Have you ever considered hiring a dress for an upcoming event? Well, it turns out many young people are doing just that in their local community. The sharing-and-hiring fashion business is a fast-growing one, and may be providing a new way to reduce our environmental impact while looking good!
In my local community, the Sutherland Shire in Sydney, hiring an outfit for the weekend is all the craze. Each weekend, Instagram is flooded with posts of girls in hired outfits, with the local business name tagged. And recently, huge department store David Jones announced they are embarking on a similar renting venture.
I spoke to friends who have experience hiring and to the owner of a community-centred hiring business to gain an insight into the fashion rental market.
So, why do people hire and how does it work?
The real selling point in hiring a dress for many people comes from the price tag. Hiring services provide the opportunity to wear an expensive dress, at a fraction of the cost. This is especially cost effective because designer clothes are usually saved for special occasions and may only be worn once or twice. I spoke to a few friends from the Sutherland Shire area and they had very similar answers to why they hire. For them, hiring a designer dress is much less expensive than buying, and allows them to save money on something they may only wear once. This is not something they do every week, but every few months for special events. They all only have experience hiring locally, and would continue supporting small businesses over larger companies.
The local hiring industry functions almost entirely on Instagram. I spoke to Marina, the owner of a local Sutherland Shire hiring business HireByHer, to talk through the process. Motivation for the business came from an obsession with fashion and never wanting to part with her clothes, so she decided to share them with others. She has a business Instagram account where she posts the clothing available to hire, and clients message on Instagram to request a particular date.
'They have the option to try the garment on before they hire or to proceed with the hiring process straight away. They usually pick up/pay for the garment 2/3 days before their required date. After they wear the garment, they return it back to me and I make sure the garment is returned in sufficient condition. And that's basically how it works!'.
HireByHer has, on average, ten clients per week. These began as friends or mutual friends, growing through word of mouth. As the following increased on Instagram, HireByHer gained clients from different areas of Sydney and even some out of state. But the business runs smoother locally, with no need for postage and the ease in having the garment returned. HireByHer's clients are mostly young women, and Marina believes they generally hire for financial reasons - 'Most girls have the mindset why should I buy a formal dress when I can hire a high-end gown for an affordable price if I'm only going to wear it once?'. For reference, HireByHer has this dress to hire for $50, which would cost $240. Price mostly ranges from $40 to $60, but reflects the cost of the item. For example this dress is $150 to hire, and $580 to buy.
It is important to note that as a small business of mostly clothes her own size, the size range of HireByHer is limited. There are multiple hire businesses in the community to provide a greater size range but across the board, access to larger sizes is certainly more restricted - in my local area at least. This is where clients may benefit from a larger business or department store model with a greater range of sizes.
What are the environmental benefits of this, and is it a factor in deciding to hire?
Hiring a dress from a local business has huge benefits for the environment. For someone who may not be able to afford an expensive dress, hiring provides an alternative to purchasing from cheap fast fashion labels. It extends the life of a garment considerably by preventing it from only being worn once. Increasing the number of times an item of clothing is worn is one of the best things we can do for our clothes - extending the life of a garment by just one year reduces its carbon footprint by 25%. Hiring decreases the chance of that item quickly ending up in landfill and reduces waste considerably. The rental market appears to be a sustainable fashion choice for consumers and a step towards a circular economy. Especially in the age of social media and the pressure to not post the same outfit twice, hiring is a growing form of sustainable fashion!
Interestingly, when speaking to friends, it is clear environmental benefits are an afterthought or not considered at all. Brittany explained she had not considered the sustainability aspect of hiring, but only focused on cost effectiveness. Abrielle said she had definitely considered hiring to be 'more economical than everyone going out and buying the same dress for themselves'. And Cally said -'Initially I was just renting dresses as a cheaper alternative to wearing designer items but have come to realise using services like these reduce my contribution to fast fashion'. So, although sustainability is not at the forefront of clients minds' when hiring from a local business, it is an extremely positive by-product of their choice. Marina likewise had not fully considered the environmentally positive side to HireByHer;
'I am an environmentally conscious person naturally, like I use sustainable packaging e.g. paper bags to package garments which I reuse once returned, however I have never really thought about the actual environmental practise that comes with renting out clothing … However, I believe maybe if I advertised how my business acts from a more environmental perspective, girls would realise how environmentally positive it is. Being sustainable is an important lifestyle decision which is uncommonly discussed among young girls, however this has truly inspired me to think about this!'
Does this business model work best locally, or can it work on a larger scale?
Sustainably, the business model of hiring works most effectively at the local level. Businesses like HireByHer rent in a large proportion to their local community, and in small numbers.
However, large scale hiring companies like US-based Rent the Runway do exist. Rent the Runway however is also the world's largest dry cleaner processing 2,000 items per hour which requires high levels of water and power. Functioning nationally, every single item incurs inbound and outbound shipping across considerable distances and items must be freshly packaged for every rental. In that case, the rental market does raise sustainability questions on a large scale, but still increases the number of wears of an item and reduces its carbon footprint by 30% over its lifetime. Fashion journalist and author Dana Thomas told Elle - 'I think the solution is to start thinking on a local as opposed to a global scale'.
In Australia, department store David Jones has teamed up with GlamCorner to hire out designer labels in-store or via post. Glam Corner is an established Australian renting service similar to Rent the Runway. This venture is marketed as 'A Sustainable Future Together' and promotes a circular economy and reduced waste. Glam Corner's Anastasia Pappas said - 'By sharing a designer item ... you can help to reduce the environmental impact of such a wear by up to 95%'. But for small hiring businesses like HireByHer, this is an intimidating prospect.
'I honestly think it would be quite upsetting for small business owners like me. Obviously if a massive department store like David Jones started hiring their expensive pieces, it would gain more consumers due to the label David Jones already has, It's so well known. I feel like clients would have more consumer trust for them …'.
The end result
Renting clothing is an environmentally and economically beneficial way to look good and be sustainable, whether this is the intention or not! Hiring locally is most sustainable, and it supports small businesses in the process. Of course, the rental market is not the answer to all problems of the fashion industry, but could certainly be a part of the solution. But even more so than renting, one of the best things we can do is normalise rewearing outfits, and consider what we already have!
By Grace Robinson-Tagg
Grace Robinson-Tagg is a final year university student who is passionate about sustainability, climate action and environmental justice, and also loves music, the beach and watching vegan cooking videos. She is currently interning with 1MW.