After two years of the pandemic, spent mostly in sweatpants, hoodies and not going anywhere, the thrill of buying something new and dressing to impress is tempting.
And if there’s one thing brands are eager to provide, it’s the lure of quick-fix fast fashion. With many of us hungry for it, the brands are ready to indulge our impulse to buy.
Yet that’s part of the problem. 50% of our clothing in the UK being bought and discarded in landfill within a year. According to Hubbub, 41% of 18–25-year olds feel the need to wear a different item every time they go out. Meanwhile, at least 50% of people say they’re concerned about the impact of fashion on the environment.
The mixed emotions and messages we have around fashion are startling.
Fashion is the second biggest global polluting industry (behind big oil) – not simply from its drain on natural resources (such as wastewater production), but also the power and energy it uses to grow and produce the raw materials. It’s the energy and carbon footprint of the shipment from the factory, to store, to customer. It totals 10% of global carbon dioxide output – more than international flights and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Something needs to happen to fashion and fast.
“What’s needed is a fundamental shift away from exploitative and extractive fast fashion”
Raechel Kelly of The Liminality, a sustainability specialist in regenerative thinking, explains:
“What’s needed is a fundamental shift away from exploitative and extractive fast fashion models and that requires system change via legislation and regulation of those industries. But that can also be achieved by grassroots action to remove these businesses’ social licence to operate. This means building new ethical, joyful, accessible ways to dress. To understand the industry, showcasing alternatives and finding ways in which we can all be empowered to act.”
The choices we make can effect change. Buying less and buying better is a solution for some, in the form of a capsule wardrobe. Using the cost per wear equation and the foundation of purchasing, for example, the thought ‘would you wear it 30 times? What would be the cost per wear? Is it something that will last me?’ If not, perhaps don’t buy it.
Yet the idea of a never-changing capsule wardrobe is not always ideal. The evolving sharing economy may just be the answer, giving us more considered ways forward.
Sharing is caring
The idea of sharing wardrobes or clothes has been around for years, with many savvy folks having reused and repurposed items for decades, through vintage boutiques or clothes swaps. Yet it’s only in the past few years that tech has allowed the idea to flourish. The sharing drive is now stronger, coming from the brands directly or via rental platforms. And with easier access to luxury goods involved now too, borrowing has been elevated.
Alexandra Steadman of The Frugality says: “I’m not an eco-blogger by any means, but I have a conscience and think about how my position within the fashion industry has affected and influenced how I think and feel about clothes”.
Alexandra’s blog and Instagram is a curated feed of a mix of old and new clothes, with many of the new designer pieces rented through online apps.
“For me, it’s the thrill of wearing something ‘new to me’ and getting myself out of the mentality that I constantly need to ‘buy’ and ‘own’ items.”
Not only is renting better for the planet, it’s also a way to feel fancy for a fraction of the price. The renting phenomenon is not exclusive to fashion either. From car shares and airbnb to ‘libraries of things’ where household items such as jet washers, hedge trimmers and camping gear can be shared, the borrowing culture is increasingly embedded in many communities.
If this movement continues to grow, it might encourage companies to produce fewer garments, fewer cars and ultimately fewer things. And perhaps create them with longevity in mind.
Aja Barber, fashion and sustainability consultant, has discussed on her Patreon whether renting really is a remedy for the issue. The thorny issue here is that some stores are starting to cash in on the market too, rather than rental remaining the preserve of peer to peer lenders.
She says: “A lot of these services are doing big business with brands and purchasing as much as department stores would. And if the selection is constantly changing with the season and trends … I’d say ‘no’ to these sorts of businesses being sustainable.”
There are environmental pitfalls in the sharing model too, from the carbon-heavy deliveries and returns, the energy-consuming dry-cleaning facilities and the fundamental problem: fashion is still a major polluter. It seems the whole fashion industry needs to be rebuilt from the top-down. But how realistic is this ambition?
While renting may not be the perfect solution, it feels like a promising start in encouraging us to shift our ways of buying and thinking about fashion.
With that in mind, here are a selection of platforms to check out. Whether it’s a statement piece for an occasion or trying a style before you invest, there’s a platform to suit every style and budget. If sharing and renting clothes is a step we can take towards making a difference, then it’s worth considering. Sharing, after all, is caring.
Rental services: 4 of the best
Peer to peer rental, with a mix of luxe and mid-range brands. You can rent pieces but also make money renting out your wardrobe, Rent a wow piece for an event and it includes dry cleaning and insurance for any wine spills. They’re also climate positive and fund environmental projects. Brands range from Rixo and Ganni through to Emilia Wickstead.
Another peer-to-peer platform, albeit at the higher luxe end of things. Users are encouraged to lend as well as rent, creating a circular sharing loop. Through the app, you can meet up in person to exchange the rented item, with borrowing set at a minimum of three days. Brands available to rent include Balmain and Innika Choo.
Founder Phoebs confesses her former ‘wear once’ ethos was the inspiration behind the platform. Realising this was an unsustainable way of staying fashionable, she set up this site which specialises in statement pieces. Find the item you wish, with a rental period to choose from five to 14 days. One downside is the availability in sizes, which is limited above size 12.
One for those eager to borrow from the wardrobes of celebrities and influencers, including Arizona Muse, Poppy and Chloe Delevingne, Olivia Buckingham, Roxie Nafousi, Caroline Fleming and many other stylish women across the UK. They even allow you to buy an item once you’ve rented and tried on, which helps reduce returns.
Established by Isabella West to support and encourage others to avoid panic buying from fast fashion outlets. They instead work directly with brands, help them choose stock and then split profits. With a 30-day rental option, it offers a greater long-term solution, plus they include more high street options such as Marks & Spencer, Ghost, French Connection and Whistles.
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