/ Sustainability

Would you rent your clothing to save the planet?

A woman gazes through a shop window at designer clothing

You might rent your home. You might rent a car. You might have rented DVDs in the 90s. But would you rent a pair of jeans?

Selfridges is the latest, and perhaps most high-profile, store to launch an online clothing rental service. And just in time, too. Fashion rag Grazia predicts renting your wardrobe will be ‘2021’s biggest trend’

It’s pitched as a way to shop more sustainably – an alternative to fast fashion that’s still, well, fast. So would you swap high street clothes shops for a Blockbuster for blouses?

Not just for weddings

Renting clothes for special occasions has been around for a while, of course. You may have rented a morning suit or a fancy gown to watch friends or family tie the knot, for example.

But this trend of renting everyday wear is inspired by environmental concerns. The fashion industry is a major polluter. Buying and discarding cheap garments is bad for the planet. Expensive designer clothes can be more ethically made and more durable, but here’s the problem: they’re expensive. 

Guide: how to wash clothes in a washing machine

The selling point of these new clothing rental services is that they give you access to fashionable clothing at a lower cost, to the planet and to your bank account. When your rental period is up, you send them back, they’re cleaned and rented out again. Nothing goes in the landfill.

But maybe just for weddings

At the moment, the downside is that some of these websites are still quite pricey. Since many of them focus on designer pieces, the lower price point is still far higher than, say, Primark or your local charity shop. 

And then there’s the T&Cs around damaging or staining the clothes. You might have to pay full price to replace damaged items. Not ideal if you’re renting them to save money.

Would you consider renting your clothing?
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Tell us your story

We want to hear from you if you’ve rented clothes before – whether just for special events or for daily life. What inspired you to do it, and would you recommend it? 

Even if you haven’t, is this kind of library for linens something you’d consider?

Let us know in the comments.

Comments

We have rented dinner suits and dresses for special occasions in the past but a big NO to renting everyday clothes.

When you are only going to rarely wear an item, it makes sense to rent otherwise they can quickly look dated and you don’t have the problem of storage. An item of rented clothing will get worn many more times than the owned equivalent, so better for the planet.

For everyday clothes, just buy sensibly so you get plenty of wear out of them. Mix and match for different outfits instead of never being seen in the same outfit twice.

“Nothing goes to landfill”. So what happens to this clothing when it becomes unfit to rent out?
Some people buy cheap throwaway clothing to ensure they are not seen in the same stuff too often. Why would they change and wear expensive fashion rentals that they would have to wear more often?

Inspired by environmental concerns? Most probably a money making exercise to get more overpriced products to people who do not reckon the long term cost.

It makes sense to hire rarely used outfits; wedding dress, morning suit, evening dress, posh frock, kilt and, these days, perhaps even a really nice suit as many have stopped buying them. But to get the right effect all these must fit properly and that means going to try them on and, in many cases, having them altered. So how will that work for routine rentals?

I’d suggest the best sector to report on is the baby clothing market. Those little devils grow so quickly that all the clothing for new borns bought by grandparents and friends gets little or no use. Unless you plan follow-ons it will sit in store for years until – sent to landfill. Over 700 000 of these candidates would genuinely benefit financially and environmentally if they joined a clothing- and, indeed, all the other necessary and expensive apparatus – swap/part exchange scheme that recycled this stuff to new parents. There are established schemes doing just this. Perhaps @iaikman Which? could report on these (if the have not already).

I guess a general problem with hiring clothes is going to be the same as hiring tools. I’ve always found the latter to be nearly as expensive as buying cheap tools, so there’s usually no point.

I presume that rental of everyday clothing has more to do with making profit than reducing our impact on the environment.

The only time I have ever rented clothing was when attending degree ceremonies – an old tradition where graduands are required to wear silly bat-gowns. I was spared having to wear a silly hat.

I used to wear a suit when attending weddings and funerals but in these enlightened times I am happy to wear a smart jacket and trousers. Someone might be concerned that I am wearing the same clothes as at the previous event but it certainly won’t be me. Saving money used to be my priority but now it is saving the planet.

Em says:
20 May 2021

I don’t see that the rental model offers any sustainability benefits over the purchase of new and resale of used clothing. There are plenty of outlets to buy, sell or donate unwanted items of clothing: eBay, Depop, Gumtree, “Vintage” clothes stores, Red Cross, etc.

All I can see coming from the rental model is increased churn, involving more cleaning, chemicals, plastic packaging, clothes miles, returns and ultimately higher costs.

Why does nobody rent their television these days? Because the overheads are greater than the cost of the item. If that is true of a £300 television, it is certainly true for a £50 pair of jeans.

Phil says:
20 May 2021

” Nothing goes in the landfill. ”

I think it does. It’s just been on more bodies on the way.

Hygiene will require the clothes have a proper deep clean between rentals which will burn up more energy and use more toxic chemicals. This is far from eco-friendly.

I hired a hat to match the colour of my mother-of-the-bride outfit for my daughters wedding. My search high and low for weeks to buy new failed so as a last resort I turned to a local second hand hat hirer who provided a perfect exact match.

Some of my suits are pretty long in the tooth but I still wear them on appropriate occasions [and on some occasions when I am conspicuously overdressed], but I don’t care. I wouldn’t rent if I had something suitable in the wardrobe.

I agree with other contributors that renting is not necessarily a planet-saver. I disapprove of fast fashion and the obsession with the twice-yearly [Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer] fashion launches and the social-media-driven compulsion to be up-to-date with the latest stupid look.

I suppose I would decline an invitation to a social event if I didn’t possess the specified garments – I wouldn’t just turn up in mufti or in ill-fitting sponge bag trousers from a hire shop.

Is this your style, John? Suitable for most occasions.

Em says:
20 May 2021

Must be a second – no indigo.

No, Malcom – I don’t patronise Michael Portillo’s outfitters. That’s a real rainbow alliance kit isn’t it? To be worn with Pride.

Em says:
20 May 2021

I have been buying Rohan clothes for decades and my casual wardrobe is mostly* Rohan. The clothes last until they literally wear out – zips mostly, become damaged due to an unfortunate tear or chemical spill, or just no longer fit.

Of course a lot of these long lasting and low maintenance fabrics are synthetic, but I still wear one jumper I bought in the 1990s. The elbows have lost their fuzz, like an old teddy bear, but it still keeps me snug on winter days. Hopefully, it was made out of old PET bottles, but it could be too old for that.

Sometimes using less is better than using more of a “sustainable” product, if you take all the whole-of-life non-recoverable emissions of manufacturing, packaging and distribution into account. Even pure cotton socks come in a plastic bag, and I hate to thing of all the oil used to plant, fertilize, pick, card, spin and weave or knit the raw cotton, let alone the bleach and chemical dyes. Bamboo socks are another eco-friendly con. The bamboo just happens to be the source of the cellulose used to make the rayon (viscose) fibre, another synthetic material. Somehow “sawdust socks” doesn’t sound quite as attactive as those made from bamboo.

Anyway, I digress from Rohan. You can trade in unwanted items of Rohan clothing for a 20% discount off another item. “Gift Your Gear supports community organisations, youth groups and charities working with young people in the outdoors. The outdoor gear you donate makes a real difference enabling life changing experiences in the great outdoors, regardless of circumstance.”

* I do have the odd Musto coat or fleece in my wardrobe, but again these last for decades.

I still have the duffel coat I first wore at school but it has horn toggles so probably best left up in the loft now.

I had assumed that Rohan clothing was made in Middle-earth but mine says Made in China. Seems well made.

My thoughts exactly. Presumably by the Rohendren, working in huge halls…

Em says:
21 May 2021

I had never really made the association wiht Lord of the Rings. I guess that is why they call their iconic trousers “Bags”.

Julia says:
20 May 2021

I would not consider renting clothing. Any item of clothing you see me wearing will have been bought at a charity shop, and is likely to be an expensive brand such as Eastex, which last more or less for ever.

Phil says:
21 May 2021

Clothes don’t have to go to landfill. If they’re natural fibres: cotton, wool or linen, they will compost.

We can get rid of unwanted clothes and any other textiles in any condition [but clean, of course] with the weekly municipal refuse or recycling collection. We just have to put them in a carrier bag and leave it alongside the bin. I would hope that all waste collection authorities will provide this service as soon as possible because the amount of clothing and re-processible textile material discarded as waste is staggering.

The Council’s website states “Textiles are dealt with by a company called East London Textiles. They send the good quality items overseas and those not suitable for reuse are turned into new items. Find out more on the East London Textiles website.”

The company’s website says “It is estimated that around 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in household bins every year with around 80% of this incinerated and 20% sent to landfill. 16% of people still dispose of their unwanted clothing by throwing it in the bin. Our recycling collection services provide the opportunities for charities and the general public to dispose of more of its used clothing and household items in an environmentally friendly way, whilst supporting British charitable causes.”

Nicola Gilbert says:
21 May 2021

I rented hats for Weddings & Garden Parties as I knew it was unlikely I would wear them again – gave me the opportunity to go for something really special and guilt free.

A really interesting topic. My first thoughts on this are no, only because I have to be careful what laundry products I use so even if the items were returned cleaned, I’d still need to wash them so that would be every item getting washed twice. This would mean extra water and wastage sadly. I do make sure though that all my old clothes go into clothing recycle bins.