Does the rental clothing market have the ability to take over fast fashion?

The popularity of renting clothing has risen over the last year with the rental clothing market paving its way within the retail industry in the UK.

Consumers are now aware on the impact their habits are having on the environment. In 2019 the rental clothing market was valued at $1.26 billion worldwide, and it is expected to grow by 8.7% within the next five year period according to business wire.

With such a demand for renting clothes the question lies: will it take over fast fashion?

Although renting clothing in the UK is a relatively new affair, the concept has been widely accepted in America as in 2009 Rent the Runway was founded. This has allowed those on a lower income the opportunity to wear designer pieces for over a decade.

However, there are now many businesses that offer this service to help combat the issue of fast fashion within the UK. GlobalData’s figures suggest that the UK rental market is here to stay as its value is now ‘expected to reach £2.3 billion by 2029, a stark increase compared to the estimated £400 million in 2019.’ This drastic alteration is a key indication of how successful the rental clothing market could be. Lyst found the search term ‘sustainable fashion’ has increased by 66% since 2018, which demonstrates a change in the buyers’ behaviour.

Recently it has become apparent to those who work in the fashion industry and to its consumers that the industry plays a detrimental role to the environment, it is the second greatest polluter in the world. A study by Wrap revealed 350,000 tones of clothing end up in landfill each year in the UK, with the standard household owning £4,000 worth of clothing. With a large focus on global issues this has led to many buyers acknowledging their shopping habits, a survey by Hotwire revealed 47% of people have now stopped buying from companies that do not align with their particular values at the expense of saving the environment. As current affairs have identified flaws within the fast fashion industry it is worth comparing both sectors to see how they are contending.

Rental company, By Rotation, has an initiative way of tackling the rental clothing market. The By Rotation app allows lenders and renters to directly contact one another, which is unlike its competitors on the market. Eshita Kabra-Davies founded By Rotation in October 2019.

When asked about why she believes rental companies are succeeding, Eshita said: “With the growth of awareness around conscious consumption, sustainability and a sharing economy, people are now looking for more environmentally friendly ways to interact with and manage their clothes.

“Fashion rental as a concept tackles some core issues of the fashion industry by increasing the wearability of your clothing whilst making higher priced, luxury items more accessible to the average shopper.

“Hence renting allows the consumer to have access to an extensive wardrobe of their favourite fashion without paying full retail price, as well as sharing their own items with others, allowing for a more sustainable approach to fashion.

“Our focus is on our community and therefore prolonging the life cycle of our users’ belongings by sharing amongst each other, as opposed to retailers.

“We however welcome the news flow and vote of confidence that retailers and brands have given to the fashion rental movement – we believe there is a large market for everyone to play in.”

Caryn Franklin, former fashion editor and broadcaster, discusses how she thinks rental will impact the high street. She said: “If the high streets are going to adapt, I would imagine they would start rental services because we are all looking to reduce our consumption.

“Rental seems to make total sense.

“I do, however think we need other initiatives that are going to challenge dependence on cheap exploitive fashion.”

On the other hand, despite this the fast fashion industry continues to progress, the UK has become its ‘epicentre’. When comparing the UK’s fast fashion intake to other countries in Europe, the average person buys 11.1kg more of clothing than those in France or Italy. This suggests that a typical buyer in the UK is more inclined to follow the latest trends. According to Vouge business, the fast fashion industry in the UK brings in £4.2 to £8.4 billion yearly. The Boohoo PLC Group brought in £856.9 million in 2019 which has increased rapidly in the last two years.


Photo credit- Boohoo PLC

When considering the impact rental could have on current fast fashion brands Emma Cusick, clothing designer, at SkinnyDip London said: “Consumers are increasingly becoming more conscious of their shopping habits and the impact this has on the environment. Although, I think this resonates more with the consumer in terms of buying from small businesses and ‘sustainable’ manufacturing.

“I believe rental will be most popular with higher end product that is designed to specifically have a longer lifespan and cost per wear, such as designer brands. Designer brands are also only usually accessible by a small percentage of the nation due to their cost, so rental will make these products more accessible for the majority of consumers.

“I think it is highly unlikely that rental will take over retail, as there is still a demand for trend clothing, everyday wear and price sensitive versions of the designs seen on seasonal catwalks.”

Cusick continues: “Even with popular fast fashion retailers/brands, you can see them starting to react to consumers leaning towards being more environmentally conscious, such as introducing collections made from recycled materials for example. Retailers move with the times and consumer trends.

“Retailers on this ‘fast fashion’ business model will learn and adapt to move with the customer, or they will not survive in the competitive industry.”

Brooke Murphy, a student studying fashion journalism has said: “So as a consumer I am trying to shop more sensibly, and become more aware of sustainability. So in the future and going forward for main events like graduation I will be looking to rent clothing from rental platforms rather than buy it from fast fashion outlets.”

Speaking on the matter, Douglas MacLennan, former fashion academic has said: “The benefits of renting are that it creates another revenue stream for retailers and increased production of designer level merchandise within the industry, but I cannot see it being desirable for merchandise that is physically easily affordable in profile.

“Fast fashion will continue their inexpensive production for the foreseeable future, but they may also ‘jump onto the bandwagon’ of renting merchandise.

“If clothing rentals outweighed direct sales, retailers would simply compete and rent clothing out alongside the selling of clothing.

“From my perspective the rental clothing market may undertake a fashionable stake in the near future cycle of fashion, but I suspect it will only feed a niche market demand.”



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