• Fashion

Could renting clothes be the next evolution of sustainability?

From one-off pieces to t-shirts and jeans, why clothing rental is good for the planet

How many times have you made a last minute (and very expensive) outfit purchase for a special event telling yourself you’ll wear it again, only to have it sitting in your closet collecting dust, never to be seen again? The problem with special occasion dressing is it’s usually a one-off event and therefore a one-off wear. Astoundingly, the value of unworn clothing hanging in our wardrobe has been estimated to be worth $52 billion and it is estimated that $246 billion worth of clothing goes to landfill each year. But could renting fashion be the answer?

Dress rental company, My Dress Affair launched in 2015 with just one dress and fittings were held in founder Sandra Grandy’s bedroom. Today it has expanded to list 350 dresses that are available to hire for four or eight days. Orders are taken online or in their Alexandria, Sydney fitting room.

“Dress hire was almost non-existent three years ago. Girls were afraid of telling others they were hiring a dress, for fear of embarrassment,’’ says Sandra.

“Over the years, that’s totally changed. Celebrity influencers and micro influencers have helped show that dress hire is something to be proud of.’’

According to sustainable fashion expert Clara Vuletich it’s clever to rent one-off wear garments, so we can return them after the event, allowing us to choose (and rent) something new for our next occasion.

“Typically most fashion consumers don’t wear designer clothes everyday so renting them makes perfect sense,’’ she says.

“We haven’t had to fork out a large sum of money and the garment gets to be used and enjoyed by someone else…and it’s less likely to end up in landfill in the future.”

Renting fashion not only helps create a closed loop system, but it also creates affordable access to garments that were previously out of reach for some consumers.

“This idea of access being the new ownership has been discussed for a long time in sustainable design – it’s also talked about as part of cradle to cradle design,’’ Clara explains of the theory developed by architect William McDonough, where everything is a resource for something else.

“Consumer products are resource and material intensive and the idea is they should be ‘borrowed’ by consumers, then returned to be remade as part of an organic or industrial closed loop system.’’

Renting fashion isn’t necessarily confined to special occasion pieces either. There are companies like Mud Denim which have a leasing business model, allowing their customers to rent a new pair of jeans on a monthly subscription. At the end of the year, they can send their jeans back and choose a new pair.

“Similarly, For Days, an LA-based t-shirts and basics brand has launched a t-shirt subscription model where you pay a monthly subscription, they send you tees, you wear for them for as long as you like, and then return them for recycling when you want an update,’’ says Clara.

Still not sold on renting?

“Culturally it can be challenging for some people, but if they don’t want to wear second-hand clothes maybe they can engage with some other more sustainable practices, like buying quality, cherishing and caring for what you have,’’ says Clara.

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