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Hire Heels: why the rental clothing market matters

16 September 2021. Published by Simon Edwards, Partner and Poppy St John, Associate

The old saying that "you can't wear the same outfit twice" doesn't fit well with younger consumers in particular, who are concerned about sustainability and the environmental hazards posed by fast fashion outlets.

This, coupled with consumers who are becomingly increasingly familiar with the 'gig' economy, the closure of physical shops due to lockdowns and people's general reflection on consumer habits which accompanied it (being at home for days on end meant that we have all been forced to contemplate our clutter!) means that renting can provide a neat solution.  We have written previously about how the re-sale market has experienced rapid growth in the last few years, and we are now seeing the rental sector following suit. 

People need not sell a beloved item of clothing but can rent it out to create some additional space in their cupboards, whilst earning some money at the same time (and doing their bit for the environment), and likewise keen fashionistas can augment their collections to suit their needs at a fraction of the price. Apps such as HURR and By Rotation have stepped into this space, allowing users to monetise their wardrobes. 

A natural concern when renting from someone else's wardrobe would be around quality and hygiene, but these apps ensure a high level of quality control by imposing mandatory dry-cleaning requirements on clothing rented from the platform (with some of the apps partnering up with sustainable dry-cleaners in order to preserve their 'green' credentials), and many of them only accept users by application so that they can verify the quality and condition of the clothes on offer.

But it's not just about individuals renting out their wardrobes.  Several large 'bricks and mortar' retailers are opening rental services within their stores. Selfridges partnered with HURR last year to offer a pop-up rental concession within their flagship store to capitalise on the app's popularity and to enable shoppers to experiment with different fashion trends. They now operate an own-brand rental service within the store. Harrods have followed suit by pairing up with My Wardrobe HQ – the supplier of Carrie Johnson's dress for her wedding to Boris Johnson earlier this year. As well as supporting a retailer's sustainability goals, the rental sector also gives retailers a great opportunity to unlock a wider and more diverse customer base, as shoppers who may not previously have been able to purchase clothing or products at the higher end of the price range can explore brands they previously couldn't.

And it's not just fashion – John Lewis announced in June it was expanding its furniture rental service following a successful trial. 

In contrast to re-commerce, this is a relatively new model for many retailers – and there are the obvious concerns for retailers: what if the user doesn't return my goods, or they are damaged?  The response will differ by sector, but can be mitigated by robust terms and conditions with their users – i.e. to clearly define in what situations the retailers are entitled to keep a deposit and/or pass on costs. And retailers should be able to take some comfort from the positive trials Selfridges and John Lewis have run.