Image Description: a rail of clothes in a window
It’s 2021, the polar ice caps are melting and the ozone layer is getting thinner, but only now have the fashion gods considered rental wardrobes as a viable alternative to fast fashion.
Responsible for up to ten per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, fashion is by far one of the most wasteful industries in the world. For a single pair of jeans, we are prepared to waste enough water to hydrate one person for nine years (that’s 1,800 gallons for the number crunchers); fabric dyeing soaks up 1.3 trillion gallons; and a cotton shirt, at least 400. Yet, while many fashion houses such as Rag & Bone, a revolutionary denim recycling powerhouse founded by two best friends, and Stella McCartney have tried their best to produce clothing that extends a friendly, somewhat reconciliatory, hand to our aching planet, the damage done by our insatiable thirst for clothes is still collateral.
In an effort to contribute to fashion’s mission to go green, Sacha Newall and Tina Lake launched My Wardrobe HQ, the UK’s first rental platform. Instead of ignoring the urge to splurge, rental wardrobes allow shoppers to rotate and refresh their wardrobes as often as they please, all with the luxury of zero commitment. See a special skirt you need for Sunday lunch? It’s yours to sport for a period of about four days, and easy to return, provided the item is—almost—in the same condition in which it arrived (some more luxurious rentals will even offer to sort collection and cleaning for you).
here is the freedom to consume as you please
Gone are the days we had to scramble for excuses to justify our more extravagant ‘one wear only’ purchases, here is the freedom to consume as you please whilst doing something good for the environment. It’s all quite surreal until you try it yourself.
The future is promising too. As these platforms continue to grow in popularity in this shopping-crazed, social media-dazed world, rental wardrobes (Rotaro, HURR and My Wardrobe HQ) are on their way to leaving a legacy worth noting—reducing the number of clothes sent to landfills and increasing the lifetime of many items of clothing that would otherwise grow dust in the back of our wardrobes.
Among environmental benefits, rental services also come with an attractive price tag (a welcome perk for students looking to fund the immense number of college balls and society events that seem to have crawled out of the woodwork this year). Here are some of my favourite finds: for only £26 a day, you can get a splendid Rosario sequin-embellished black gown; for £8, a vintage three-piece; and for those who prefer the perfect accessory, £20 can procure you a pale blue clutch from Shrimps. But for those of you who decide you can’t part with a certain piece of fabric, there is an option to buy some items for a fraction of the RRP, which, ironically, is probably my favourite feature of the clothes rental platform.
But are they really as good as they seem? While prices may be lower than their RRPs, using rental wardrobes frequently is an easy way to rack up some hefty bank cheques. On the face of it, the clothes may be decently priced, but expecting clients to squander £100 or more for a dress they’ll only wear for five hours is an audacious request. Perhaps these platforms might be better suited to influencers who need a constant supply of clothes and accessories to sustain their careers.
And speaking of constant supply, would it be unreasonable to say that the system of the rental wardrobe is undoubtedly consumerist? I doubt it. Their tactics are seductive, creating an attractive—and addictive—alternative to in-store shopping that might be better labelled as ‘consumerism gone green’. However, instead of finding ways to mould consumerism into something that is not as detrimental to the environment, I’m sure a better idea would be to redirect people’s paths entirely, exposing them to truly ethical avenues of shopping, such as second-hand stalls or clothes swaps. It’s time for a shopping revolution.
Yet perhaps even more tragically for the true fashionistas out there, their pay-a-fee-to-wear-once approach to clothing rejects one of the fundamental aspects of fashion: the timeless quality of clothing. The rental system functions on the premise that clothes are only good for one wear, a bitter pill to swallow for those who, like me, are privileged custodians of the knowledge that clothes possess the power to be historical containers as they—quite literally—accompany us through life’s events (until Boris Johnson renounces the law against public nudity, this, I’m afraid, is undeniable). We can all think of at least one item of comfort clothing that we refuse to get rid of no matter how many times our friends tell us it needs to go. Why? Because it’s seen us through too many special moments and is now laden with memories that are too real to see the back of.
Now with all this said, rental wardrobes are indeed a force for both the good and, while not the bad, indisputably the questionable. For me, I personally love to buy—and keep—my pieces, but if you’re riddled with commitment issues, maybe rental wardrobes are for you!
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