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  • Claire Kalikman



It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic is changing the retail landscape. Malls are shuttering left and right, while e-commerce is surging. Customers are also re-evaluating their habits as lifestyles change - with more time spent at home and less in the office. But what does this mean for rental services? Hint: the answer isn’t clear. 

Scenario 1: Rental will be HUGE. As we all had to sit in our houses for months on end, many of us realized that we need a LOT less to be comfortable. Many people also took advantage of the extra time available to clean out closets, resulting in overwhelming donations to charity shops. This could result in a move towards holding onto only a ‘capsule’ wardrobe and opting to rent the rest to avoid clutter and over-consumption.

As the recession takes hold across the globe, consumers may also learn that rental is an affordable substitute for buying new items for every occasion. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the pandemic has increased interest in sustainability for both consumers and brands. In a recent NY Times Fashion digital event, designers Tory Burch and Virgil Abloh agreed that sustainability will be key moving forward. Rental - which can increase the number of times a garment is worn - could be one of the major forces shaping sustainable fashion going forward.

Hirestreet, a British rental platform, argues that, “renting is a more sustainable and financially-viable option than purchasing a one-off item.” They say they’ve saved customers “over £650,000 by renting over purchasing, and saved over 66,000 kg of emissions (equivalent to driving a car around the world seven times).”

Image via Hirestreet

Scenario 2: Rental will be CRUSHED. Via the same reasoning, we’ve realized we don’t need that much to be happy, so there’s less of an appeal to constantly swap out outfits and never re-wear garments.

Personally, I got stuck in a foreign country for three months with just one suitcase. Even though I’m a total fashionista and love picking out an outfit every morning, guess what? I was totally fine with my one little suitcase worth of clothes. And as many companies delay the return to the office, move remotely permanently, or introduce mixed WFH and in-office days, working women, a key customer segment, won’t need to rent work attire for every day of the week. Further, it’s hard to predict when we’ll have a return to parties and events as they were in the Before Times. With Zoom weddings and happy hours, there’s less reason to rent dresses for formal occasions, which is Rent the Runway’s bread and butter. 

One thing that may impact rental without good reason? Fear of catching the virus. The Centers for Disease Protection and Control, the governmental body that provides information about the coronavirus and other diseases in the United States, have deemed it very unlikely that the coronavirus can spread through surfaces. Meaning you shouldn’t stop shopping at op shops or be afraid of picking up packages.

What do the businesses say? The fashion industry is betting big on Scenario 1, with many businesses investing in rental. In just the past six months, Selfridge’s has opened a rental service in collaboration with Vestiaire Collective and Ganni collaborated with Levi’s on its existing rental platform. 

But these are companies that are just starting out. For companies that already existed, it’s been a hard time. RTR was forced to slash 51% of its budget and Le Tote, Lord & Taylor’s rental scheme, went bankrupt in August.

Hirestreet’s founder Isabella West has high hopes for the future. She wrote to us: “At Hirestreet we have seen a 58% increase in year on year rentals this August, but a 40% decrease in average rental price. Customers are renting more than ever, but instead of opting for our high-end outfits which are popular for occasions such as weddings, they are hiring our more affordable and casual pieces to go to the pub or for date night. In the UK COVID has accelerated a shift in consumers embracing rental for every day life.  

Structurally there are 3 key factors impacting the rental market at the moment: Consumers are increasingly price sensitive due to post-COVID recessionary concerns, many customers are looking to be increasingly environmentally conscientious post lock-down, and finally there has been a spike in people making plans in advance (due to restrictions on space in popular pubs and restaurants) which has also had a knock on impact on bookings. I think the rental market is perfectly positioned to boom post COVID when events are allowed to return - customers tell us daily how excited they are to get “dressed up properly” again.”

What do you think, dear readers? Are you excited get dressed up again? Will you be renting more or less in the months to come?

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