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Question: Have you rented clothes yet? If not, why? Even I have to admit, I’m late to the progressive retail party, yet I have been hiring out my own wardrobe for the past year or so now on Hurr, making a nice little lump sum each month that I’ve been able to donate to hospice. “Our number one challenge has been and remains to be getting users to rent for the first time. As rental is still a fairly new concept, having a physical bricks-and-mortar presence in Selfridges has been incredibly successful, giving shoppers the ability to interact with the product and get to know the brand,” explains Hurr co-founder and CEO Victoria Prew, who established her rental business back in 2019 after years of extensive prep and research.

While many of us are still yet to dip a toe in, the concept, when you break it down, is compelling. Combining the idea of almost-instant access to incredible pieces you perhaps normally could not afford with a more circular and conscious way of shopping means good things for the environment, your wallet and your personal stye. Thrifting is a fast track to kudos (Oh, this amazing thing? It’s vintage), and while renting isn’t quite on a par reputation-wise, it’s well on its way, and there are now more than a handful of savvy tech-led businesses that are lined up to service the desire. In fact, retail experts predict that the UK rental market is expected to be worth £23 billion by 2029, a sharp increase considering it came in at a more modest £400 million back in 2019.

So what is it that’s holding some of us back? “In our view, to convert customers en masse, rental has to be as fuss-free as shopping at Zara,” explain Natalie-Anne Hasseck and Tamsin Chislett, the co-founders and co-CEOs of OnLoan. “That means ‘good as new’ items, no damage fees or late fees, free and easy returns, free sizing swaps, and a fantastic choice of clothes—all at the same price as a splurge on the high street. That requires a lot of operational expertise behind the scenes to get right!”

Camille Charrière in a Jacquemus dress rented from By Rotation.

The past year has given us very few reasons to consider expanding our wardrobes or getting dressed up. Events and opportunities to leave the house wearing anything other than a puffer coat and trainers have been scarce, but the world is slowly reopening, and fashionable people are more than keen to plan their re-entry wardrobes. Even before the restriction road map was announced, teams were getting rental requests in for parties and weddings in August. “Our rentals have shot up almost 2000% month on month to date since lockdown has begun to ease, confirming there is a huge demand for rental as we enter a new, post-COVID world,” says Georgie Hyatt, co-founder and CEO of Rotaro, echoing the sentiments many of the pioneering women featured below have relayed to me during the process of pulling this article together. Another thing I’ve noticed? It’s not just other women’s clothes and accessories available, as many of these future-facing rental platforms are teaming up with designers (both big and small) to offer selections of current or past-season pieces, as well as the option to buy items that you just can’t bear to part with.

Below, I’ve handed over the floor to the brilliant business minds behind the UK’s best fashion rental sites and apps. It’s an opportunity for them to tell you all about the perks of rental, the unique selling propositions (USP) of their particular companies, what their consumers are interested in right now and why 2021 might be the year you change your mind about renting.

#1. ONLOAN

There are now a few rental fashion sites out there. What is your USP?

Well, we’re the cheapest on a per-day basis (approximately £1 per item per day), and our focus is on what we like to call “elevated daywear,” not just occasion-wear. Our goal is to be a better, affordable alternative to all fast fashion.

Also, we partner directly with contemporary and emerging designers, many of which we have a rental exclusive with, including Shrimps, Maggie Marilyn and Joseph. This means we have the best new-season pieces alongside past-season and that we have multiple pieces in each size so you can always find what you came looking for.

Oh, and we never charge damage fees (ever). Rental should be just as fuss-free as the high street.

What are women hiring right now?

Knitwear has been our biggest category for the last three months—pieces like the Shrimps Bennett cardigans, which we have in three colourways but cannot keep in stock. But it’s changed in just the last couple of weeks as the weather’s gotten warmer, and spring dresses from Stine Goya and our new designer Rodebjer have flown out the door.

How has the past year affected your business?

The rental market was always going to be hit hard during the pandemic—rental is all about “see-now, wear-now” so that’s a tough sell if you’re not allowed to leave the house. We were lucky in that we already offered daywear, not just event-wear, and by some miracle, we’d invested in loungewear from Joseph that turned out to be exactly what people wanted to wear! But it has still been tough.

On the positive side, the pandemic has given us space to build fantastic designer partnerships and focus on our operations. We’re now really slick at keeping clothes in fantastic condition.

For our Loaners, it’s also been a time for people to slow down and evaluate how they consume. We hear from so many new customers that after a year at home staring at their overstuffed wardrobe, they’re really excited to try a new way of enjoying fashion. Fast fashion was an illusion—it was fun but at a horrific cost—whereas rental is about reigniting that love of fashion but without the waste.

What do you think people are going to hire as the restrictions start to lift?

We recently surveyed nearly 1000 people to find out how their attitudes to fashion are changing post-pandemic. We found that ~84% of people agreed they “can’t wait to get dressed up,” whilst another ~80% of people agreed that “loungewear is here to stay.” We’re getting ready for that blend of comfort and glamour: soft fabrics but in luxurious cuts, vibrant prints but in elevated styles.

If you could recommend one must-rent item for the month, what would it be?

We launched our latest designer, Sea NY, over Easter weekend so definitely a piece from that collection.

Sea New York Neon Acid Wash Denim Jumpsuit (£25)

At OnLoan, you can rent four items for the month for £99, so that works out at just under £25 each. There is also the option to rent two items per month for £69. I’ve chosen a few here that you could add to your membership for a month, but I may beat you to it!

Maggie Marilyn Filled With Joy Poet Blouse (£25)

Mother of Pearl Natalia Jersey Midi Dress (£25)

#2: ROTARO

What is your USP?

Because we work only directly with brands (no peer-to-peer element), we’re able to make renting with us as easy as online shopping, with next-day deliveries, multiple sizes and in-house cleaning and quality control. With Rotaro, you know your rental will always be as good as new.

In a world full of stuff, we believe by offering a highly curated selection of iconic pieces, we can help you cut through the noise. The trend forecasters in our team are great at championing emerging designers and identifying new trends, and we stock cult items that are often sold out elsewhere. Our brand partners include JW Anderson, Rotate Birger Christensen, Stine Goya, Materiel Tbilisi, Anouki and more.

Because we handle the entire rental process ourselves, we are able to ensure we implement the most sustainable practises at every step possible. We have partnered with a carbon-neutral delivery service and use an eco-friendly laundry method and packaging. We have also partnered with Ecologi to plant a tree for every rental, and we are a carbon-positive business.

We are social creatures, and because we trust nothing more than word of mouth, we have just introduced a social community shopping feature, where our community uploads photo reviews to Rotaro in exchange for 15% off their next rental. This helps you see how people have styled the garments and tells a story of the garment’s life.

For anyone who hasn’t yet felt brave enough to rent, how would you talk them into it?

You don’t have to own your wardrobe to be known for your wardrobe. Consider Rotaro as your personal platform to discover and explore your personal style. Try out new luxury designers and styles without the risk or price tag, and know that you’re doing it sustainably. Rotaro is a way to express yourself through fashion that is friendly to both the planet and your pocket.

How has the business changed since you first set it up?

Initially, Rotaro started as a traditional wholesale model, in which we purchased stock from the brands to rent. Now we have evolved into a rental marketplace for brands to reach their circular fashion economy customer. Rotaro acts as an extension of their business and offers a risk-free way to enter the rental market. We are putting the control into the brands’ hands, offering them qualitative and quantitative data to help them produce better, longer-lasting garments that can be rented 50 to 100 times. We believe the future of fashion lies in collaboration, and that is why we work closely with brands to rethink and redesign the fashion system.

What are people hiring right now?

Our customer is quite experimental and looking to explore their personal style through rental. They’re hiring matching separates, out-there prints and cult dresses. We don’t only get rentals from women; our wonderful community is made up of men and non-binary people too.

If you could recommend one must-rent item for the month, what would it be?

A bright pink crystal-encrusted pantsuit from our new really cool brand partner, Anouki, from Tbilisi, Georgia. I am ready for a spring disco in the garden!

Yasmina Q Clemence Dress in Green Jasmine Print (£29)

Some of Rotaro’s rentals start from £10 for four days, and prices vary depending on the period you rent them for. The prices stated here are for four-day rentals.

Prada Bags Pink Nylon Mini Bag (£39)

Rotate Birger Christensen Natalie Dress in Pink and Black (£39)

#3: HURR

What is your USP?

Hurr holds the largest rental inventory base with over 7500 outfits to choose from. One of the biggest changes we made in 2020 was the decision to bring our dry-cleaning in-house and exclusively partner with Oxwash. Oxwash provides medical-grade laundry technology (achieving greater than pharmaceutical-grade disinfection) and powers all Hurr-managed rentals. Hurr is now the only rental platform throughout the UK to use a dry-cleaning partner also used by the National Health Service to ensure the cleanliness of rented garments, which has always been our top priority.

Hurr is a hybrid rental model that powers peer-to-peer rental as well as the rental platforms for over 65 leading fashion brands, including Nanushka, Stand Studio and BA&SH.

How has the past year affected your business?

We’ve had lots of challenges along the way, COVID being one of them! Initially, the demand side of our platform was impacted quite significantly, for the simple reason that people had nowhere to go! The pandemic was a time to reflect on how the fashion industry operates as a whole and to prove to brands the profitability of rental. Over 2020, we partnered with leading fashion brands, which marked a big shift in the industry, with some of the most successful brands in the market signing up to trail rental through Hurr.

The combination of a dry-cleaning solution and a number of exciting new brand partnerships led to 850% year-on-year growth across the Hurr platform from the start of the pandemic.

What do you think people are going to hire as the restrictions start to lift?

Rentals can be booked up to four months in advance, and we’re already seeing rental requests for June, July and August dates coming through! Popular categories include mini handbags and floral midi dresses from brands including Wray, Reformation and Rixo London.

For anyone who hasn’t yet felt brave enough to rent, how would you talk them into it?

I’d say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! Our future wardrobes will be split between the pieces we want to love and last forever and the pieces we want access to (but don’t necessarily want to own) for a shorter space of time. The UK has been slow to adopt fashion rental when compared to the U.S. market and the likes of Rent the Runway. We have an incredibly high repeat ratio once a Hurr member rents once, so getting them over the first hurdle is our hardest task!

If you could recommend one must-rent item for the month, what would it be?

This Holiday the Label checkered pyjama set is going to be the go-to piece for summer.

Holiday the Label Checkered Pyjama Olive Set (£40)

Hurr’s rental costs vary depending on the amount of time you hire something for. Below are the starting-from prices, which represent a four-day rental.

Kai Collective Gaia Dress (£29)

Megan Crosby Lenny Strawberry Blouse (£26)

#4: BY ROTATION

What is your USP?

Our main USP is that we are the only fashion rental platform in the UK that is 100% peer-to-peer. This means we don’t buy inventory or hold stock—we are entirely user-driven. We chose a peer-to-peer business model for many reasons, but fundamentally, it is the most sustainable way to run a business. Much like Airbnb and Depop, our platform is simply facilitating the sharing of fashion that is already in circulation rather than providing it ourselves. This is why our community is so vital to our success and growth, and it is so promising to see such a demand for this type of service. To have so many amazing women from many different backgrounds, all over the country, wanting to consume fashion in a more mindful way is a great step in the right direction.

For anyone who hasn’t yet felt brave enough to rent, how would you talk them into it?

When you rent from By Rotation, it is not just a transactional process that takes place. With your choice to rent, you are investing in a circular system that totally rethinks the way we consume in a radically sustainable way. It can be daunting at first, but like anything, the more you become accustomed to it, the more normal it feels. I have certainly found this to be the case for me personally. I used to shop the sales or buy new for holidays, but now I can rent from an even more interesting and diverse selection beyond what’s in store, without any guilt about overshopping or overspending. And what makes it even more special is that you become part of an incredible community of women from all backgrounds and careers who are sharing their love of fashion and dedication to consume better for the sake of the planet! I’ve become online friends with so many incredible “style matches”—Rotators on the app who are the same style and size as me—that I may never have known otherwise in my daily life.

How has the past year affected (both negatively and positively) your business?

This past year, we cemented our position as the largest fashion rental platform in the UK within 18 months of launch. We also continued to demonstrate our focus on tech and as a digital-first business, with the latest iteration of our very social app. During the year, we gained numerous recognitions for our tech, including ConsumerTech Rising Star by TechCrunch (May 2020) and App of the Day (App Store, Apple July 2020).

As a fully self-funded (by choice) business, I subscribe to the “lean startup” practice, which proved to be hugely beneficial to us during lockdown. As we operate as a fully digital and pure peer-to-peer player, we were able to leverage our content and community to engage with users like never before. Our entire team continued to work throughout lockdown (no one was put on furlough or given any reduction in duties), and this time last year, we launched the Impact Scale feature on Earth Day, which will continue to educate our community on the positive savings they make beyond fiscal when renting items (as opposed to buying).

What are people hiring right now?

The most popular brands on the platform are Rixo, Jacquemus, Dior and Daily Sleeper. Some users make up to £650 a month as a secondary passive income, so if you’re sitting on a Chiquito or feathered Daily Sleeper pyjama set, make the most of your spring cleaning and list your wardrobe for free on the app! We have seen an increasing number of brides-to-be rent their “something borrowed” from our app, and more continue to make enquiries for their big day, including on behalf of their guests. From 12 April, we are also reopening our Marylebone-based studio, where we host fittings and offer free styling appointments. We’ve also seen several brides list their own wedding dresses on the app, including me!

If you could recommend one must-rent item for the month, what would it be?

For an entire month? It’s got to be this Saks Potts bag for me. Makes an immediate statement and perfect for those outdoor social activities in April!

Saks Potts Bag (£21)

By Rotation’s prices vary depending on how long you hire something for. The daily cost can come down to just £5 per day for a key piece like this with a three-day-mininum hire, or £21 for the week. The prices stated below are per week.

Ghost Essie Dress (£21)

Sleeper Atlanta Dress (£34)

#5: ENDLESS WARDROBE

What is your USP?

Endless Wardrobe is the first of its kind, offering a 3 Ways to Shop model for each style: rent, buy, buy nearly new. This makes us completely unique, revolutionising the fashion industry to change the way we shop for good, and for better. We work with all of our brands directly and hold the stock ourselves. This enables a streamlined process that is entirely managed by us with no need for authentication, and everything down to the eco-friendly professional dry-cleaning is cared for in-house. With a new try-before-you-buy formula, we also offer the option to “keep forever,” the opportunity to rent a style, and if you love it, you can buy it instead of returning.

What are people hiring right now?

Dresses! Tops have been doing really well for us, but we have recently seen a huge uplift in dresses where our customers are looking forward to going out and getting really dressed up again. Olivia Rubin, one of our latest brand additions, has been particularly in-demand.

What do you think they’re going to hire as the restrictions start to lift?

We know our customers are super excited to get dressed up and go out again, so dresses right through to £19 tops to rent for dates or just to be reunited with friends again. We are seeing brands such as House of Sunny and its cult knitwear almost selling out too, so rentals are becoming part of the everyday wardrobe not just for dressing up. Rentals are up 100% on February, showing the growth in interest for the market now that restrictions are changing in the UK, and we saw rentals grow week-on-week throughout March as outdoor gatherings drew closer. Across the full site, we’ve seen a 310% growth in sales from the first half of March to the end.

For anyone who hasn’t yet felt brave enough to rent, how would you talk them into it?

If you’re only going to wear it once, just try it. Give it a go. You’ll be addicted.

If you could recommend one must-rent item for the month, what would it be?

House of Sunny has been amazing for us, as it’s wearable right now (we had a sell-out—more dropping soon) but depends where you are going. Personally, when I’m reunited with my friends, I am dressing up. I have been waiting to rent the De la Vali Bluebell Dress, a personal favourite.

De la Vali Bluebell Dress (£49)

Endless Wardrobe’s prices per rental vary based on how many days you choose something for. The below prices represent a rental of four days.

Musier Paris Romane Skirt (£25)

House of Sunny Day Dreamer Cardi (£25)

#6: MY WARDROBE HQ

There are now a few rental fashion sites out there. What is your USP?

Our USP is that we are about the complete afterlife of a product. Items can be bought or rented. We also manage every step of the process, so customers are guaranteed to get their items on time and in pristine condition. We also offer a returns/refunds policy as standard.

How has the business changed since you first set it up?

We have a lot more stock! We launched with about 20 brands and 30 vendors. We now have over 100 brands (including bridal, menswear and kidswear) and over 350 vendors. We currently manage around 14,000 items of clothing, accessories, shoes and bags.

What are the biggest hurdles for rental fashion businesses?

For rental to be considered “normal,” and this is why it is fantastic that there are other rental businesses all offering slightly different things. It’s normalising access over ownership. When people are thinking about shopping, it would be great if the first thought was, “Do I need to own this? Or is it just for an event or holiday or date night, or it’s a trend? I may as well rent it.”

How has the past year affected your business?

It’s been great for adding to our inventory, and the resale side has been very strong. It feels like people are really beginning to understand that by buying fewer, better-quality items, they are actually protecting their own bank balances and the planet. We have a customer service line and regularly chatted to customers buying their first designer piece during lockdown. They weren’t spending on fast fashion and had saved enough to splurge on something that they have lusted after—but safe in the knowledge they can both rent or resell with us to recover their investment.

What are women hiring right now?

Our bridal-wear has gone crazy. We are 600% up. There are due to be more than half a million weddings this year, and people seem to be thinking carefully about where they spend their money, with many prioritising seeing more people and travel over an investment dress.

For anyone who hasn’t yet felt brave enough to rent, how would you talk them into it?

Once you do it, you never look back. You get all the thrill of shopping with none of the guilt. And if you do love something, the rental price is deducted from the “buy” price. Most of our items are at least 70% off the original RRP.

Lisou Hetty Metallic Heart Jacquard Trousers (£35)

My Wardrobe HQ’s prices vary depending on the length of the rental period. Below are the prices for these items per day.

Roksanda Sanetti Dress (£24)

Temperley London Ruth Sequin Gown (£28)

Next up, what to wear to a picnic.

This article originally appeared on Who What Wear

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