When Carrie Symonds married Boris Johnson over the holiday weekend, it wasn’t in a dress handed to her by a relative, nor in a custom-made designer gown meant to take up space in her wardrobe for years to come. She was in a dress that she had rented for a few days on a website called My Wardrobe HQ.
You may not expect a person who spends tens of thousands to redecorate a flat in which they will only temporarily live to be a great economist, but it turns out that Symonds, now Johnson, is a frequent tenant. “Carrie has always rented us out,” says Sacha Newall, the founder of My Wardrobe HQ, who had no idea this particular dress was destined for Westminster Cathedral. “As a regular customer, there is nothing marked unusual in the order.”
The embroidered tulle dress, the work of the Greek luxury designer Christos Costarellos, allegedly returned Symonds £ 45, while the purchase would have cost £ 2,870 – around £ 1,500 more than the average UK wedding dress in 2019.
Renting clothes, from dresses and shoes to bags and hair bands, has become increasingly popular in recent years. With around £ 140 million worth of used clothing being sent to landfill in the UK each year, according to the charity Wrap, it is considered a relatively guilt-free way to get involved in fashion.
Even the pandemic didn’t make a dent. “I’m very surprised that we had rentals,” says Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of By Rotation, which is part of a social network and part of a rental platform and has more than 60,000 users. “It would be for things like celebrating birthdays with partners or housemates, that dopamine dressing thing.”
After about a month of easing the lockdown, the market is even more optimistic. By rotation, revenue has already increased eightfold since the beginning of this year and it’s a similar situation at My Wardrobe HQ. “It feels like the moment now,” says Newall.
With many folks looking to re-enter the beer gardens with a bang, there’s a lot of speculation that a flashy wardrobe summer awaits us. If 2020 was a year to forget, Newall believes that 2021 will be a year to remember: “Fashion rentals have adapted very well to that. As part of that memory, you want to wear something awesome, but how many times do you want to wear it? “
It has not affected the rental market that, during closing, people found time to check their wardrobes and become familiar with what they needed and what they did not need. Additionally, with charity shops closed for much of the year, they were forced to explore other outlets for their unworn garments. “All these Marie Kondo spring cleaning conversations that people were having were very beneficial to a peer-to-peer market like ours,” says Kabra-Davies.
But what about the practicalities? While different companies operate differently – private lenders and By Rotation tenants clean items before they ship to each other, while My Wardrobe HQ handles cleaning and shipping – it’s not always as easy as some might wish. .
However, fashion commentator and activist Caryn Franklin doesn’t think this will hold people back. “Human beings are incredible adapters. I was someone who, from the beginning, wondered if selling clothes online would work … I have already been proven completely wrong, ”he says. “We already have a culture of giving things back: people ask for a lot more than what they are going to save to be able to do a test session.”
So renting the future for fashion? “Absolutely,” says Newall, citing research by US firm Rent the Runway that 20% of the retail market will be for rent by 2025.
Franklin believes it is one of many creative solutions offered to the fashion sustainability problem, and it will not be suitable for everyone. “We need a variety of solutions,” he says. “I believe that we will still choose to establish relationships with clothes that are ours and ours forever … we will also have a mobile feast within our wardrobe, which we will change.” After all, there are “a lot of clothes that we would all like to try on, so why not rent them?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism