Is clothing rental taking over from cheap ‘disposable’ fashion?

Fashion-conscious women turning their backs on the wasteful throwaway culture engendered by cheap, fast fashion retailers may be turning to rental as a way of changing up their everyday looks. Market analyst Mintel found 57% of UK fashion shoppers trying to shop more sustainably. More than half have also either rented clothing or are considering doing so.

The rental market in the US is already worth about £2 billion a year, with ten-year-old Rent The Runway recently assessed at a billion. Anna Bance, who founded UK clothing rental site Girl Meets Dress in 2009, started out hiring-out evening wear for events, but now sees more and more customers using rented clothes to replace ‘fast fashion’ purchases. She says: “Now you can save that money for other, more important things in your life, or clothes that might last you for 10 years or 20 years. We want women to rethink how they build a wardrobe around smarter choices.”HURR co-founder Victoria Prew feels that compared to the US we have been slow to pick up on the potential of clothing rental, which allows dozens of people to wear the same dress rather than buying one each, sometimes to be worn just once. She agrees that extending the life of the clothes you own is the best way to reduce your ‘fashion footprint’, and suggests building a “high-quality capsule wardrobe” and renting the statement pieces. “Rental should be part of your everyday,” she told Harpers Bazaar in June.Prew and Matthew Geleta’s UK website brings the concept firmly onto the era of Uber and AirBnB. The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. Their site has a social spin, with users able to chat about the piece before agreeing to a peer-to-peer rental, contributing to what Prew calls “more of a movement now than a trend”. Delivery can be arranged face-to-face, via Royal Mail, or using the site’s climate-conscious cycle-courier service. HURR currently focuses on the “it” dresses fashionable just for one season but allowing clothes which cost £150 or more to buy means it’s not just for one-off occasionwear. A new partnership with recycling charity Traid’s 23% campaign encourages users to donate their un-rentable clothes. The site has a waiting list of 2,000 potential renters, and is working with a growing number of fashion sources.“We want to cut-out fast fashion,” says Prew. “It’s built to fail. We want clothes that are built to last. Our price point means we have a lot of the accessible brands like Ganni, Rixo, Kitri and Rotate which rent really well. We didn’t want to be exclusively high-end brands. Having cool, sustainable and emerging brands was really important for us.”Samantha Dover, Senior Retail Analyst at Mintel says: “The benefits of renting fashion are wide-ranging … consumers can also save space in their homes with reduced wardrobe needs. Fashion rentals can also be an effective way to fulfil temporary fashion, such as clothing for women during pregnancy.”Harpers contributor Jessica Davis writes: “The beauty of rental is that you can try out new styles and brands without having to commit to it being in your wardrobe forever. Sharing fashion eliminates the risk of panic buying for one occasion that feeds into the fast fashion cycle. Instead, you can spend the same £70 you would on a last-minute Zara purchase and wear a dream piece from a brand you truly love.”
The millennial generation, which values access over ownership, is generally more open to the idea of sharing than previous generations, but it’s not just mid-30s who are using HURR. “We have lenders over 55 who have built up amazing wardrobes over the years,” Prew says. “What’s nice is we now have an older generation effectively renting out their wardrobes to the younger generation.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of the government’s Environmental Audit Committee says: “The rise of hire and resale websites is a crucial part of tackling the throwaway society. I don’t think it’ll ever replace fast fashion but I think it’s a challenger to fast fashion. It takes the guilt out of the one-off purchase.”

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