Fashion Rentals Good for Business, but Not the Environment

A woman in a dress looking in a mirror.

The concept of fashion rentals has caught on. (Image: via Pexels)

In the past few years, the idea of fashion rentals has caught on. In the U.S., market leader Rent the Runway has a plan that starts at US$159 per month through which you can rent up to 4 dresses at a time, with each item valued at up to US$3,000. But what makes fashion rentals a hot topic is an argument that they are good for the environment. But is it really so?

Fashion rentals

“By sharing a designer item with 20-30 other women who would have otherwise purchased a single item to use once and dispose of, you can help to reduce the environmental impact of such wear by up to 95 percent… This is due to the fact that instead of 20 to 30 items being manufactured, purchased, worn, and disposed of there is only one item being manufactured and purchased once while still being worn by up to 20 to 30 other people before the end of its life,” Anastasia Pappas from Glam Corner, a company from Sydney that rents clothes, said to Good On You.

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This seems like a fair argument at first. However, it misses a few crucial components — packaging and shipping. When a dress is rented, the renting company will have to package the dress every single time. Thirty women ordering a single dress means that the service packages the item 30 times. As such, a large number of things like plastic bags, tissues, and cardboard boxes will be used in the process, which can contribute to waste and pollution.

The increased shipping instances are a big negative of fashion rentals.
The increased shipping instances are a big negative of fashion rentals. (Image: Jason Lawrence via Flickr)

Now, if 30 women were to order a dress, not only the item will have to be shipped by the company 30 times, but it will also be returned back by the customers 30 times. In contrast, 30 women buying one dress will only result in 30 instances of shipping. In effect, fashion rentals result in double the shipping.

A 2015 study by Levi’s found that “an item ordered online and then returned can emit 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of carbon each way, and spirals up to 50 kilograms for rush shipping. By comparison, the carbon impact of a pair of jeans purchased outright (presumably from a brick and mortar store) and washed and worn at home is 33.4 kilograms,” according to Elle.

However, the rental system does cut down on clothing waste, which is definitely a big advantage of the service. On average, Americans are believed to waste 37 kg of clothes annually. In the UK, 235 million items of unwanted clothing were thought to have ended up in landfills in 2017. This only goes on to affect the environment. If fashion rentals were to find a way to address the pollution issues surrounding shipping, such wastage of clothes can easily be avoided.  

One can wear a wide range of clothes through a fashion rental service.
One can wear a wide range of clothes through a fashion rental service. (Image: via Pixabay)

Hesitant brands and customer benefits

Though rentals seem like the next big opportunity in the fashion industry, some brands are hesitant to utilize it. “A lot of them are still worried that renting will devalue their brand, making their products appear second hand… It’s about changing the brands’ perspective. Educating people is easier. Once they understand the process, they soon see the attraction of the sharing economy. The rise of the conscious consumer is something fashion brands can’t ignore,” Shika Bodani, founder of rental service Front Row, said to The Guardian.

For an average person, fashion rentals may be the only way they will ever get to wear dresses that cost thousands of dollars. For people involved in careers that require them to be in touch with high-class clients, fashion rentals can give them the high-end attire necessary to do their job with ease. Plus, a fashion rental service ensures that you can wear a wide variety of dresses. You won’t even have to wear the same dress on two occasions ever in your life!

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