Clothing for hire has a bright present, and arguably an even stronger future. This is why the idea of replacing an entire wardrobe with a small wardrobe and a 'subscription fee' even for rental clothes is by no means strange.
A billion dollars.
Here is how much the company is valued Rent the Runway after a whopping $ 125 million investment in 2019. Rent the Runway is one of the many clothing rental services available today (some directly emanating from big brands, others, like Rent the Runway, no). There is a whole host of companies that are focusing on an audience that is looking for a very varied style of clothing, and the freedom to change it often without filling the wardrobe with clothes.
Will it become a trend? As with music, films and soon transport, even the idea of not owning clothes and always guaranteeing new clothes with a monthly "fee" will perhaps change our culture.
Here are several reasons for and against this trend in rental fashion. Not all of them are beautiful or uplifting, but they all have equal propensities to rent (or to possess).
Pros: life is a timeline
Rent the Runway dates back to 2009, but this trend was occurring even earlier. In general, the Millennial generation is less interested in ownership and more interested in access. Yet, the new generations are also driving this social change. In an age where you are constantly posting photos of yourself, it is likely to be gaining in importance to have a dynamic look and be involved. The rise of social media has produced an acceleration of the phenomenon: today people's timelines are real "visual highways" where the appearance changes at dizzying speed, in an attempt to keep the attention alive. But this is only part of it.
Pros: Environment first
I think many of us have become increasingly aware of the ecological impact that the current low-cost fashion system has. To everyone it seems more and more a model close to collapse. We continuously use less than 40% of what is in our closets. The rest is there to mold, or it will end up in landfills. An increasingly consistent part of us knows that we can live with much, much less. And have a "lighter" wardrobe by subscribing to a clothing rental service like ForDays (I talked about it some time ago) can be a way to fight waste.
Pros: you can vary and you are always impeccable
Marie Kondo teaches. The happiness you get from a dress (or an object) decreases as it becomes more obvious. Instead of throwing the dress at the bottom of the closet because you don't like it anymore or because it "tastes old", you vary with clothes that are always perfect, which allay social anxiety and remove the embarrassment of the decision.
Pros: you feel integrated
Natural curiosity and the desire to explore can be enhanced with services such as those of rental and subscription clothing. Trying the trend dress of the moment means being able to comment on it, perhaps in a group of people who love that genre, or who have already worn a similar dress. Maybe in a similar event. It is a way to take part in the conversation, and it can be very engaging for people who like to feel part of the global village.
Cons: it is not very personal
People still like to own things. The property gives us a sense of control and identity, in a way that "per rental" access is not. Those who use rented clothes only on important occasions know that that evening sphere is not strictly, permanently linked to their identity. It is an "aspirational" identity, it is what one would like to be, or how one would like to present oneself. The dress you buy, which you "make your own", responds to other, perhaps more intimate and personal logics.
Cons: nothing is really yours
Owning things is also comforting, in the sense that we can dispose of them at will, or give them to someone else if we want. Suppose we have younger siblings: owning something is valuable beyond personal use. It can be a way to transfer value and wealth or share your experience with others.
Cons: buy bonuses
There is also an entertainment value, almost "therapeutic" and certainly reassuring to go to a store and buy things. Some people just like this process and it's not the same as picking a dress and taking it off. Not until clothing rental services develop valuable environments and experiences.
Cons: men don't like renting
In her graduation thesis a few years ago, a former doctoral student, Aleksandra Kovacheva, considered gender differences in interest in subscription dress services. She found that men are not particularly interested in these kinds of experiences. Women see it as an exploratory experience: they can learn new things, find variety. Men don't. Men seem to prefer more control over buying.
So no, I don't think fast fashion will die. I just think ownership-based retailing will adapt. Perhaps by offering models similar to Amazon Prime Reading: keep a suit as you like, or change it if you want. Choose from time to time between ownership and access.
The big brands try
Are large companies also trying to enter this market with their own solutions? Ann Taylor, H&M, Urban Outfitters - a lot of big stores are trying.
I think that the future of the clothing rental sector, in a certain sense, depends on the psychological spirit and the economic conditions that will take over the next generations. Many kids who attend high school today (not many) are looking more pragmatically at the market, we will talk about it in some next post. I have studies on the myth of the "mobile phone" at hand, perhaps there is a hint of a countertrend (which surprises me) and the new generations are also attentive to prices. If so, the rental clothing trend would have an easy life, but unpredictable outcomes.
For example, rejection from hyperstimulation. I wouldn't be surprised to see people paying a monthly subscription for clothes in the future, and wearing only a few essentials because they reject the idea of being defined by what they wear.