Misc 28/06/2021

Renting clothes: the new way of dressing that is growing and taking root

The pandemic is increasing this trend, which is committed to a more responsible and sustainable consumption of clothing

Bàrbara Julbe
5 min
A girl looks at a clothing rental portal

BarcelonaBoth the colourful printed blouse and the black trousers worn by interior designer and community manager Laura Acosta are not hers. She rented them online. She has more pieces like these in her wardrobe: they arrive at her house in boxes, she wears them for a month and then they are picked up. She doesn't even need to wash them. "During the pandemic I saw that I didn't need so many clothes and I only used part of what I had in my wardrobe", explains the 33 year-old woman from Barcelona. Renting pieces for the everyday has become a practical resource for many consumers and could be established for life. Not only because it is a model of a circular and collaborative economy, but because it is more profitable, you don't have to buy clothes and accessories to wear them, you can vary the style, the pieces are optimised and sustainability is promoted.

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, according to the UN. It is estimated that it produces more carbon emissions than all international flights and shipping combined. It takes between 2,000 and 3,000 litres of water just to make a pair of jeans, according to research by the Polytechnic University of Madrid. A consumer buys on average 60% more clothes than a decade ago and a piece is usually used only ten times before being thrown away. Gema Gómez, founder and director of the information platform and fashion and sustainability consultancy Slow Fashion Next, stresses that this model "is unfeasible". That's why she is clear that "if we extend the life of products and prevent the wardrobe from filling up with clothes, we will be more sustainable". Giving a second life to fashion by making it useful again after use is what promotes the circular economy. "It is not only companies that have a responsibility to look after the planet; we, as consumers, also have a lot to do instead of buying so many clothes and throwing them away," says Neus Soler, lecturer in economics and business at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC).

Hanging and unused clothes

Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothes is recycled into new clothes, according to data from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. "With renting, if you don't like the item, you return it", explains Mar Frigola, a personal and professional image consultant. "This way you avoid full wardrobes with the label still hanging from the pieces", says this expert, director of the image and styling consultancy company saldemar.cat. The so-called Pareto principle, or 80/20 law, says that 80% of the results are due to 20% of the effort, and when applied to the clothes we have in the closet it would mean wearing them only 20% of the time. But while renting apartments or bicycles is a widespread practice, and has been for some time, the rental of clothing items raises some suspicions in part of the population. "Clothing rental platforms are the collaborative answer in fashion to similar platforms that exist for car or home sharing. And they are more typical of generation Z: those born between the 90s and today, who have grown up with this concept of sharing", specifies Gómez.

Customers of these clothing platforms tend to be between 25 and 40 years old. Renting a pair of trousers for a month can cost, depending on the type of piece and the brand, around 20 euros. Customers have the alternative of "boxes", which include outfits, sometimes chosen by the stylists of the brand according to what suits them best according in line with their preferences. The prices usually go from 40 euros -with three pieces- to 60 euros -with five-. "People are interested in slow consumption models. With renting you can consume in a more conscious way. And customers like to receive the boxes at home", says Raul Gonzalez, founder of the clothing rental platform Ecodicta with markets mainly in Barcelona and Madrid.

Ouh Lo Là the first platform for fashion renting created in Spain, is one of those that offers more pieces in each shipment, according to its founder, Lola Ribas. "Customers, with the subscription, can have up to eleven pieces for 30 days from brands like Bimba y Lola, Mango, Zara, Sandro or Massimo Dutti. There's nothing more important than looking good on a daily basis to face all the obstacles you encounter", Ribas stresses.

Lola Ribas, founder of Ouh Lo Là.

Barcelona-based Pislow rents dresses for celebrations and offers monthly boxes with outfits ranging from 300 to 1,200 euros. "We have new items from brands like Escada and Tous. In addition, brands can see what has been rented the most and this helps them to produce better", explains co-founder Maria José González. Another platform is the Girona-based Lapona which rents baby clothes, from 0 to 24 months, also by subscription. "We have organic cotton clothes which is made with high quality materials, such as recycled wool. Our goal is to circulate the clothes of little ones, which grow and change size very often", explains its founder, Patricia Gonzalez.

A growing sector

In the last nine years, the second-hand clothing sector has experienced continuous growth, reaching around 30 billion dollars in 2020. By 2024 it will exceed $60 billion, according to a report by Stadista. "It is clear that there is a consumption and paradigm shift. Subscriptions to clothing rental platforms are growing by around 10% every year", says Pablo Candau, CEO of Newe. As suppliers, Newe takes care of everything from the creation of the store's online channel for renting clothes to the shipping and collection of the pieces, including payment. "If you analyse the investment in the piece based on the number of times you've worn it, renting is more profitable", adds Candau. "If I, as a consumer, receive a package with different pieces every 30 days, it means that someone has to bring it to me and pick it up. There is transport, and this is also pollution", warns Soler, a marketing expert.

The Nordic countries - such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden - England and Germany have long since implemented this formula, in which fashion has become a service. "They are the most environmentally conscious, the most activist, and have put more pressure on brands to be sustainable", says Soler. Brands or retail outlets that had previously turned a blind eye or looked askance at the second-hand trade are now entering the rental and second-hand markets. SKFK, with stores all over the world, made the move into clothing rental in 2019 in line with its own sustainability model. "Fashion is not a staple item. Faced with this we set ourselves two challenges: to be carbon neutral, and we have achieved this by, for example, planting almost 4,000 trees in forests in Vizcaya, and to make changes to the way we sold and how our customers shopped", says Mikel Elzo, founder and co-director.

Once the month has passed, if the customer likes the clothes she is wearing, she can keep them at a reduced price. A 70% of those surveyed, according to a study by Kan tar, are willing to pay more money for sustainability if it has a clear counterpart: that the pieces are of higher quality and last longer. So, rent or buy? "We will end up sourcing clothing in very different ways than we have been. There will be more business models and more rental offerings. But the two models, buying and renting, can coexist perfectly", concludes Gómez.