How Traditionally Sustainable Fashion Rental Looks in the 21st Century

I’m first and foremost a champion of creating fashion shopping habits that support a more sustainable way of life, habits we can keep up without being too damaging to this planet we all love.Because of this, I’m always on the lookout for the best practices, ways to shop that can lower the impact of fast fashion in our lives. While that includes “newer” practices such as shopping for sustainable clothing, there’s also a lot to say about the revival of age-old practices like fashion rental. Fashion rental is hardly new, but it does get some flack pop culture-wise: there’s an old trope, particularly on American TV and film, of young kids renting out bright and inexpensive fashion pieces for big events like proms and weddings. It’s an old stereotype and one that hardly adjusts to reality, particularly with the huge current movement in this part of the industry. Nowadays, renting fashion can be a vehicle to try out different looks at fairly accessible prices, but also taking a step towards a more sustainable fashion industry. The range and style of pieces you can find is extremely wide, from vintage designer clothing to newer collections from exciting and conscious designers, all with varying price tags. 

Photographer: Jose Perez. Wearing Jason Wu, rented from Albright Fashion Library

We all know that fast fashion is problematic: discarded textiles contribute tons of waste every year, and the pervasive idea that clothes are a temporary commodity may be the birth of a chain of events that nearly always ends up in landfills. Every season, the arrival of new collections mean that the previous ones get left behind, immediately less perceived as being less desirable and, hence turning into waste. 

With an increasing number of people looking to live sustainably, clothes rental is steadily becoming a feasible option, particularly when dressing for one-off events. There’s a long tradition of purchasing clothing items for one big outing and then leaving them to gather dust at the back of the closet. We don’t want to be seen in the same special outfit more than once and find no use for it after taking it out for a spin. It’s the kind of scenario that makes fashion rental thrive.

Perhaps the most famous of all fashion rental services is the New York City landmark Albright Fashion Library, a pioneer in mixing the concept of fashion rental and high fashion. Founded in 1990 by stylist and fashion consultant Irene Albright, it’s become a hub for designers and big clients, offering everything from vintage pieces to exciting new fashion from major and up-and-coming designers. It’s not just individuals that rent clothes at Albright: the library regularly serves major publications, beauty brands and even films and television sets. This place is a reference in the world of fashion, with a second location in Los Angeles to be closer to the movie industry. And while Albright sets the standard as the first major fashion rental library, the increasing number of services is really changing the landscape in this arena. 

 

The clothing rental market is set to hit nearly $2 billion globally by 2023, and depending on where you are in the world, you can find different fashion rental sites, from local sites to international options. You’ll find designer clothes to rent, like those offered by Rent the Runway and Glam Corner, as well as incredible subscription boxes like Le Tote and Gwynnie BeeLuxury rental service Armarium provide a wide range of fashion, featuring global and smaller labels, including Alexandre Vauthier, Alessandra Rich, Erdem and Haider Ackermann, Flont  offers fine jewellery and Vivrelle is known for its luxury accessories, such as Chanel and Hermès bags.

With some research, you can probably find great options for fashion rental around you; as it happens with everything, higher demand for these businesses will cause more of them to flourish. More fashion rental services can ultimately mean specialisation, so in time it’ll get easier to find plus-size and maternity options (a space I find to be severely underserved). One of the things I love about fashion rental services is that the price range can be adjusted to the needs of each particular customer, beautiful pieces are accessible to all without necessarily spending a disproportionate amount of money. These are great places to find that one perfect outfit, or just change up your look monthly with statement pieces that will only be in your closet for a few days or weeks.

In our world of fashion influencers, there’s a growing trend to dig deeper into the world of sustainable clothes. More people involved in the eco-fashion space are embracing thrifty looks and rental clothes subscription boxes – promoting it all on social media which is, in my opinion, a fantastic way to let this great practice find its way to the mainstream. I’m all for everyone hopping on the bus towards a more conscientious life, and specifically when they’re seeing clothes as long-living items instead of just temporary looks that will go to waste as soon as the catwalks change. I’d also love to see big retail brands taking a stand in this regard, maybe offering rental options for previous seasons or particular pieces.

As someone who loves clothes, one of the things I fight the most is the notion that sustainable fashion is always unreachable. I often see people taking a stand by calling out the use of sustainable wear as a form of privilege, with some arguing about expensive clothes being the basis of the survival of industry. It’s a complete misconception, as there are always new options to fit different budgets. This precisely what is happening in the industry of fashion rental. You can find beautiful clothing items for all sizes, from couture to more relaxed wear, catering to an increasingly universal budget. 

My 2019 Oscars look below was entirely styled by Albright Fashion Library.

Wearing fashion conscientiously isn’t equal to a lifetime sentence of boring clothes. In fact, the ability to switch up looks is one of its greatest advantages, as it allows users to vary their wardrobe regularly, trying out different pieces and, ultimately, styles. It’s a form of democratisation, because by taking a step back from the idea of owning clothes, you’re potentially extending the lifespan of each item. 

It’s worth noting that fashion rental isn’t entirely sustainable due to necessities like dry cleaning clothes and the results of shipping; however, I strongly believe that it’s yet another way to shop sustainably and still feel special for those ‘moments’ when you need or want to. With this becoming one of the hottest practices in the world of sustainable fashion, we can expect more local options to pop just about everywhere, ultimately reducing transport costs. Generally speaking, renting fashion can be a vehicle towards trying out designer pieces at a much lower cost, while also doing your part to prevent textile waste. Ownership is giving way to on-demand, and mixing beautiful clothes with a conscious lifestyle just happens to be one of my great passions.

 

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