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Hailed as a enjoyable, accessible, and guilt-free method of experiencing vogue, vogue rental has been on the rise in the previous couple of years in our more and more sustainability-conscious world. Pioneered by platforms like Rent the Runway, there’s an ever-expanding checklist of recent rental providers showing to supply us the best manufacturers for a fraction of the retail worth, comparable to HURR, Rotaro, By Rotation, Hire Street and OnLoan within the UK, in addition to StyleLend, Nuuly, and Nova Octo within the U.S.
In May, The New York Times introduced: Rental is Back, cementing the sector as an thrilling answer to fight our cultural obsession with shopping for garments. It was all wanting up for the world of rental.
That was, till Finnish students in contrast and ranked 5 totally different clothes possession fashions in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) which threw all of it into query. It discovered that renting clothes had the next international warming potential than resale, recycling, proudly owning for an prolonged interval (known as “reuse” within the report), or proudly owning after which throwing the clothes away. The report prompted headlines like: Renting clothes is ‘less green than throwing them away’ and opened questions on rental platforms and their enterprise fashions.
Let’s Look on the Assumptions
So what’s the deal, is rental sustainable or unsustainable? Well, as at all times, it’s not that easy. “Nuance is so vital, particularly on this house,” explains Maxine Bédat, the founder and director of the New Standard Institute, a sustainable vogue assume tank that focuses on the significance of information and science to fight greenwashing within the business. “Obviously the concept of rental sounds good, however we have to have extra clear details about the cases that it actually is healthier, and when it will not be pretty much as good as we predict.”
In the ERL report, the embedded assumptions used to conclude that rental was the least sustainable possibility are out of sync with how most customers truly use rental platforms. The research checked out a pair of denims: a garment that’s pretty normal and so has an simply quantified influence, however isn’t usually probably the most sought-after rental class. It assumes the buyer rents a pair of denims for a couple of weeks, and after ten makes use of returns the denims to the garments rental firm and will get a brand new pair. In current years, denims have grow to be topic to sooner tendencies, comparable to block patches, over-the-top distressing, and an unlimited vary of shapes, however for most individuals, they’re a staple which are saved for no less than a yr. The International Fair Claims Guide for Consumer Textile Products offers denims a life expectancy of two years, but a great pair can final many years. Considering Rent the Runway has 115 pages of attire to lease in comparison with seven pages of denims (on the time of writing) it may need been extra correct to have a look at the influence of renting and returning stylish seasonal objects comparable to attire, sweaters, or trip garments.
The research additionally factored in 2 kilometers of driving to and from the rental firm’s brick and mortar location, one other assumption that might name into query the legitimacy of the report’s findings, given that almost all new-age rental platforms are digital-only and rental objects are shipped to prospects together with different supply objects, like public transportation for packages.
Deciding that renting is inherently unsustainable based mostly on this report’s government abstract doesn’t give the entire story. Luckily, it goes into extra element in a method that lets us draw some extra nuanced conclusions.
The researchers tweaked the report assumptions to create three totally different rental situations, which dramatically modified the findings. In the unique situation, it was assumed that the denims can be worn 200 instances of their lifetime. When growing this to 400 instances, and assuming the denims have been transported by low-carbon means like a motorcycle or electrical automobile, they discovered that rental “can attain roughly the identical stage of GWP because the REUSE situation” so long as the rental providers have been positioned near customers, and high-quality, long-lasting denims have been being rented. So, the sustainability of rental platforms is closely depending on transport emissions and sharing frequency.
Most vogue rental platforms have a noble ambition: to cut back overproduction and to fight throwaway vogue tradition. By holding items in circulation for longer than the typical shopper would maintain a garment, rental platforms goal to cut back the fast churn from manufacturing facility to checkout basket to bin. In truth, a report by McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda discovered that renting prolonged the lifetime of a garment by 80%, based mostly on the typical variety of instances it could possibly be rented in its lifetime.
For many, being caught at dwelling in the course of the pandemic with a stuffed wardrobe of unworn garments led to a shift in perspective about what we personal and the way a lot we devour. The rise of the garments sharing economic system has coincided with the easing of pandemic restrictions, making rental a sexy various for post-lockdown celebrations. Rent the Runway reported a 92% increase of lively customers between May 2020 and May 2021, and is about to surpass pre-pandemic buyer numbers by the tip of the yr. Unsurprisingly, daring prints, crop tops, neon hues and mini attire are in excessive demand. In a survey of their members, the platform’s founder claims that 89% of members purchase fewer garments, notably quick vogue, since becoming a member of Rent the Runway.
The truth stays, there’s too little analysis performed concerning the sustainability credentials of vogue rental, which implies that the claims many platforms make may merely be thought of greenwashing. “In the minds of most individuals, renting is sustainable. And that’s the fault of the manufacturers which are pushing these messages,” Bédat says.
This is very true for platforms that lease stylish clothes as a result of it begs the query: What occurs to that “It” costume in 5 years time when it’s not cool anymore? “I believe these sorts of leases are encouraging that kind of [trend-driven] way of life, and that’s deeply problematic,” she says.
Let’s not neglect the environmental influence of rental logistics. Transportation is an element, as a result of not like a bought garment, a rented one needs to be returned, which will increase the carbon emissions concerned – even when the corporate makes use of carbon-neutral methods. It’s the identical for packaging. A rented merchandise is packed and repacked many extra instances than a bought garment, growing the quantity of plastic wrapping and cardboard waste.
Another issue is dry cleansing, an energy- and chemical-intensive course of. In the U.S., most dry cleaners use a poisonous chemical known as perchloroethylene (PERC) as a major cleansing solvent. PERC is known to pollute the air, soil, ingesting and groundwater, resulting in a wide range of well being impacts, together with most cancers, reproductive points and aggravated bronchial asthma for these working within the dry cleansing business in addition to the encompassing communities.
Not everybody makes use of rental platforms in the identical method; for some individuals, it would truly encourage the next fee of overconsumption. While some might lease a glittery occasion costume for an occasion from time to time, different customers could also be merely growing their rotation of recent garments.
“For my e book Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment I interviewed a girl who was on Rent the Runway’s (now-defunct) limitless plan, who mentioned that she was so hyper trend-driven that it was the mannequin for her,” says Bédat. “She lived in a small New York house and she or he didn’t have the capability in her closet, so she was outsourcing her closet and getting new issues to put on on a regular basis.” Comparing this excessive finish of the rental use spectrum with a client who invests in items that they plan to maintain and rewear for years and “it’s exhausting to think about that the analysis would show that the rental mannequin is healthier than somebody who’s going to proceed to put on it, not dry clear it each time it’s worn, and never have the transportation or logistics between every put on.”
The Future of Rental
Despite the query marks over rental’s sustainability credentials, shopper demand is barely rising. What is required is larger and extra detailed analysis — slightly than broad assumptions — to know how persons are truly utilizing rental platforms in follow. “We want extra information to know by which method the business ought to evolve, what a part of it ought to broaden and what shouldn’t,” says Bédat. “We should know the influence of dry cleansing, now we have to know how a lot of an influence the logistics half has, and the connection to logistics and the use case of the garment.”
When it involves analysis, she stresses that reviews should be peer-reviewed and unambiguous. “At a minimal, be clear concerning the assumptions which are being baked into these items earlier than making grand claims,” says Bédat. As for the media’s clickbait headlines reacting to the ERL research earlier this yr, she says “I believe it’s truthful to say: hey, rental will not be as sustainable as we predict it’s, however any black or white [statement] that doesn’t get into the nuance of it’s problematic on the a part of the media.”
So how can we lease our garments in a extra aware method? By being conscious that renting isn’t impact-free, and never all rental platforms are made equal.
There are loads of gamers within the rental sport who provide eco-friendly cleansing strategies, carbon-neutral or detrimental supply, reusable or recyclable packaging, and emissions offsets. In the UK, the rental platform HURR has partnered with RePack on reusable packaging, whereas competitor Rotaro makes use of carbon-neutral transport with logistics firm DPD. Rent the Runway claims to have recycled 408 tons of plastic right into a wooden various, by its partnership with Trex. Many of those younger firms additionally associate with social enterprises like Ecologi to offset a proportion of their emissions by tree plant initiatives.
More importantly, renting ought to change solely worse choices, comparable to shopping for a brand new cocktail costume that you recognize you’ll solely put on a few times earlier than it goes out of favor. “We ought to consider renting like second-hand procuring,” sustainable vogue journalist and writer Dana Thomas advised the Guardian in July. “[It’s] not one thing we do on a regular basis, as an alternative of shopping for our garments and swapping out outfits nonstop, however every so often, when the necessity arises, like proms [or] weddings.”