Kids’ clothing is the next sector stepping into the world of rental, swap and secondhand.
Despite being a relatively small sector within fashion, there’s still billions in waste generated by kids’ clothing, and parents are still frustrated over the costs of quickly outgrown clothing. Both factors are inspiring a new suite of start-ups to specialize in circular solutions for kids’ clothing as sustainability continues to become mainstream.
Pointing to a convergence of trends — including online shopping, peer-to-peer secondhand marketplaces and broader consumer and corporate demand for a sustainability and reuse ethos — Chris Randall, managing director at L.E.K. Consulting, said kids’ rental could be advantageous for brands looking for improved inventory monetization and new customer acquisition.
Clothing Rental for Kids
“The consumer value proposition of children’s clothing rental is attractive given the higher frequency of new purchases due to wear and tear as well as size growth,” according to Randall. “Rental can provide a more economical solution for parents to turnover their children’s wardrobe” so long as the repeat “wear and tear dynamics” that created allure for kids’ rental is properly reflected in margins.
Rental has typically been geared toward occasion dressers, with companies like Rent the Runway as a pioneer in the category, and companies such as By Rotation, Style Lend and even H&M (with its free 24-hour suit rental service for men interviewing) following suit. But as lifestyle rental options spiraled out from veterans — so did lifestyle kids’ rental.
One company chasing this gap is Brooklyn-based Everlasting Wardrobe, a monthly clothing rental membership for children based in the U.S. that launched in January. Since then, members have averaged more than five months on Everlasting Wardrobe’s platform.
Describing the viability of the kids’ rental market, Joshua Luft, chief executive officer of Everlasting Wardrobe, said it makes more sense than any other market.
Within Everlasting Wardrobe’s model, families get 98 pieces of clothing (valued at more than $4,000) through a one-year membership priced at $480 (or $40 a month). Brands offered include Burt’s Bees Baby, Finnish brand Mainio, Peruvian brand Red Caribou and Guam-based Lovingly Organic. Eight rental pieces can be kept for 30 days, and families can purchase an item after renting it by going directly to the brand’s website.
“Even if a child has a favorite item of clothing they love to wear, it’s unfortunately outgrown every three to nine months,” Luft said. “Most rental services act as a replacement for purchasing, while ours is built as experiential marketing, helping families discover their new favorite brands and styles by getting the opportunity to enjoy them through the month. Parents tell us all the time children can manage to wear eight pieces of clothing in a single day, so this certainly doesn’t eliminate all purchases. But it does prevent mistakes or buying items that just sit in the closet, never worn.”
According to the company’s survey of more than 1,000 families, “sustainability” was rated as the number-one reason parents are testing rental. Features like the gameified data-backed recommendations — where users can tap “less of this” and “add to list” — are what kept customers coming back.
Given the importance of sustainability, Luft addressed a lingering environmental concern for rental. “Although pieces in our everyday membership range from $25 to $150, less than 1 percent of our total inventory is dry clean only, which is a major sustainability issue with many services,” he said.
While not providing detail on the impact of water use during laundering or the company’s end-of-life recycling partnerships, Luft cited eucalyptus-based detergent as one element to reduce toxins.
Joining the resale fray
Other platforms are leaning into tried-and-true resale where volume is king.
U.K.-based Kid’s o’Clock is a pre-loved peer-to-peer marketplace available across the U.S., Europe and the U.K. founded by former Net-a-porter, Moda Operandi and Harvey Nichols buyer Laura Roso Vidrequin.
Items from brands like Ralph Lauren, Vans, Adidas and more, in varying conditions of wear, dot the explore page for Kidsoclock.co.uk.
Paying respect to hand-me-down culture, Vidrequin said Kids o’Clock aims to widen access to a global network of people “who may want to buy what you no longer need, and then give you the opportunity to come back on the platform to sell the same item at a later date when you also no longer need it.”
The business was founded amid the pandemic where habits went virtual and consumption became more conscious.
Kids o’Clock has pre-owned offerings for newborns all the way up to 10-year-olds for 60 percent to 70 percent off retail prices. Parents list items themselves or, if particularly time-crunched, the platform offers up a 10 pound a month service (for the first six months) that passes the onus to the Kids o’Clock team to list items once families either mail them in or coordinate a local pickup or closet clean out.
An editorial flair comes across through curated edits, campaign look books and a variety of brands and price points. “We try to make the concept of shopping very easy and natural for parents so that they don’t miss out on the ‘fun’ that comes from shopping for their children’s clothing,” Vidrequin said.
Finding the present market “disparately built” among many different brands, price points, productions and strategies, Vidrequin is keen to centralize the children’s secondhand shopping experience within a bustling, easy-to-use online community that will soon doubly bring retailers into the fold with physical collection bins.
New kids’ products are gaining a circular edge, too.
Toy-maker Mattel announced its circularity program on Monday where old Barbie, Matchbox and Mega Bloks materials are repurposed into new toys. Clothing, it seems, is only just getting started.
On Mother’s Day, Los Angeles-based brand For Days announced a waitlist for its kids’ clothing line dropping this August, which will be similar to its “closet in the cloud” swap concept for adult essentials.
“It’s through this lens of understanding our community and what they want so we can be very thoughtful about what they want….Our community is really our pulse,” said Kristy Caylor, the brand’s cofounder and CEO, on how the initial waitlist is free of expectation and more for market positioning. “I think it’s in contrast for some of the rental programs — kids ruin things. For more occasion dressing or fancy things, rental can be a solution,” but Caylor finds “swapping” a step above the other alternatives.
No matter the condition or length of ownership, the For Days kids’ styles — which will include foundational basics, onesies, T-shirts and leggings in a range of details and prints, according to Caylor — can be swapped out for new products.
Customers who purchased a new $44 For Days ribbed top, for example, can get an $11 credit to put toward a new item or the same style. A potential kids’ use case can include exchanging three tattered and stained onesies for a brand new T-shirt or legging.
As with For Days’ adult lines, the kids’ collection will feature natural materials and dyes certified by the likes of the Global Organic Textile Standard and Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute. The same mechanical recycling process that transforms old For Days shirts back into new garments will find its way into the kids’ collection.
On the brand’s stance on circularity, Caylor said, “We haven’t had to do much to adjust because we started there.”
Despite women putting off having kids and a declining fertility rate in the U.S., Caylor believes now is the time to pursue the business given the Millennial and Gen Z core customers will be next in line to have kids, furthered by the potential to relieve added “expense and burden” at a time when more and more consumers can’t stomach it.
Caylor expects the kids’ collection to turn much faster than existing lines with little ones outgrowing things. Framing the swap system within a lifestyle use case, Caylor said, “We’re not sensitive to frequency – we encourage frequency. It doesn’t actually hurt our margins.”
FOR MORE, SEE: