One of my life’s mantras has to be “sharing is caring”. Growing up, I used to parade around in my nan’s heels, her bright red lipstick brandished across my face. I also used to practise the popular sibling ritual of stealing my sister’s clothes. Years later, I still love to raid my mum’s wardrobe and lend my finest out to my friends.
To spruce up my lockdown birthday, I rented my very first dress from Hurr and waltzed around a socially distanced picnic in all my floral, puff sleeved glory. I’ve always partaken in the age-old tradition of bartering, lending my sister my skirt in exchange for two of her tops. Wearing a rented outfit sparked much the same joy. The borrowing time is similarly limited, making each wear just that extra bit special.
It seems I’m not alone; the UK clothing rental market is predicted to be worth £2.3bn by 2029. The future of fashion, then, looks increasingly shared – but what exactly is rental clothing and is it any good for the planet?
Here’s our Rental Clothing Guide to get you started:
What’s mine is yours
The concept is simple. Instead of purchasing an item of clothing that, on average, will be worn just 7 times, you can borrow it for a limited time period. At the end of the rental period, you return the garment to be reworn by somebody else.
The dress that was once destined for the back of a wardrobe is instead recycled on the tour de closet. It passes from one inviting borrower to the next, accumulating memories and stories with every new wear. It attends weddings, baby showers, interviews and first dates. Once famed for fancy occasion wear, clothing rental now has equal offerings in the workwear and everyday department.
Fashion rental forms part of an alternative circular economy which seeks to extend the lifespan of a garment beyond one use. A renting overhaul could mean the end of ownership. In its place, borrowers would be granted unlimited access to a community closet, a treasure trove of infinite possibilities. Redefining our sense of newness, what’s old or unworn to the lender becomes exciting and new to a long list of renters.
Is fashion rental good for the planet?
Clothing rental poses a direct challenge to the disposable fashion model. Of the staggering 100 billion items of clothing that are produced annually, £30 billion worth of clothes hang unworn in our wardrobes. Meanwhile, 50% of fast fashion pieces are disposed of within a year.
Renting is an innovative way to maximise the wear we get out of clothes that would otherwise collect dust in the back of drawers or, worse, landfill. It’s a simple way to recycle and refresh your wardrobe sustainably without creating demand for new. That, or you can lend your own clothes to others and earn some extra cash in the process. Either way, you’re helping to extend the lifespan of pre-existing textiles and save energy and resources in the process. Extending the average lifespan of a garment by nine months of active use would reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20-30% each.
Renting is an ideal solution for the anti-outfit repeater or the compulsive buyer who wants to wave goodbye to regrettable purchases. It’s fitting for the trend seeker after a one-night stand with the latest ‘it’ bag or the savvy ‘try before you buy’ shopper. And it’s made for the avid party goers in need of an endless flow of dresses because you can borrow clothes exactly as and when you need them.
Clothing rental can be democratic. It’s generally less expensive to rent a piece than to buy it at full retail price, which means more shoppers can access luxury fashion. It also allows you to experiment guilt-free and rent new silhouettes and styles before committing to a purchase.
And FYI, some rental programs allow you to buy the piece you rented at a discounted price!
It’s worth noting, however, that renting isn’t a fool-proof option. The constant packaging, shipping and dry cleaning of rentals can be environmentally taxing, while some worry that the renting cycle drives our consumption and desire for new. But, by championing access over ownership, renting is an inclusive, sustainable alternative and one that is only expected to rise.
Best platforms for rental clothing
If you’ve exhausted your friends’ wardrobe, there are a number of different rental platforms and models available on the market. By Rotation is the UK’s first peer-to-peer fashion rental app that lets you rent and monetise your wardrobe on the go. Nuw is a clothes sharing app that does exactly what it says on the tin. For a small monthly membership fee, users can swap, lend and borrow clothes to their heart’s content.
Dubbed the Airbnb of fashion, Hurr is another peer-to-peer service which offers one-off clothes hire straight from other people’s wardrobes. They also have a permanent service inside Selfridge’s Oxford Street flagship store to emulate the more joyful aspects of shopping and the dopamine hit of walking out with a bag full of (temporarily) new clothes.
Other rental offerings include The Devout and Onloan, two monthly subscription services which let you rotate the latest from cult and independent labels for a 30-day period. Speaking of cult classics, COCOON is a subscription service for bag lovers, letting you trial a range of new season and vintage handbags from the most coveted brands.
MyWardrobe HQ has a cool ‘try before you buy’ scheme that lets renters borrow a dress before committing to a purchase. You simply pay the difference to keep the garment for life. You can always later list it back on the platform to share with others and earn some money back.
For luxury and designer loans, Front Row stocks an impressive range of high-end ensembles, with an optional styling service. Hirestreet are your go-to for fancy occasion wear but they have since introduced a casual collection, owing to the current climate.
Even fast fashion brands are hopping on the rental bandwagon! In China, H&M-owned brand, Cos, has teamed up with Ycloset to trial its first rental model. Meanwhile, rental subscription service, Nuuly, is owned by URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters. Fashion rental is surely set to be more accessible than ever.
Clothing rental etiquette
The stereotype of borrowing old, dirty clothes sometimes lingers but luckily renting is neither of those things. Offering the latest and best in fashion, each stylish rental is thoroughly cleaned between each use, even more so in Covid times. Some rental platforms partner with repair and dry-cleaning services to outsource this process, allowing you to rent reassured that every item will arrive in pristine condition.
There is always the worry, of course, that you’ll damage the garment yourself. One red wine too many and you could be forking out the cash for a replacement white dress. Most clothing rental platforms allow for small wear and tear, but I personally opt for insurance – which is sometimes built into a subscription membership – to cover the cost of small rips, stains or imperfections. Rotaro offers free minor repairs for escapee buttons or caught zips. Through them you can also order a dress in two sizes and return the non-fitting one the next day. You’re then refunded the price of that item minus a £5 shipping fee.
As they vary, it’s best to read the platform’s policies (as normally found in the FAQ or T&C section) to see how you might be liable for any damages and understand your responsibilities as a renter. In any case, you should treat the item with care better than you would your own clothes and return it in the same condition you received it. Most platforms have in-house cleaning services and, if they don’t, double check the care label first to make sure you’re cleaning the item correctly. Keep in regular contact with the lender and always always always return the item on time – it’s just common courtesy!