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The rise of fashion rental

Cast your mind back to this time last year, pre-pandemic, when a £39.99 polka-dot dress from Zara was the only viral fashion phenomenon getting all the headlines. In retrospect, it’s fair to say that its arrival, and swift departure from the shop floor, was probably when must-have-but-will-probably-wear-once culture reached its divisive peak; lauded by fast fashion conglomerates, lambasted by the eco-conscious.

Was it really necessary for everyone to own the same dress, asked the critics. What pleasure lies in wearing exactly the same thing as at least three other women in the office? Why don’t people just buy it and, you know, share it?

Step forward, fashion rental companies. Having already been widely adopted in the US, thanks to the pioneering platform Rent the Runway, until early last year renting clothes was a concept mainly reserved for special occasions here in the UK. Yet several style and tech-savvy entrepreneurs who had spotted its potential and brought it to UK shores were starting to gain traction.

It wasn’t long before magazine editors began to hail rental as a refreshingly guilt-free model, thanks to its sustainable credentials, and users were signing up to lend and rent in droves. Then, Covid-19 struck.

As the retail industry reeled from profits taking a heavy blow, high-street stalwarts fell into administration and celebrated high-fashion houses shuttered, it would be logical to expect the burgeoning fashion rental sector to take a nose-dive, too. After all, with social engagements cancelled indefinitely and a new era of suspicion when it came to sharing and touching common surfaces, who would want to lend and rent clothes to strangers? It turns out, lots of people.


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