Saying that you plan to put Zara out of business sounds like an outlandish statement to make. But when it comes from the mouth of Jennifer Hyman, CEO and founder of fashion rental company Rent the Runway, it doesn't seem all that implausible.
Speaking to Glossy last month, Hyman explained the company's decision to introduce a lower-priced subscription service which, at $89, enables customers to borrow four items of branded clothing every month. 'We want to make the answer to “Should I shop once a month at Zara or get designer access at Rent the Runway?” a lot easier,' she said.
Rent the Runway, if you're not familiar, does what it says on the tin: offering clothes and bags from designer brands – running the gamut from J.Brand basics to luxe Oscar de la Renta gowns – to borrow rather than buy. As well as renting items as a one-off, customers can pay $159 per month for RTR's Unlimited plan, which enables them to borrow an unlimited amount of items per month, keeping hold of four pieces at a time. The democratic new $89 offering, then, is pretty decent; although you're getting less, surely only the most fanatic of fashion consumers would feel unsatisfied with being treated with a new designer bag, or a fancy dress, every week.
"Access is the new ownership" is the company's motto, which makes sense if you look at the booming resale market, which has become the go-to business for budding bedroom entrepreneurs. Teenagers (and a fair few adults) all over the country are queuing up to buy the best bits from the most-hyped 'drops', go home and take selfies in them to flaunt their impeccable taste, and then slyly upload them to Grailed, Depop or some clandestine Facebook group to sell them on for a profit. Do it a few times, and you can earn a bit of extra pocket money and build your Instagram following. The same goes for designer rentals – we live in a filtered social media age, so when you upload of photo of yourself wearing an expensive designer gown, nobody's ever going to know that you have to send it back once the weekend's over. Your followers will just double-tap and scroll on.
There are other plus points to fashion rental besides it being economical and offering the thrill of the new. Over two million tonnes of textile-based products end up in on a landfill site every year. How many Primark shirts have you purchased only to find a hole in them and had to chuck them out? While quality across 'fast fashion' varies – I own plenty of pieces from Zara, COS and Topshop that have stayed together perfectly well, and I come back to them on the reg – generally speaking, a £12 jumper is not designed to be a forever piece. Being a slave to the ever-evolving, trend-led cycles of high street fashion doesn't just make you a fashion victim – it makes you wasteful, too, as you'll end up buying new, shiny stuff in lieu of something you were obsessed with two months ago. Renting out clothes allows you to sample the latest trends, so there's no need to buy into them and inevitably reject them a few months down the line.
Convert dollars into pounds and $89 equates to just under £70. That could get you a nice little blazer from Zara, a silk shirt from & Other Stories, or a pair of Topshop jeans and a lightweight blouse to wear with them. If you shop on the high street regularly, it's pretty easy to pull together a shopping basket that rings in at £70. Ultimately, whether you need a rental subscription in your life or not depends on how much you spend on clothes per month. If you live for Depop, eBay, Primark and charity shops, you can probably live without. But if you frequently find yourself slipping into Topshop on the walk home from work, or absent-mindedly browsing the ASOS app during your downtime, fashion rental may well be for you.
With the festive season fast-approaching, now's a better time than ever to give fashion rental a whirl. Rent the Runway doesn't operate in the UK at the moment, but there are some alternatives that are worth giving a go. We recommend Girl Meets Dress, . And, if luxury handbags are your, er, bag, check out Fashion Hire. If you can look past the clunky web design, there are plenty of gems to be found.