Has Covid-19 brought an end to clothing rental?

In a move towards a more sustainable fashion industry, clothing rental was set to take off, but COVID-19 had other plans. With events being put on hold and occasion wear becoming a distant memory, would clothing rental survive the pandemic? Megan Hagel reports.

In a world before Coronavirus, clothing rental was set to answer all of our sustainability prayers. It was the solution to the unspoken Instagram code of ‘wear once, never to be seen again’ clothing. You could have any designer label and all of the top name trends for a fraction of the price, and just for the day. You could wear it once without the guilt, knowing it would be sent on to the next person for their special day.

Image credit: https://www.thredup.com/resale/#eco-impact

But the pandemic put a stop to life as we know it, with events quickly becoming something we could only fantasize about. What did we have left to dress up for? Weddings were cancelled, and our settee became our new best friend, pyjamas were the way forward. Our need for the rental industry, which was set to be worth £2 billion by 2023, seemed to be fading fast.

UK based, clothing rental company, Rotaro, saw a decline in the number of rental requests. “When the first lockdown was announced, it had a profound effect on the business. We are primarily event based, so there was very little demand for rental items, as people were in their homes and mostly wearing loungewear. The most challenging part was the impact it had on events, if people are not going out to events or weddings then they have very little need to rent from us,” Charlie Knowles, co-founder of Rotaro told Fashion North.

Image credit: www.rotaro.co.uk

Covid, however, gave consumers the opportunity to reconsider their spending habits and fast fashion addictions. With research from Greenpeace showing a double in the global production of clothing in the past 15 years, inevitably contributing to the £140m worth of clothing sent to UK landfill alone, consumers seemed to be given the shock they needed and rental boomed more than ever once lockdown was relieved.

“We saw a huge increase in rentals. We were running at almost 100% more orders than before the lockdown,” stated Charlie Knowles. “The worldwide lockdown has had a profound shift in how people wish to live their life, it’s given everyone time to pause and reassess their consumption, their environmental footprint and their need for fast fashion, especially. People are no longer so willing to buy one-off items from fast fashion websites or stores as they are now aware of the negative environmental impact that these companies are having.”.

UK based, peer to peer, rental website HURR Collective, also noticed a dramatic growth in rentals following a difficult start to the year. “Initially, the demand side of our platform was impacted quite significantly, for the simple reason of people not having events to go to,” said Mel Duerden, Customer Success Manager at HURR. “Coronavirus has sparked a sustainable fashion awakening. Lockdown has taught us how to live simply and consumers to be more conscious of their fashion footprint. Listings have grown by 120% month-on-month.”

A report published by ThredUp showed that following Coronavirus, ‘70% of all consumers agreed that addressing climate change is more important now than ever’. But critics raised issues with just how true claims of ‘sustainability’ could be made within the clothing rental industry with the amount of packaging used and the impact of excessive shipping to send clothing backwards and forwards.

One of the newest clothing rental companies to the market, The Devout, launched during the first lockdown but this didn’t stop them from combating the contests of critics. Lauren Vickers, head of content and creative at The Devout, told Fashion North, “we deliver and collect clothes at the same time with a carbon-neutral delivery partner, reducing the number of trips made to ship clothes. We use wet-cleaning (read about wet cleaning here) and use recycled and recyclable packaging. At the end of each piece’s rental cycle, we send the clothes to our charity partner, Shelter, to be sold or sell the pieces in out outlet.”

Image credit: www.thedevout.com

Research carried out by Greenpeace has shown that between the years 2000 and 2015 the amount of times a piece of clothing was worn before it was sent to landfill had decreased by 36%. By renting some of our clothing we are investing in a more circular model of fashion, this will significantly decrease the garments sent to landfill and increase the number of times a piece of clothing will be worn, therefore, lowering its impact on the environment.

The Devout provided solutions to the lack of desire for party wear and a rental clothing brand that could supply loungewear would revolutionise the market. “Unlike most rental platforms, our service allows you to rent everyday pieces as well as occasion wear, meaning our service has proved popular in lockdown,” said Lauren Vickers. “We’ve seen a rise in interest in loungewear and casual pieces, such as joggers, winter knits, smart tops and a large increase in demand for coats as the weather turns.”

“As winter is approaching, people are instead opting for cosy, comfortable pieces that they can wear around the house, with some demand for more casual party pieces as lower tiers begin to open bars again and customers plan household parties. Wearing something new allows people to feel great in what they wear, even if no one else will see it, so we’re pleased to still offer premium brands and trending pieces.”

The pandemic hasn’t come without its trials and tribulations, but the clothing rental industry has adapted their approach to meet the changing needs of consumers consistently throughout. The UK isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to lockdowns, but the clothing rental industry sure seems to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


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