Could rental fashion help us become more sustainable?

Carrie Bradshaw famously once said, “I like my money where I can see it – hanging in my closet.”

She was clearly a woman of her word, with one of the most impressive fictional wardrobes in history. But, if we all followed her example, the environment would be in a mortally sorry state.

If, like me, you are not a fictional character who works from your laptop in a swanky New York apartment sipping on a Cosmopolitan, then you know that this is purely aspirational. Many of us buy from more affordable fast-fashion high street stores at a frequency any SATC star might claim to. We have never consumed so fast and furiously.

Sadly, we all know that disposable fashion is ruining the environment: 100 billion items of clothing are being produced annually and an incredible 50 per cent of fast fashion that is made will be disposed of within that year. The model encourages us to shop without really considering what we really need or will indeed even wear. An incredible GBP 30 billion worth of unworn clothes hang in our wardrobes and GBP 140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year, so it’s no surprise that the fashion industry will use up to 25 % of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

While it’s true that some stores – including H&M and & Other Stories – are taking action by encouraging their customers to think twice before throwing away their unwanted clothes and swapping them for shopping vouchers, is it enough?

Enter rental shopping. The potential rental retail economy is worth around GBP 923 million in the UK alone, according to research from Westfield. With sustainability becoming increasingly important and society becoming more sharable, rental shopping is becoming a likely solution.

Westfield tested out a pop-up rental service to see whether people would really want to rent their wardrobes. Customers were able to borrow designer pieces for a fraction of their retail price, including a Preen dress (as favoured by the Duchess of Cambridge), a 1979 vintage ballgown from Yves Saint Laurent and a pair of rare handmade Dior velvet heels.

The study showed that rental retail will be part of shopping in the future, with nearly half (46 per cent) saying they’d use rental shopping because of the choice, the ease of adapting to changing trends and, most importantly, because it provides a more sustainable approach to fashion. It’s also becoming increasingly popular for event shopping – like, for example, a wedding – where a guest is likely to be photographed many times in one particular outfit.

Given the growth of the shared economy and “generation rent”, Westfield predicts that the rental market will grow among retailers in the future – and they are not the only ones that think so.

Shika Bodani, founder of rental fashion site Front Row, wanted to provide people with the latest styles but in a cost-effective way.

“We get a big demand for dresses and statement pieces, like a designer bag, because the price point of buying these things is so expensive,” she told us.

Bodani believes that the rise in interest of rental shopping is related to the need for sustainability in fashion.

“It’s a huge part of it, especially when it comes to waste,” she said. “Fashion is so fast paced and it’s always changing, so it’s near impossible to keep up with everything with just a few key pieces. It’s not economical at all.”

The rental fashion model is already in full swing with fashion bloggers and influencers. If you see someone post their latest outfit, chances are that is the first and only time they will be wearing it; they are probably on to the next thing before you can close the app. If we applied the same method to the way we shop, there is less chance of falling behind trends or being bored of your wardrobe while you wait until next payday. Significantly, it is also less wasteful.

“I think they [bloggers] are very impressionable and I do the exact same thing, I will spot something that they are wearing and I want to wear it.” Bodani explained. “When you rent it out, you get it out of your system for just that one time. I think influencers have a lot to do with that.”

Of course, things are improving as the fashion industry becomes more conscious of its impact on our environment. The Business of Fashion’s latest State of Fashion report shows how the industry is more environmentally responsible and sustainable than last year.

Just think what Airbnb has done to the housing market and how Netflix has changed the way we watch and access entertainment. You can now simply borrow goods from Amazon on a rental basis.

It is clear that there is success in simplicity and fashion rental is just that- the idea of using what’s already available and sharing that with others. This is not about ownership, rather sharing your sartorial wealth for the benefit of not only yourself and others, but also the environment.

Think Spotify for fashion or a gym membership for your wardrobe. Rental shopping could not only keep you on trend, but also help the planet in the process.