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How clothing rental companies are changing the fashion landscape

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

In the age of disruption, no industry is safe. As innovative businesses find ways to rattle industries that have remained unchanged for decades, one of the most acute examples of disruption is the emergence of rental companies in the fashion industry.

In 2019, Rent the Runway was named the #5 most disruptive company in the world by CNBC. As one of the first-to-market clothing rental companies, they changed the way that consumers think about their wardrobe and tapped into a surprising, but widespread sentiment: Consumers want to own their style, not their wardrobe.

This realization was supported by the rise of Instagram culture and the scrutinizing of unsustainable fashion practices, both of which have come into focus as options for clothing rental companies exploded over the past few years.

The Instagram effect

Since it has become a faux pas to be photographed in an outfit twice (with the image subsequently shared across multiple social media platforms with hundreds or thousands of followers), gone are the days of wearing the same cocktail dress to a graduation and wedding in the same season. The inevitable conclusion is that consumers who attend special events, participate in work activities, take a vacation, or go anywhere photos are taken, have seen the value in clothing rental companies.

“For someone who doesn’t like to repeat outfits often, or has a lot of events to attend, this concept will save you a TON of money,” said one Trustpilot reviewer of FashionPass, a fashion rental company that is described by its founder as a rental company for “The girl that’s living on Instagram.

Another reviewer expressed “I originally signed up since I was getting married and had a lot of events coming up that I didn't want to buy a ton of outfits I would wear just once.”


The sustainability factor

The quick adoption of fashion rental practices also highlighted another hot topic in the fashion industry: sustainability. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, global clothing production accounts for 10 percent of our annual carbon emissions.

Behaving responsibly is one of the most discussed issues as companies assess how they can revamp their supply chains, reuse and recycle materials, and minimize the use of polluting chemicals.

On the consumer side, when fashionistas have asked “How can I keep on top of current trends without contributing to textile waste?” Clothing rental companies have provided a natural solution.

“I’ve always been an avid fashion lover, but after realizing how often I buy pieces that I so easily get bored of, I needed to find a more sustainable option,” said a Trustpilot reviewer.

The US discards about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills each year. In the UK, about 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes into landfills annually. Fashion rental companies allow the consumer to do fewer closet cleanouts and, for many, it’s a try-before-you-buy model which reduces impulse buying and, by extension, textile waste.

As mainstream fashion brands continue to launch clothing rental services, more options are available that satisfy consumers’ rapidly increasing style needs, while exercising more conscious consumption.


Sustainable fashion is more than advertising

Unfortunately, for the conscious shopper, switching to rental clothing doesn’t mean your work with fashion and sustainability is done. Depending on how you’re using these services, you could be damaging the environment just as much as you would be if you’re using fast fashion. If you’re regularly returning items and renting new ones via shipping that’s going to have a big impact on carbon emissions.

If you’re really focused on sustainable fashion, the best way to use these kinds of companies is to buy your everyday type items and rent items for special occasions. Think weddings, big work events, or vacations. These are the types of items that you’ll only wear once or twice, and if you’re doing that they’re ultimately just getting produced for one or two uses.

Sustainable fashion in clothing rental companies also largely depends on which company you’re using. You can’t assume that a rental fashion company cares about the environment just because they have phrases like sustainable fashion and environmentally-friendly plastered across their website.

While clothing rental companies are typically more sustainable than fast fashion ones, packaging, shipping, and cleaning methods all can have an impact on the environment as well.

But some rental companies have identified this discrepancy in their sustainability mission and have taken steps to address these environmental shortcomings. Nuuly focuses on the shipping materials they use. They let you rent clothing and receive them in a reusable box made of recycled ocean plastic. You keep it and use the same box to ship your items back, helping to reduce shipping waste. Le Tote’s cleaning methods use biodegradable detergents and consume 43% less electricity and 50% less water than if you were to wash the clothes yourself.

Looking into the fine print of how these companies do business can help you make sure you’re really making an impact on fashion and sustainability, instead of just checking the mental box.

Reviews matter for shoppers who rent clothing

From the new DVFLink by Diane Von Furstenburg, which offers many versions of her signature wrap dress and day-to-night pieces with splashy prints, to New York & Company Closet, where you can find a mix of the company’s business formal look, along with “weekend casual” options, the fashion rental options continue to grow. Even menswear is participating with the entry of companies like The Mr. Collection and ThreadTread.

With an increase in options for shoppers to rent clothes, reviews of these companies are more important than ever. Reviews will play an important role in helping fashion lovers both distinguish which companies align with their style and values, and also provide a genuinely good service. For example, while most rental companies can confidently claim they’re doing their part to reduce textile waste, which are working to mitigate carbon emissions from shipping and dry cleaning?

For those whose main concern is having a constantly rotating wardrobe, which companies have endless options for an après ski moment, and which are constantly out of stock of desirable evening wear during wedding season? Discerning consumers can help unearth these important truths about fashion rental companies in the reviews they leave on Trustpilot.

As we continue to see growth in this once niche, but increasingly mainstream, category, rental companies will continue to thrive. However, they will also continue to be challenged by consumers who want to marry their need for immediate style satisfaction with their desire to improve the overall sustainability narrative in the fashion industry.

It also begs the question of ownership: if we own our style, but not our wardrobe, what other burdens can the rental economy free us from?

Trustpilot is a review platform that is open to all. The companies and profile pages referenced in this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not recommended, endorsed by, or representative of the views of Trustpilot. The Trustpilot companies linked in this post are expected to abide by Trustpilot’s Guidelines, but have not been reviewed for compliance.


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