LONDON — Post-lockdown and faced with a renewed appetite for conscious consumption, the rental market is ready for take off.
Peer-to-peer rental fashion platforms are seeing revenues reach an all-time high, while demand is diversifying far beyond occasionwear. Even established industry players, from Selfridges to Ganni, are putting their stamp of approval on the sharing economy — and wanting in, too.
“People would argue that if you produce a responsible product yet sell and consume it in the conventional way, then you haven’t had a solid impact because you’re still contributing to the system of pure consumption,” Ganni chief executive officer Nicolaj Reffstrup said during Copenhagen Fashion Week, when Ganni unveiled plans to expand its rental platform across Europe and the U.S. and debut a rental-only Levi’s collaboration, featuring 501 jeans and denim shirts made using deadstock materials.
“Everyone wants a pair of 501 Levi’s jeans. So by making this capsule rental-only, we’re hoping to attract a new customer, who might not have thought about renting before,” added Ditte Reffstrup, the label’s creative director.
A crop of start-ups is also seeing plenty of opportunity in the new post-lockdown landscape as a “perfect hybrid” between the social media-fueled need for never-ending newness and more mindful consumption.
“We want to provide the fast-fashion customer with a smarter way to shop, that’s matched on price but doesn’t have the [negative] environmental impact,” said Victoria Prew, cofounder and ceo of the rental platform Hurr, which has just revealed a permanent partnership with Selfridges, as part of its companywide “Project Earth.”
“The partnership is a vote of confidence in the circular economy and marks a change in the way the fashion industry continues to operate,” Prew added.
As part of the tie-in, Hurr has a permanent space in the Selfridges store as well as online, where a selection of key seasonal pieces — ranging from Rotate party dresses to Stella McCartney blazers and Attico feather tops — are available to rent for a fraction of the cost.
A 1,200 pound dress by Cecilie Bahnsen can be rented for from 91 pounds, while prices to rent pieces from contemporary labels like Reformation or Stine Goya start from 23 pounds.
The ultimate aim? To offer “high fashion at fast-fashion prices” and eventually eclipse the high demand for cheap, disposable clothing by fast-fashion giants.
“Customers have been locked at home, consuming digital media like never before. They’ve become more aware of the fashion industry’s polluting and exploitative ways through the various scandals and movements that have occurred during lockdown,” said Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of By Rotation, another U.K.-based peer-to-peer rental platform that has been on an upward trajectory.
“The concept of voting with your wallet has become even more engrained, as we are all more conscious of which companies have been doing the right thing during this time,” added Kabra-Davies, also pointing to the company’s no-inventory, peer-to-peer renting model as a vital part of its sustainable success formula.
“Inventory-based models are wasteful when you consider the resources they employ, from the items they hold on to, warehousing space, dry-cleaning, deliveries and physical shop fronts,” she explained, pointing to logistics-heavy inventory models such as that of Rent the Runway, a more established player in the rental market, as “just another way to wear designer” without the conscious focus or sense of community.
“This is another form of consumerism, and adding to the 90 billion items that are discarded into landfills each year. We have remained fully digital. We don’t buy or rent out stock, we don’t have physical stores using up energy and we don’t engage in dry cleaning and deliveries. Instead, all lenders and renters are advised to clean and deliver items themselves using our eco-friendly partnering solutions,” she said.
The no-inventory approach to the rental business is indeed proving to be more future-proof in the current landscape. While Rent the Runway was forced to permanently close all its physical stores earlier this year, these new crop of rental start-ups were able to adapt quicker. They spent the period of lockdown — when demand for luxury clothing rentals completely diminished — connecting with their audiences on social media and encouraging them to use the extra time to sort through their wardrobes and start listing items for rent. Now revenues are back to an all-time high. According to Kabra-Davies, listings grew by 85 percent during lockdown, demand for rentals jumped 180 percent since lockdown measures began to ease in the U.K. in early July, while the app now boasts more than 25,000 users.
Prew said Hurr had a similar trajectory, with rental revenues reaching pre-lockdown rates by early August, largely driven by young “Zillennial” shoppers who are familiar with sharing economy platforms and are committed to sustainability.
These eco-conscious shoppers are no longer renting for formal occasions only, but for day-to-day events such as picnics, birthdays and small gatherings.
“Gone are the days when renting a dress was just for Ascot,” said Prew, pointing to casual linen dresses by brands like Daily Sleeper as among the most popular items on Hurr.
By Rotation users are also lending and renting everything from casual Ganni dresses to Chanel bags on a weekly basis, both to cater to everyday events in their calendars and to trial pieces before buying them.
Kabra-Davies keeps them inspired with an array of content featuring the app’s users, as well as fashion personalities like influencer Camille Charriere or broadcaster Stacey Dooley. The latter helped By Rotation achieve big mainstream growth in the U.K. after using the app to rent out her wardrobe and raise funds for charity.
“Given my own frustration at the lack of ‘regular’ paying customers being [engaged] by brands, I made sure to build a community that celebrates people from all walks of life,” Kabra-Davies said. “We’re united by a love for quality fashion that’s inclusive and pragmatic, not indulgent. That’s why price points are also very affordable, ensuring everyone can partake in quality fashion without elitism.”