Can a Sharing Economy work for Fashion?

For ‘sharing economy’ market leaders Airbnb and Uber: the future of consumption is accessibility, not ownership. How will the fashion world evolve to fit this?

In a world where Uber and Air BnB reign supreme, industry insiders are beginning to question whether a more public, mutually beneficial, community-based approach could work for fashion. This is a story about collaborative consumption, and how it might one day be how we buy clothing.

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First lets look at some examples of brands that have got the sharing economy model down. Uber took the world by storm by creating a ride-sharing app as an alternative to traditional taxis. Air BnB is one of the world’s biggest accommodation providers, a huge success story of a community-based approach to trading, originating on the idea that people’s homes are often better than hotels. Sharing is caring.

In terms of fashion, we have companies like ThredUp, Rent the Runway and Borrow or Steal. These brands help fashion-concious consumers save money by simply borrowing a designer dress for the short term before returning it for another user to enjoy, ideal for outfits for special occasions only to be worn once. The model seems to be working well, appealing to label-loving customers who can’t necessarily afford to own the real thing.

Minimalism, a new documentary on Netflix, shows the often empowering impact of living with as little ‘stuff’ as possible in our world of excess. It raises the question of access versus ownership; do we need to own our products, or do we just need access to them? Perhaps we could treat clothing more like housing, where many of us are happy with renting a place while its right for us. It is ours or a while, and then it gets passed on, pre-loved, to someone new. If fashion is all about rapid change that followers must keep up with, then why must we invest in and own pieces forever, when they will likely be out of trend in a year or two.

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If renting doesn’t float your boat, perhaps swapping is for you. The industry has recently seen a huge rise in bartering or trading, where no longer does cash have to change hands but goods or services instead. This is seen a lot in the world of fashion blogging, where perhaps a dress may be exchanged for a series of Instagram posts. But it can also be done on the scale of just swapping handbags or unused beauty products with friends at clothes swap parties, an activity thats both rewarding and enjoyable, especially if cocktails are involved. Everyone leaves having got ridden of something they hate, and receiving something they love, also bringing joy to others. A win-win-win situation.

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In conclusion, if this cycle of fast fashion that destroys both people and the environment continues, we must make a change now. If we can’t change the speed of consumption, because it seems more apparent than ever that consumers want new and they want it now, maybe we can change the way in which we consume.

Swapping, renting and trading might never really replace buying new clothes. We are too possessive about our fashion. The sharing economy may not work for fashion on a large, global scale. But often its the small lifestyle changes we make that drive larger progress in the industry. After all, fashion is about supply and demand, so if we demand a sharing economy, we might just get one.

For further insight, look out for ‘Can a Circular Economy or for Fashion’, the next article in this series about alternative fashion business models.

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