Is renting style a good, sustainable option?
By Rotation, the social fashion rental app, has been on my radar for the longest time along with real curiosity about the fashion rental sector in general. A pop-up shop early in July, just on the edge of the luxury avenue at Westfield London was the perfect opportunity to find out a little more.
I visited a couple of weeks ago. The space was luxe and welcoming with staff on hand to help if needed or a discreet presence for those browsing. They were more than happy for me to shoot a few images for Insta.
The selection of items for rent was beautifully curated. There were pieces in every size, though plus sizes were not so plentiful. I could happily have picked something for the kind of occasions that aren’t happening much in my circle right now. In fact, if I hadn’t already reworn a preloved find for a family wedding just a few days before, I would certainly have considered several of the outfits on offer.
However, as soon as I had expressed my excitement at this company’s offering I was greeted with a number of reasons why this kind of operation is not sustainable. I do love a research challenge! However, Tales in Style is about finding solutions not guilting women about their choices.
This left me with a conundrum which I had plenty of time to contemplate when the self-isolation ping came though! It seems that I wasn’t alone. Many have commented on the Finnish Environmental Research Letters piece which stated “The use of rental services is likely to increase customers' mobility, and if that happens on a large scale, then the SHARE scenario has the highest Global Warming Potential. It was found that many new Circular Economy innovations come with a high rebound risk”
Certainly, there is an impact on your carbon footprint for every rental choice you make. That will be, at minimum, transportation plus the damage from dry cleaning or commercial laundering. The impact of goods held in warehouses plus pieces being specifically designed for this market is worrying. Is this just another way of creating excess?
As with every choice we make I feel that venturing into the rental market needs to be done in an informed way. Personally, I am not comfortable with companies who are providing an alternative to buying into the latest “It” trends by creating a monthly rotation of items so that consumers always have their hit of “newness”. This doesn’t change our behaviour enough to have a positive impact long term.
However, I would consider businesses that are carefully resourcing their product, who really understand the supply chain and combine this with best practice regarding cleaning and distribution. It’s still not carbon neutral but moving closer to the circular economy. Stylecrate is working on this for menswear and would love to hear of any businesses you feel are demonstrating good practice.
Peer to peer based online sites like By Rotation will have a different impact to the warehouse model. I enjoyed reading about lenders in their Journal, finding it heartening that seeing others enjoying their pieces was as important as recouping the cost of the garments they are renting. This might affect choices I make in future, encouraging me to choose better quality, with better ethical credentials in the knowledge that renting these pieces to others is an option that fits with my core values.
There are some, like Hurr, who combine working with individual lenders and having managed stock. If this is clearly indicated then you are able to make that informed choice. Stock held in warehouses will have a much greater environmental impact. Hurr does use green cleaning technology .
As you can see this is complicated just like every choice we make as consumers. To date I haven’t been a renter, however I am not ruling this out.
The occasionwear rentals market seems to be where the most positive impact can be made. I have always struggled with occasionwear and work really hard to reuse my own clothes as much as humanly possible. However, sometimes it does feel appropriate to go on the search for something new to me.
Generally my budget is not designer and I can’t always find preloved treasure when I need it. On these occasions I will definitely be searching apps like By Rotation. I will be looking for pieces from ethical designers/brands. The piece/s will have to make a statement, conversation pieces so that the subject of making conscious purchases can be discussed in a fun positive way. I am not going to apologise for being a woman on a mission!
It seems that I am not the only one who feels this way if this article in the Guardian is anything to go by. “Rental as a means to slowing down customer consumption and industry production is a great solution, but it has to be part of a system overhaul,” states Alice Wilby, sustainable fashion consultant.
Rental businesses that actively seek to change behaviour with the aim of minimising the impact of the clothing industry may not be perfect but I will be exploring this option further.