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Analysis: Where do retailers stand in the rental revolution?

This week, Retail Week published a feature about the current rental market, including quotes from our Founder Anna.

Read the whole Retail Week article here, or below >


“Across many sectors, consumers are shunning buying in favour of renting products. Against this backdrop, where do retailers stand?

Instead of buying a record, we stream our music through Spotify. Rather than purchasing a car, many of us are content with relying on Zipcar for occasional road trips or booking a cab on Uber.

DVDs have been disregarded in favour of gorging boxsets on Netflix. As the sharing economy has boomed over the past decade, so too has consumers’ preference for renting over ownership.

This kind of behaviour is on an upward trajectory and is infiltrating many sectors, including furniture and clothing.

“Part of the reason behind the slightly different model of consumption is that many households lead much more transient lifestyles,” says Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail. “They move regularly and don’t necessarily want to buy stuff like furniture as it’s too much of a hassle to transport it when they change where they live.”

Ikea’s rental experiment

Whether it’s down to our more transient nature, economic necessity or our desire to lead more environmentally friendly lifestyles, this shift in mindset is causing retailers to sit up and take notice.

Enter Ikea. Last month the retailer revealed plans to lease furniture, starting with office furniture such as desks and chairs to business customers in Switzerland, as part of a wider company strategy to create a fully circular business by 2030.

A spokeswoman for parent company Ingka Group says: “We have an ambition to inspire and enable people to play an active role in making the circular economy a reality, which we can support by developing new ways for people to buy, care for and pass on products.”

Ikea isn’t the only furniture retailer making inroads into this burgeoning space. This month West Elm revealed plans to partner with Rent the Runway, a clothing rental service in the US, to offer a selection of pillows, blankets and covers to rent to the site’s 10 million customers.

Launching this summer, customers will be able to choose how long they keep the product and receive a discounted rate if they decide to keep it.

Does this mean renting furniture will become the norm? Harth, a London-based website which launched last year and offers rentable furniture, home décor and art from brands, designers and artists, is hoping so.

“All around the world people are experiencing a similar feeling of having had enough of ‘stuff’ and coming to the realisation that owning things can weigh us down, both physically and mentally,” says Harth co-founder Henrietta Thompson.

“We’re also getting worried about landfill and sweatshops and the growing population, among other things. We are starting to place real value in experiences, and renting gives us a lot more options there.”

Thompson says customers come to Harth for a variety of reasons: it might be a practical solution for a short-term need; they might desire a major statement piece; or they simply fancy a seasonal refresh. But with most people accustomed to owning rather than renting furniture, how difficult is it to change consumers’ behaviour?

“The interiors industry is definitely a very slow-moving and traditional one, but it’s not completely immune to change,” argues Thompson. “Already we’re noticing that people are much more receptive to the concept than they were even just six months ago. And although our approach is still very unique there are more and more brands getting into this space now.”

However, WGSN senior editor Petah Marian believes renting furniture requires a shift in attitude to really take off and also questions the practicality of multiple ownership. “There’s the issue of what happens if an item is knocked around a bit. It’ll require a change in how the product is made. It will need to be designed for longevity and durability.”

Clothes rental

Of course, across some sectors, renting is nothing new. Men regularly hire suits and tuxedos for weddings, events and work, and over the past decade, we’ve seen a wave of online companies renting designer clothes to women.

This is a growth area. Allied Market Research predicts that the global online clothing rental market is set to jump from $1bn in 2017 to $1.9bn by 2023.

Anna Bance set up Girl Meets Dress, which offers access to 4,000 designer dresses and accessories from more than 200 designers for a fraction of the price, in 2009.

“Designer clothing is expensive and a notoriously poor long-term investment and it can lead to a wardrobe full of things you never wear but spent too much on to give away en masse,” says Bance.

“The topic of fashion sustainability is increasingly in the headlines. People are becoming more ethically aware of their environmental footprint. But Girl Meets Dress made it accessible and sustainable.”

But what does it mean for the brands which potentially lose a customer spending at least five times as much at full price?

Bance argues that brands view Girl Meets Dress as “one of their biggest allies” as they’re introducing them to a new customer. “90% of our customers are trying a brand for the first time when they rent with Girl Meets Dress.

“They start renting £900 dresses and they develop that brand affinity early. We hook them.  We also get approached by lots of smaller new brands, launching a collection and wanting the feedback.”

Alibaba certainly thinks clothing rental is the future. The online giant has invested in Chinese clothing sharing platform Ycloset and US market leader Rent the Runway.

Rent the Runway was founded in 2009 and today has 10 million members and five physical stores. Last year it turned over $100m and is valued at $800m.

Rent the Runway chief revenue officer Anushka Salinas says: “When Rent The Runway launched, we were in the business of helping women get dressed for the most important special occasions in their lives, like weddings, formal events, baby showers – events that would happen around five times a year. Now, our most engaged subscriber is wearing a rental 120 days a year.

“Rental has shifted from being a convenient solution for special events to a true utility changing the way she gets dressed every day.”

To make the process of renting even more convenient, last autumn the retailer launched standalone drop-off boxes across the lobbies of 15 WeWork spaces.

Salinas believes that in the future up to 80% of the wardrobe will be owned while the rest will be rented. “We want our customer to purchase their wardrobe staples like a leather jacket, white button-down shirt and trusted flats from our brand partners and rent the trendy, bold and patterned pieces from us,” she says. “This allows women to experience the endless variety they crave, without the need to buy items they will wear only once or twice.”

Can rental work at lower price points?

If the future is rental, how will that impact retailers? Some are keen to dive in. Young fashion retailer Little Mistress plans to launch a renting service by the end of the year.

“It’ll be a VIP range featuring red-carpet-style garments with a price tag of £300-plus for a £50 hire fee,” says Mark Ashton, founder and chief executive of Little Mistress Group. Is he concerned that it may cannibalise sales?

“It’s a different proposition,” he says, pointing to the fact that products are of higher value. “And if it impacts sales then so be it, but I do believe this customer will hire up to six to eight times per year where she would have only bought one to two dresses over the same period. In time it will prove profitable in many areas and will breed returning customers.”

While Ashton is targeting a more high-end market, analysts are unconvinced that rental will work across lower price points. “People want to rent more of an expensive item,” Marian says. “I could see it working at Whistles level, for instance, but whether it would work at lower high street level I’m not sure it would be cost effective.”

Saunders believes that renting works best across two areas. First, categories where people only want to use a product for a limited amount of time and so don’t want to commit to buying it. “This means products like DIY tools, high-end clothing, jewellery and such are all prime candidates for rental,” he explains.

“Secondly, big-ticket items that people don’t want to buy outright because of the expense or because they don’t need them for the long term. This means areas like furniture will probably see more renting over the next few years. What works less well is everyday items like basic apparel or simple homewares.”

Still, Saunders is cautious about retailers throwing themselves into this new burgeoning area. “A lot of retailers are jumping on the rental bandwagon because of the growth,” he says. “Some will have success but others – mainly those that aren’t in sectors where renting is really needed – will fare less well.”

Rental needs to be carefully managed, he says. “If it helps a retailer expand their customer reach by drawing in new segments, then it is valuable. If it simply cannibalises non-rental sales from existing customers, then it is dilutive to margins and profits. Volumes could also be undermined, which would impact economies of scale and profits.

“We see some retailers like American Eagle and Ikea getting into the game and you have to question how the economies of scale will stack up. Admittedly, renting is only going to be a very small part of their business for a while, but if it starts to grow and become bigger then it will arguably become problematic.”

But retailers should be prepared for change. As Bance says: “Something in traditional retail needs to change. Clearing the shops every three months and telling consumers that trends are changing and you need to buy something new isn’t sustainable.”


How To Hire Designer Fashion: An Expert Guide


This week Vogue wrote about Girl Meets Dress, and the increase in fashion hire and the link to shoppers desire to be conscious of their textile footprint.
Read the full article below and on this link >


With sustainability increasingly at the forefront of shoppers’ minds, Vogue reveals how you can upgrade your wardrobe by borrowing, not buying.
Whether it’s a vintage Dior gown or a million-pound Tiffany necklace, celebrities are accustomed to borrowing designer pieces to wear on the red carpet – especially during awards season. But for the everyday consumer, renting premium fashion remains a relatively untapped area that is far from mainstream. Thanks to ever more environmentally conscious shoppers gradually turning their backs on fast fashion, this is about to change.
An influx of fashion rental sites across the world – from Girl Meets Dress in the UK to the US-based Rent The Runway and YCloset in China – means the rental economy is growing, with the industry set to be worth more than £1.4billion by the end of 2023.

A major factor driving change is the increasing global concern surrounding sustainability; a circular economy has been widely recognised as a legitimate solution. “People are becoming more aware of their environmental footprint; these days none of us want to be wasteful,” Girl Meets Dress co-founder Anna Bance tells Vogue. “50 per cent of fast fashion pieces are discarded within a year and as responsible shoppers we are under pressure to close this loop.”
The rise of Instagram and influencer culture that feeds the need for more variety in people’s wardrobes has contributed to the boom in rental businesses too. For those who want the best of both, sustainable fashion updates if you will, renting is the perfect solution. Merri Smith, co-founder of peer-to-peer app Tulerie observes that “with social media, people are photographing their entire lives now, you don’t want to wear things over and over”. But instead of buying something new, “why not borrow it?” she asks.
Luxury brands are also beginning to tap into the potential of the rental market. In fact, Rent The Runway recently teamed up with Derek Lam, Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung to unveil their first exclusive capsule collections. “As the scale of our business has grown, [designers] have realised [the fashion rental market is] healthy; that it’s not hurting their regular business,” says Rent The Runway’s senior buying director James Newell.
Build on your existing wardrobe
You should think of renting as a way to upgrade your current wardrobe, says Smith, who founded Tulerie with business partner Violet Gross after finding they were increasingly borrowing from friends. “70 per cent of your wardrobe is the pieces you’re wearing over and over. We want people to look at enhancing that,” she explains. By renting pieces to supplement your core wardrobe, you can also afford to invest in more expensive staple items that would normally be out of your reach.
Don’t be afraid to take risks
As you’re not committing to a single piece, you can experiment outside of your style comfort zone when renting – including when it comes to new brands. “Be willing to take risks! This is your chance to take rational decision-making out of your fashion choices,” Newell, from Rent The Runway, advises. “Swap out clothes regularly, try new trends and borrow for parts of your life you didn’t anticipate at the start of your journey.”
Plan for special occasions
If you’ve got a big event coming up, it’s important to think ahead – as popular dresses can often get booked up. “There is no rule about how far in advance of the event you should order. The sooner the better. We get dresses booked for weeks, months ahead,” Bance, from Girl Meets Dress, advises.
Think workwear
The boom in the rental fashion market is in part due to more relaxed dress codes in the office, making workwear a key focus area. “15 to 20 years ago, a woman could wear the same anonymous suit as her male counterparts, or invest in a couple of chic dresses and get by with that,” Newell says. “Now there is such a tremendous demand to have varied looks. [Renting] offers a nice solution.”

Make use of the rental community
The online communities that exist around fashion rental sites are a valuable resource. 60 per cent of Rent The Runway customers leave reviews on items they’ve borrowed; and Tulerie, which sees users borrowing from each other, has also found their members wanting to share tips. “People want to talk, they want advice on how to style something,” Smith explains. “We are trying to create this network of women, who are bonding over [a] shared interest of clothing.”

Rent the Runway UK


Every day we get many of you wondering if there is a rent the runway in London, and we are happy to help you all find dresses for your events. Some of you used to live in the US, and used the hire service over there. Don’t worry! Thank you for getting in touch! Shopping with Girl Meets Dress is a very similar service so don’t worry about becoming familar with our dresses, designers and How it all works!

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Get in touch with our dress hire UK team, we are based in London and you can either rent a dress in London online or book a dress rental shop appointment by getting in touch: showroom@girlmeetsdress.com

We can also help with US to UK sizing so you ensure the best dress fit for your dress rental order.

Here are some useful dress hire links:





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Six Chinese Fashion Platforms That Let You Share What You Wear


We have an ever growing Chinese customer base in the UK using Girl Meets Dress to borrow dresses for all their events. Not surprisingly they are very familar to the hire fashion rental service! We loved reading this article below about the main fashion hire companies who have taken the Girl Meets Dress hire innovation and made it their own for the Chinese market and demographic!

Read the whole article below:

Jan 17
By Tim Forslund
Researching circular business models in China and curricula in higher education more broadly.


“Around the world, fashion has been getting faster. Nowhere is this as noticeable as in China. 15 years ago, clothing utilisation— the average number of times a new garment is worn — was around 200, the same as the rest of the world. Since then, this number has fallen by two-thirds, to just 62 wears. This is a big deal: apparel accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than flights and maritime shipping combined, is a huge source of ocean microfibres, and involves hazardous substances that affect the health of both textile workers and wearers of clothes. This is a system ripe for disruption.

A new model for the fashion industry is emerging, and sharing is one component. The sharing economy has gained considerable traction in China, and by 2025 it is expected to account for 20% of GDP. China’s large population of mobile-savvy consumers have made the country into a testbed for innovations enabled by mobile pay. Add that to delivery fees up to five times lower than in the US, and China is well placed to make fashion more circular through shared wardrobes, which keep items in use for longer, and require fewer garments to be made. You may have heard of New York-based Rent the Runway (described as a ‘Netflix of clothes’), but have you heard of these six Chinese players?

1. MsParis (女神派) came online as one of the first Chinese fashion rental platforms in 2014. Today, it has 7m registered users and the largest wardrobe in China. Similar to Rent the Runway, it initially focused on rental of prom dresses and similar special-occasion garments. Today, however, it includes a larger portfolio of more everyday clothes available through a subscription service. The company offers a few different options, but the standard subscription service costs $US 50/month. As there is no limit to how many garments you can order per month — only per shipment — you can keep rotating the clothes after each use. In December 2018, MsParis launched a new offering for customers, enabling the rental of brand new clothes. After their first use, these garments become part of the standard subscription offering. This could could be a gateway for those wary of sharing, overcoming initial doubts around the condition and hygiene of rented clothes.

2. Y-Closet (衣二三) Another big player, Y-Closet is slightly more expensive than MsParis, with a monthly subscription fee of $US 75/month, and a customer segment that leans towards the higher-end. Notably, as much as 30% of their profits come from sales through items that its users have purchased following a rental period. While this additional source of revenue is undoubtedly a boon for the company, this practice means that a proportion of its clothes are in fact not shared, but owned outright, which could lead to them being underused, as in the traditional sales model. For more information about Y Closet, see the case study from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

3. YEECHOO is a rental platform based in Hong Kong. Unsurprisingly, it is smaller with around 15,000 active subscribers, and it does not have what some of its bigger rivals see as their core competence — its own dry-cleaning facility. Like Rent the Runway and MsParisYEECHOO started with special-occasion rental, and only later expanded to also include a subscription model. At $US 100/month, it reflects the population of Hong Kong (largely high-wage white-collar workers), and is more upmarket than its much larger mainland counterparts. Undeterred by bigger rivals, YEECHOO has started to look beyond Hong Kong, to the mainland market.

4. Starluxe (星洞) is a rental company that specialises in the high-end segment of fashion, with members categorised into three segments of $US 120, 240 or 360/month, depending on the items rented. Recognising that luxury items are becoming increasingly expensive, and that fashion is moving at an ever faster pace, Starluxe saw an opportunity. Most users are between 25–40, years old, and the focus is on the largest cities in China, in which it currently finds more than 10,000 users. Beyond garments, watches and suitcases are included too, with items not rented out in two months going to the second-hand market. However, as the rotation of products is only 16 months, there are questions around how high the usage rates can be.

5. Yiqidai (一起戴) Although some of the bigger players offer both handbags and jewellery as part of their assortment, others specialise, such as jewellery platform Yiqidai. For those curious but unconvinced, it lets them try items for just over a dollar. While Yiqidai is one of the leaders in this field in China, it faces many competitors, such as Vincent & Aaron (VA文森艾伦), Crazy Moles(疯狂鼹鼠), and Astrologie (梵星学) to name a few. Although rings or necklaces may seem like an inconsequential part of the fashion world, these items can have a disproportionate impact. Around ten years ago, headlines were made over reports that one wedding ring causes 20 tons of mining waste.

6. Dou Bao Bao (抖包包) Another more niche sharing service is Dou Bao Bao, which lets you share luxury handbags. The deposit, at 30–50% of the price, is hefty, but the actual rental fee can be as low as $US 15 for some bagsDou Bao Bao differentiates itself from most other platforms in that it makes use of people’s existing wardrobe inventory. In other words, the items that are available have already been produced and bought, whereas most other platforms don’t offer the option of renting the unused items found in people’s closets. Baozupo and Youmiao are two competitors with similar business models, but the biggest player globally is US startup The Real Real, which resells a broader range of luxury goods through this consignment model. It’s part of a growing trend: according to Threadupresale of apparel is growing 24 times faster than traditional retail.

A story that’s far from finished

Clothes sharing is becoming an increasingly competitive market. Beyond these six platforms, there are others, including those that have already tried and failed, like Dora’s Dream (多啦衣梦), which opened in Chengdu. To cater to a segment of people found there and in other smaller cities with a lower average income, it set monthly prices low (starting at $US 15/month), and expanded fast. However, its rise was as fast as its fall. The same could be said of Meikka, a company similar to Dou Baobaothat went bust in 2013.

Global companies also see China as a lucrative market for clothes sharing. San Francisco-based Le Tote recently entered the Chinese market with plans to expand. Other companies could follow suit, exploiting the gaps in the traditional ‘one time sale’ model, developing novel sharing concepts for specific uses.

There’s Vigga, a Danish subscription-based rental company for children’s clothes, a segment for which it is difficult to increase usage rate without sharing. Similarly, another potentially interesting segment for such models is pregnant women. Moreover, another example of a company China does not have an equivalent of is Tulerie, an invites-only platform. Users become part of a sort of friendly club that, supposedly, circumvents the barrier that you are sharing clothes with complete strangers. Perhaps because of this congenial atmosphere, an additional perk is the absence of membership fees and deposits.

More research is needed to figure out how the usage rates for shared or rented garments compare to purchased clothes. Until then, a share of agnosticism around which model is superior is warranted — be it rental, subscription, or consignment. While these models may prevent some impulse purchases, rebound effects could include more transportation, washing, or packaging.

With the option to buy clothes already available as a bolt-on addition through some of today’s platforms, customers may end up purchasing clothes on top of participating in a rental platform, seeing these models as way to “try first, buy later”. Regardless, low-hanging fruits remain for these companies, such as cutting excessive plastic packaging and sourcing more durable garments from safe and renewable materials.

What’s next?

As part of Make Fashion Circular, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation outlined three essential components of a thriving fashion and textile industry. As well as business models that keep clothes in use, materials should be renewable and safe, and solutions that turn used clothes into new clothes need to be further developed and scaled. So while the impact of renting and sharing clothes could be profound, it’s not the sole answer to the problems facing the fashion industry.

Even so, sharing practices that are currently seen as niche could have ripple effects throughout the industry. Progress towards circular fashion could accelerate if these new business models are embraced by the incumbents in the fashion industry. In an interview with the Economist, Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway’s chief executive, was quoted saying that she wants to putH&M and Zara out of business. In the same piece, Rakesh Tondon, the founder & CEO of Le Tote, took a less confrontational approach by suggesting that more brands and retailers will begin to launch their own rental services in the news few years. One such company is luxury goods company Secoo. Will more, bigger players follow? As long as people’s concerns around hygiene and authenticity are met, these cost-competitive and convenient models are here to stay.”

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