As interest for ethical shopping grows, more and more different ways of shopping sustainably emerge. One of the most popular ones is rented clothing, and it’s easy to see why: all of a sudden, access to previously out-of-reach high-end designer clothing becomes a possibility, even if only for a limited amount of time. Through renting companies such as Hurr Collective, By Rotation, On Loan and My Wardrobe HQ, we could all make our dreams of wearing the latest designer dresses or carrying otherwise unattainable It bags a reality. Of course, the dream items would have to be packed up and sent on to their next temporary owner in a matter of days, but that’s beside the point.
Since the British first lady, Carrie Symonds, wore a rented dress at her wedding to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the popularity of rented fashion has skyrocketed. Rental companies have also been celebrated as eco-friendly, as supposedly reusing clothing halts the cycle of constantly producing and buying new items. Renting for special occasions in particular has been heralded as The Cool Thing To Do – and with good reason. Who wants their wardrobe to be full of dresses that they have only worn once? Or, alternatively, wheel out the same dress on rotation for every wedding or Christmas party on the social calendar? For the conscious new generation of fashion lovers, renting seems like a welcome solution to multiple problems.
But recently, environmentally motivated criticism against renting has emerged. This year, Finnish environmental science journal Environmental Research Letters produced a study which evaluated different ways of owning clothes and disposing of them. Renting, alongside re-selling and recycling, was assessed. Among the different methods of shopping, the study found renting to be the least eco-friendly option due to the amount of transportation involved in moving the items between the renter and the place of origin. Between one renter and another, rented items are also often dry-cleaned, which can be harmful to the planet due to the chemicals used.
The study also noted that several rental companies used the term “circular fashion” in a misleading way. Circularity in fashion means that resources and materials are reused in a closed loop instead of being wasted or thrown away, but these companies use the term to mean that the same item is passed from one consumer to another. But the final conclusion of the study was that if renting companies tweaked their practices, they could indeed be climate-friendly – and perfecting their practices shouldn’t be out of the question for a process that is still quite new in the fashion arena.
In response to the Finnish study, rental companies have asserted that they can in fact be environmentally conscious. “We believe that rental needs scrutiny to make it as ‘green’ as possible, but we’re worried that encouraging people to throw clothes away doesn’t help the industry, let alone the planet,” Tamsin Chislett, CEO and co-founder of rental business Onloan told the Guardian.
As far as transport is concerned, the study took into account that every garment would be taken to the customer’s home by car. But this is far from what happens on every occasion – cycle couriers, electric vehicles and postal services are a few of the ways in which companies get the goods to the fashionistas’ homes. Dry cleaning is also not the only way to get the garments ready. Often, liquid cleaning is used instead – sometimes with the very intent of avoiding environmental damage.
Despite the report, founders of these services still believe that rented clothing can be sustainable. Eshita Kabra, founder of the wardrobe-sharing app By Rotation told Glamour: “Many of our users are shying away from fast fashion altogether as they commit to lower consumption habits and renting high-quality pieces instead. Renting fashion allows us to change our consumption habits by buying less, buying better, and sharing what is already in circulation.”
With the necessary tweaks and changes, rented clothing can take steps towards helping to eliminate some of the overconsumption that are at the root of the biggest issues in the fashion industry. As an emerging service, it still has a few adjustments to make – but at its core, renting is always preferable to mindless, throwaway consumption.
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Cover photo by Ron Lach.