Renting clothes is not a new concept: high-priced items worn for a single occasion, such as a prom night or a wedding, have long been available for hire. Sites such as Front Row and Girl Meets Dress offer designer items at a low cost – the latter specialising in dresses and catering for events such as races, premieres and awards. But subscription services, which offer long-term borrowing on everyday items, are beginning to gain traction.
The trend for renting clothes also has the scope to tackle other forms of “throwaway” fashion: for example, the US-based subscription service Le Tote invites users to choose from classic or maternity ranges. For pregnant women, the fact that clothes will only be worn for a short period is perhaps more easily understood than it is for those of us who vow to wear something for years because it cost the same as a month’s rent.
But is rentable fashion bad news for designers? Not necessarily, according to Arnold. “We don’t own the stock but split the earnings with the brands when items are rented,” she said. “We want them to be able to earn from quality and durability rather than the quantity sold.”
With UK households sending 300,000 tonnes of fashion waste to landfill each year, and the average number of times a garment is worn before it is retired dropping by 36% in the past 15 years, fashion libraries offer an ethical solution.
According to research by Westfield, seven out of 10 UK shoppers would pay to rent “the hottest fashion item of the moment”. For 33% of them, the appeal of renting clothes lay in saving money, while one in eight were motivated by the desire to shop in a more sustainable way.
It’s not just in the UK that shoppers are keen to maximise wardrobe space. At Lena fashion library in Amsterdam, subscriptions allocate customers points that can then be “spent” on renting new and vintage clothes, alongside the option to buy. In Gothenburg, Sweden, fashion library Klädoteket offers lease periods of up to three months – 450kr (£40) for two items, 650kr (£57) for four. Items range from sequin dresses to baseball caps and, if customers decide they want to own an item they are renting, they will be given 15% off the retail price.