Renting Clothes – a solution to the fashion industry’s growing Carbon Footprint?

The global apparel market (and this doesn’t include footwear or jewellery) is worth around £1 trillion a year in retail sales. ‘Fast Fashion’ is a term used to describe cheap, trendy clothing that very quickly comes in-and-out of style, and it’s becoming increasingly popular. The stock market value of online fast fashion firm Boohoo overtook that of high street staple Marks & Spencer over the 2019 Christmas period. This is good news for investors in these companies, but the industry now faces quickly emerging new challenges. The fashion industry has been seriously criticised for being un-sustainable. A staggering 100 billion items of clothing are being produced annually, yet 50% of fast fashion pieces are disposed of within a year. 80% of this waste is then incinerated and a whopping 20% sent to into landfill.

Fast Fashion

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation put global textile industry emissions at 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per-year, close to the level of emissions from the automobile industry. Considering the sheer scale of waste that this sector produces, it is clear that a solution to this problem is urgently needed. But could there be a responsible way for consumers to experiment with trends and fashion without the negative environmental impact? Think : Airbnb or Borrow my Doggie but for clothes.

One in six young people say they do not feel able to wear an outfit again once it has appeared on social media, a study by charity the Hubbub Foundation found. With new research revealing that fashion contributes £28 billion directly to the UK economy (UK Fashion Council) – can innovative ideas reform a valuable industry that is facing sustainability challenges? On the other hand – consumers are beginning to wake up to the effect that cheap, throwaway fashion is having. Environmentally and ethically aware consumers are increasingly seeking evidence of sustainable behaviour on the part of companies they deal with: 88% of consumers would like brands to help them become more environmentally friendly and ethical. : the percentage of those buying clothes every two to three months declined between 2017 and 2018, and there was a marked increase in those shopping just once a year. Importantly, there has been a consistent fall in the percentage of shoppers indulging their habit once a month or more. Could shoppers get that ’newness’ fix, without having to purchase a new garment and create waste?

Clothing rental has positioned itself as an innovative and circular solution to transform an unsustainable fashion industry. Evidence shows the clothing rental market is growing fast. A recent study by Westfield shopping centre found that the UK clothing rental market has a potential value of £923m, and is forecast to boom over the next few years. US company Rent the Runway claims to have pioneered the fashion rental concept 10 years ago – they have scaled quickly, and were recently valued at   (£770m). The idea of renting clothing is not new in itself – men have rented wedding suits for years, however, it has never really been a particularly popular option for womenswear. Yet with consumers looking to shop more consciously (ethical spending has risen almost fourfold in the past 20 years) there is an option for companies to offer consumers something new. As UK clothing rental company HURR states on it’s website : We’re on a mission to make renting an everyday occurrence whilst paving the way towards a more sustainable future.

Clothing rental companies have been faced with scepticism from the public, principally with concerns regarding the cleaning process of the garments. Also, the environmental impact of the miles travelled by the garments, between wearers, is another issue that has been raised. But, businesses are finding solutions to these problems. UK company My Wardrobe HQ describes itself as a fashion rental platform with a difference: they take care of cleaning garments in-between wears using eco-friendly methods, and store items in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure items arrive in a pristine condition. Also UK based, Rotaro use carbon-neutral transport methods to deliver items, and they arrive in recycled, biodegradable packaging.

The rise of the clothing rental market could be of benefit to retail companies too. Stock in warehouses could be rented out to free up space. Consumers who might otherwise feel unable to afford a brand can give it a try through rental, which may then lead to future sales. The industry is experiencing a shift – some mainstream clothing companies have already adopted the idea. Popular brand Urban Outfitters is already offering retail rental services in the US, while in Europe, major fast fashion retailer H&M recently began a trial of renting out clothes at its flagship store in Stockholm, Sweden. Product-as-service appears to be the future of retail, as it helps retailers to retain customer loyalty and stay relevant whilst reducing their environmental impact.

Fast fashion still remains a growing and thriving worldwide industry but as it faces more and more widespread criticism companies are having to face the fact that the current model is not sustainable.

Fuelled by social media and peer pressure, the demand for ‘newness’ is ingrained at a very young age and is now part of our culture. However, consumers increasingly turning to more environmentally friendly and ethical solutions. The emerging clothing rental market has had it’s fair share of scepticism – yet the benefits of renting clothes appear to now outweigh the negatives. It is a far more sustainable, circular model giving customers the opportunity to continue to experiment and have fun with clothes without the unnecessary waste. Multinational clothing companies are already investing in developing the idea further. The fashion rental movement is poised to hit the mainstream in the UK: it fits conveniently into our existing sharing economy. In a world where we rent a room at Airbnb and borrow our doggies, it seems completely plausible that in coming years, we will also rent our clothes. Check out OurCloset or MyWardrobeHQ to rent a fabulous pair of orange peg trousers which would retail at over £395:

By Jess Knights, Creative Marketing Assistant at SustainIt

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