Borrow or buy: Does rental fashion have its place in sustainability?

As more retailers venture into the rental market, in line with consumer pressure to be more sustainable. Is rental fashion a sustainable salve to combat overconsumption of clothes or is it just another greenwashing buzzword? 

According to figures from Future Marketing Insights, 30% of clothes in wardrobes have not been worn for at least a year, while in the same period, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of used clothes have ended up in UK landfill sites due to fast fashion. Thus, many consumers and fashion companies have shifted their fashion shopping habits and business models to become more sustainable and offer more eco-friendly alternatives such as rental fashion.  

fashion rental — Latest Episodes

(Source: Concious Chatter)

Rental Fashion is a sustainable option that allows individuals to borrow clothes for a fixed period and return them. In the past few months, retailers like Marks and Spencer, Fenwick and Flannels have also ventured out into the rental ring by loaning their clothes. Fashion United also states that the online fashion rental market is anticipated to grow 10% year-on-year until 2027.  

As the market becomes more competitive to become sustainable, questions have been raised around issues including supply chain transparency, unsustainable cleaning practices and increased delivery and return emissions.  So, is rental fashion sustainable or is it not?  

“I don’t think fashion rental is an alternative step to becoming more sustainable because we are still buying clothes, but rental is all about maximizing the clothes we have in our wardrobe and minimizing the waste to go straight to landfill.” says, Jade Mcsorley, co-founder of Loanhood, an all-inclusive Gen-Z-focused fashion rental company and community.  

“Just like clothes swapping and buying secondhand clothes, rental extends the life of clothes because you can buy a garment, have it in your wardrobe, rent it out to people and get it worn by others. In the end, you get it back and wear it for yourself,” she says. 

(Source: Establish Models and Loanhood)

Liz Quach, the proud owner of Cupio, another fashion rental company focusing on cult fashion, also expresses that fashion rental is not the cure to end the overconsumption of clothes. “I see two sides to the argument, and I must admit that the rental business still adds to the overconsumption of clothes but it’s not greenwashing because people rent out clothes from time to time.” 

“Not to mention, rental fashion is cost saving towards the environment and for your financial aspect too. Instead of buying an item of clothing you’d wear once, it’s better for it to be rented out and worn by many others. This also adds life to clothes”

“The only problem with this model is that it lacks awareness in society. If more brands and influencers talked about it more, it would be normalized and used more like clothes swapping and shopping secondhand.”  

Cupio Closet | UK's cult fashion rental

The concept of rental has only worked its way up now and has not been around much as compared to resale. If we’re going back in time to 10 years ago when resale was a foreign term, society found it to be unappealing at first before it gained attraction and is not within the likes of Depop and Vinted.

“I think fashion rental is at the same point where resale was 10 years ago, and it’s just going to take some time for consumers to bring rental into their consumer mindset. I believe we will get there, but it’s up to us to make it alluring and cool as resale” says Jade. 

Rental can bridge a customer’s desire for newness and feel special without adding to overconsumption as long as rental companies have ethical and sophisticated business models when it comes to rental and resale. “My business model leans more towards conscious consumption because of the items that I choose. Most of my pieces that are rented out have timeless designs that are suitable for most seasons and events” 

“I have also bought secondhand clothes from others to be rented out too. Since Cupio is more towards cult fashion, pieces that are out of trend are often sold off to other sellers when they’ve been worn multiple times. It’s life after another life and to go even greener, Cupio used packaging that’s made from recyclable materials too.” says Liz. 

“We do our very best to maintain and make our sustainable as possible, by offering the chance to pick up your rented item in clothing in person rather than delivering, bringing down the cost of loaning an item and renting the best quality clothing from sustainable and ethical brands,” Jade explains. 

The rise of rental | Features | News

(Source: Eco textile news)

Although there are brands that acknowledge how rental fashion is another positive step forward, there are others who still believe that renting is more of a business endeavour rather than a ‘get-more-greener-measure’. The elephant in the room is the logistics, carbon footprint, and chemical and water pollution involved. 

When asked how rental can be better at causing less waste, senior fashion design lecturer at Sunderland University, Naomi Austin states rental’s a catch-22 situation and could have a better positive value if it was focused on occasional wear. “If the rental option didn’t exist, then maybe more of the garments would be purchased and more pollution would be done- at least by renting, fewer garments are bought.”    

“Personally, I think the garment business would work well if it’s for occasional wear like parties, Christmas and weddings. I don’t think I’d want to rent an everyday jumper as I’d like to wear it more than once. I can’t see renting everyday clothing taking off but k love to hire a statement piece which would cost a fortune to buy”  

Naomi A Austin | The University of Sunderland

(Source: University of Sunderland)

Overall, renting is not entirely greenwashing but it’s a short-term fix for overconsumption. It only works for one-off statement pieces. Long term we really need to be investigating the potential of using fully biodegradable materials in garment production so we can get rid of the fabrics which are having the most detrimental effect on the planet such as polyester and acrylic. We should look at other short-term alternatives like upcycling too. 

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