‘Something borrowed’ is no longer just for weddings. That’s the message that Eshita R, the founder of peer-to-peer clothing rental platfom By Rotation, is trying to spread.
While many people might only think of hiring clothing for a rare special event, Eshita says borrowing an outfit is becoming a more quotidian activity for By Rotation’s users.
“There have been a lot of rentals happening for things like birthdays and Valentine’s Day. Even though Christmas was more restricted this year, people were renting something nice just to stay in and celebrate with their partners or housemates. We’ve also had some people renting pieces for job interviews and for work.”
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Lockdown, it seems, has changed the definition of a special occasion.
Now, as the UK prepares to roll back restrictions, Eshita is expecting rentals to ramp up. Last summer, when rules allowed people in some parts of the country to visit restaurants and bars, she saw users borrowing clothes from each other even for casual outings. A similar phenomenon could be part of the coming months, as lockdown-weary Britons celebrate the return of even small aspects of everyday life.
The rise of rental
So could this mark a permanent shift in the way we dress?
The argument for rental fashion is obvious. It makes use of existing materials, and saves the borrower a packet on what might otherwise be an expensive garment.
The concept has made progress in recent years. Rent the Runway, an American website launched in 2009, has been credited with taking the concept of clothes-sharing mainstream over the last decade.
Newer providers are also making headway in the UK. By Rotation is one of them, with its purely peer-to-peer model – that is, users lend to each other. Hurr Collective is another, operating both a peer-to-peer side and a way of linking brands to borrowers.
“As we don’t hold stock there’s no limit on the number of users, their location or the number of items that can be listed,” says Victoria Prew, founder of Hurr.
“For reach change to occur, we need to change behaviours at scale and peer-to-peer provides the scale and depth of stock required.”
Not only does the peer-to-peer model make the logistics simpler, it offers a way for users to make money. The top lenders on By Rotation are earning about £600 a month on their items, with many able to pay off the original cost of their purchase.
Eshita says that although the app has got some attention from celebrities like Stacey Dooley and influencers like Jessie Bush, most of the users aren’t famous, and you don’t have to already have a following to be a successful lender.
The ideal By Rotation lender, she says, is “someone who invests in nice pieces, lends them for cost-effective prices, and is active on the app”. Social functions on the app mean lenders and borrowers can even strike up friendships, she says.
The role of re-selling
Of course, it’s unlikely that rental would replace buying altogether. Second-hand purchases can also form an important part of the ‘circular economy’ of garments – that is, keeping them in use for as long as possible.
This is the model which Laura, founder of Kids O’clock, sees developing on her own platform. Set up after her own experience of trying to avoid the high street while buying clothes for her son, it is a place for parents to list the good-quality items their children have outgrown.
“The return customer rate has been bigger than I expected, which just shows if you have a good platform, people will use it,” says Laura.
Given the rate at which small children grow out of clothes, the way many parents use the platform is to buy what they need, then come back three months later once they are too small, and resell them again.
“The main thing we’re aiming to be is responsible,” says Laura, who doesn’t want to make any grand claims about saving the planet. Most users are drawn to the site for its practicality and efficiency – any other benefits are a bonus.
The post-pandemic opportunities
Laura would also like Kids O’clock to facilitate rentals, but has put plans for this on hold while coronavirus restrictions are in place. She’s also preparing for the launch of a partnership with various brands, which will see drop-off points for used clothing added to their stores.
Meanwhile, rental platforms are gearing up for a surge in demand.
“From June, rental is set to boom and we’re already seeing rental requests for June, July and August dates coming through,” says Victoria of Hurr. “This year, our mission is to bring back the joy of getting dressed up and give our community a way to look and feel great, without the commitment to purchase.”
Eshita says that although some rental activity has continued on By Rotation, she hasn’t been pushing it during the pandemic.
“We actually spent this time during the lockdown just educating the mainstream audience about why it’s better to share your items. Then obviously there was a lot of newsflow about the fast fashion industry and how exploitative it was during that time. We wanted to make sure people were using this time spending time online learning about fashion.”
Now, as people emerge from lockdown, she is hoping to see more people take those lessons to heart and rethink how they add new items to their wardrobe.
Victoria is optimistic about the future prospects of the sharing economy. “We need to move it from a pilot scheme to a mainstream,” she says. “My whole goal is to try and make sure that on the 21st of June, people don’t buy the fast fashion collections and rent a dress instead.”
Esther, 25, works in corporate strategy in the payments industry
Are you a borrower, a lender, or both? Both
When did you first get interested in rental fashion, and why? I’ve known about rental fashion for a long time because of US brands like Rent the runway. I only really got into it as a participant about a year ago, when By Rotation started popping up in the UK
Has Covid-19 changed your approach to renting clothes, and to clothes more generally? For me, spending a year at home highlighted two things : first, I love clothes even when I don’t have anywhere to wear them to. Second, I need to work on making my love for them sustainable, and to be more conscious of my shopping patterns, for instance being conscious of when I’m buying a piece I’d only wear once, versus wardrobe staples.
Is using the platform helpful for making or saving money? Definitely! First, because it allows me to rent rather than buy pieces I might only wear a few times. Second, because putting some of my pieces on the platform has allowed me to monetize some of my fashion investments!
Cathy, 34, marketing consultant
Are you a borrower, a lender, or both? Both, although I have lent out more pieces than I have rented recently but then again I do have over 100 items on the By Rotation app!
When did you first get interested in rental fashion, and why? I started using By Rotation back in November 2019. I’d read a few articles about fashion rental and investigated a few platforms, but By Rotation appealed to me as it was the only app, and I was keen to be able to list and rent items on the go. I got my first rentals shortly after for Christmas parties, (when they were a thing!), and so I started putting up more of my wardrobe. For me signing up was about sharing my clothes with others, my friends were and still are always raiding my wardrobe and I thought if they want to maybe other people do too, and better still I can make a bit of money from it! It was less about sustainability to begin with but it definitely made me more considered about what I bought going forward.
Has Covid-19 changed your approach to renting clothes, and to clothes more generally? Not really, the only impact it had is that I have literally nowhere to go so I haven’t had the chance to get much use out of my wardrobe or others! Covid has made me think about what I need a little more, there’s not that last minute rush to get ready for a night out and then panic ordering a load of fast fashion you’ll never wear again. I’ve done so many clear outs over the past year, so I now have a much better idea about what I have and what suits me. Plus I sometimes use my own profile on By Rotation as a catalogue of what I actually own, and then get inspired from how other people have styled it!
Is using the platform helpful for making/saving money? I wouldn’t say I save the money I make specifically but I definitely have a few pieces that I have more than covered the cost with after just a few rentals! In the last month I’ve made £630 from 12 rentals, I usually look at it as a nice sum to invest into another item that I’ve been lusting after!