categories and times of day, instead of having to focus on occasion or work wear like most of its peers.
“We’re here for elevated daywear — we call it. All types of categories essentially, apart maybe from underwear and swimwear. That was really important to us, in terms of being a true partner to a brand and representing their whole collection and vision,” Chislett added.
Some of Onloan’s earliest brand partners have been independent, women-led labels that had already been making waves in terms of their sustainability commitments. They include Mother of Pearl, Shrimps, Maggie Marilyn, Samantha Cameron’s Cefinn and an array of Scandinavian labels such as Stine Goya, By Malene Birger, Baum und Pfergarten and Designers Remix.
The platform has also been helping a number of international labels launch in the U.K., including Farm Rio and Ukraine-based Poustovit.
“At first, we sensed that brands saw us as an interesting experiment, thinking, ‘I’ve got my model and sell enough to department stores, but I’ll try out this rental thing and see what happens.’ But I’d say that COVID-19 in particular, has really set up the conversation about brands working with rental. They now see it as absolutely fundamental to their strategy going forward,” added Chislett, pointing to added benefits of the rental model, including a new pay-per-rent model they have been trialing, in order to reward designers every time their piece is chosen to be rented by a subscriber.
“You finally incentivize designers to build clothes that last,” Hasseck said.
The company works with both new and past season stock and has access to a wealth of data beyond what sold, and what didn’t.
“We speak to customers at the end of each month and we know when they enjoyed wearing that piece, whether that piece lasted, whether it fit well. We’ll know what that customer wore it with, how many times they wore it. This means we can be a kind of testbed for brands, trialing new categories, different fabrics or cuts,” Hasseck added.
Chislett and Hasseck have already started putting their data to good use by partnering with a wholesale manufacturer, and looking to produce the platform’s own line using Onloan as a testing ground.
“The thing with rental is that it’s so immediate. You can see the emotional journey the consumer goes on immediately, on a daily basis,” Chislett said.
In the last six months, what Chislett and Hasseck have seen is a “return to dressing for pleasure not status,” with women no longer having to worry about external factors and picking feel-good pieces they want to wear for themselves — a message the duo chose to highlight in their Wardrobe Freedom campaign.
“It’s about not being weighed down by a lot of unwanted clothes in your wardrobe and not knowing what to do with them. It’s self expression, stepping into a digital wardrobe of choice, making a selection and not having to worry about waste,” Chislett said.
As they move into autumn, Chislett and Hasseck will be adding jewelry by the U.K.-based label Motley to the mix and translating the same spirit of joyful dressing with cozy knitwear, co-ordinating pieces and printed dresses.
“When lockdown hit in March and a lot of retailers were shrinking or canceling orders, we knew we could hold on to everything we bought into for fall 2020 because, it’s not all about one small window, one season for us. We have a much longer relationship with an item of clothing. Our customer is not a hype customer,” Chislett added.