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  • Writer's pictureBethan Lloyd

Is Covid – 19 the end of the fashion rental market?

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

The fashion rental market has been slowly growing over the years, since Rent the Runway was founded in 2009, which at the beginning of the year was valued at 1 billion US dollars. Clothing rental has become the sustainable fashionista solution to the worn once occasion outfit. Instead of buying a new outfit for a wedding, holiday or work event, you could borrow one. Reducing the consumption of materials and the landfill of unwanted garments, though rental isn’t without its downsides in the carbon footprint of the cleaning and transportation. With consumers waking up to the effects of throwaway fashion, a new environmentally conscious and cash savvy customer is opting to rent rather than buy.

Fashion rental has moved into the everyday clothing market, for those who want to keep up with fashion without buying into fast fashion. Proving popular with those who are reluctant to invest in items they may not need for long, such as children’s clothes and maternity wear.

By 2023, the rental market will be worth an estimated 2.5 billion US dollars. With the sharing economy in fashion expected to grow rapidly outperforming the traditional apparel retail. Now with peer-to-peer platforms like HURR Collective which; ‘is based on creating accessibility and a route to luxury fashion for a mainstream market,' CEO and co-founder of HURR Victoria Prew explains. By Rotation, also a peer-to peer rental, is determined to transform the way we consume fashion, it aims empowers you to do good for your wardrobe, your wallet and planet at the same time. Alongside My Wardrobe HQ which is fully circular by allowing users to rent and buy their own wardrobes with monthly subscriptions and brands such as H&M Group and Ganni getting involved.

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Just as fashion rental was hitting the mainstream market the pandemic struck.

Weddings are being postponed, there are no work events beyond a pub quiz over Zoom and you can forget about holidays for the year. The fast growing rental market is looking shaky to say the least. With a quarter of the UK’s workforce currently furloughed, those with subscriptions rentals are reassessing their finances.

Shoppers that use rental and resale services, according to Neil Saunders (Managing Director of Global Data Retail), shoppers that use rental and retail services are traditionally the people who may have less disposable income and are not as able to purchase luxury fashion in retail. This means that these people are likely to cut non-essential purchases out of their spending habits, if they feel a squeeze on their wallets. Whilst companies are trying to persuade consumers to keep renting for those virtual house parties, it’s not paying off.

In the US, Rent the Runway, has already announced lay-offs, temporary pay cuts and furloughed staff in response to the pandemic. “Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, RTR’s sales have dropped significantly,” the company, announced in a statement on Twitter: We therefore have had to make difficult decisions to sustain the business by cutting costs across the board.”

Health Concerns

Hygiene is another major concern during the current pandemic; in this climate do people still want to wear pre worn garments?

So far, medical experts are not entirely sure how long the coronavirus can survive on soft surfaces. Transmitted through respiratory droplets, certain exposed surfaces could be infectious for hours and even days. According to World Health Organisation, the virus can survive on plastic for five days and cardboard for 24 hours. While the World Health Organisation recommends washing at 60 degrees to decontaminate clothing that has been in contact with the virus and to wash clothes with deterg, most the of garments on rental sites are dry clean only. As it is not currently known what temperature kills coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that although temperatures above 167 degrees kill flu viruses; it recommends clothes be laundered at the highest-appropriate temperature setting.

From the World Health Organization

RTR has said that the its cleaning process after each rental “is designed to kill viruses such as the common cold and flu,” as stated on its website’s FAQ section. “Based on current guidance, we have no reason to believe that our processes are ineffective against COVID-19.”For HURR, it is down to the lender to have the garments dry cleaned, unless they are rented though HURR’s concierge service. As a peer-to-peer rental, clear health and safety guidelines are essential. Yet there is very little advice on their website beyond being redirected to the World Health Organisation. Meanwhile at By Rotation, it is also down to the lender, yet is much clearer on the latest recommendations on cleaning items, for washable and dry cleaned garment.

Even with clearer protocols in place, renters may still be put off by the thought of sharing clothes with somebody else at moment. Before renters continue to do so the hygiene factors will need to be investigated further and clear health and safety guidelines must become essential, as viruses like this one appear to be part of the future.

When the British population is still in a form of lockdown, where we can’t visit pubs or bars, are people really going to be thinking about renting a cocktail night-on-the-town dress? Yet when life returns normal, we believe the fashion rental industry will keep expanding and growing in popularity.

Written by Bethan @ theecostories

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