For most of my twenties, I was obsessed with the search for newness. The thrill of purchasing something new was a way to live, no matter if it was a dress for a special occasion, or an outfit for work dinner. However, as I grew into my style, the desire for the latest trends evolved into a more socially conscious attitude to shopping — and for very good reasons. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, a climate action NGO, we throw away about £140mn of clothing in the UK every year.
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The pandemic provided time for reflection and made us more aware how quickly fashion is produced. Many people are now looking for ways to avoid fashion while not breaking the bank.
As peer-to–peer clothing rentals have become more common, the cultural shift to a more ethical approach to fashion has been accelerated. Pre-pandemic, the idea of renting a stranger’s clothes might have sounded off-kilter. It is now part of how we live and work. According to Westfield’s “How We Shop: What’s Changed”According to a report, UK consumers are more interested in renting clothing than owning them. This increase was 22% in 2020 and 27% a year later. It predicts the consumer appetite for renting over owning items will continue to rise, with a shift towards renting more items on an ongoing basis — renting as a way of life, not just an occasional choice.
Former investment analyst Eshita Kabra-Davies saw this shift — and identified an opportunity. While on her honeymoon in Rajasthan (India), she was shocked at the amount of textile waste that she saw. By Rotation is a social rental and resale platform that she founded in 2019. It was a side hustle for six years before she decided to take the plunge and work full time.
The app, also known as By Rotation, is rapidly growing and includes more than 300,000. Lenders and renters from the UK. They come together to share more than 35,000 items from their closets. From buzzy labels such as Ganni, Rixo, and Jacquemus to classics such as Chanel and Fendi — the platform (dubbed “the Instagram of fashion rental”) has a communal wardrobe worth more than £13mn in retail value. Similar to Airbnb, but for clothes, it doesn’t manage inventory. It offers a new perspective on fashion consumption. It challenges the traditional fashion rental landscape by avoiding a capital-intensive logistics-heavy, retail-centric approach.
By Rotation’s tagline, “What’s mine is yours”reflects an inclusive outlook. The brand is known for its rotators, including television presenter Stacey Dooley, Amelia Windsor, an athlete, and Dina Asher Smith, a model from Amelia Windsor. However, anyone can monetise his or her style. “They don’t have to be fashion bloggers, influencers or celebrities — they can just be someone [who is] a tastemaker in their circle of friends and known for having nice style,” Kabra-Davies explains.
Renting clothes is still relatively new in the UK (by comparison with the pioneering US platform Rent the Runway), but the app has become a source of secondary income for many of its users, with some top lenders making more than £2,500 per month. Kabra-Davies gives the example of someone who couldn’t afford to go back to work because of childcare costs: by lending clothes they’ve been able to supplement their income and can resume work again.
By Rotation has recently raised $3mn (£2.55mn) in seed funding in a move to expand. Although clothes can be sent, they can also exchange in person. The start-up hopes that it will grow communities in Manchester, Birmingham, and New York.
The rental model is growing and the global sharing economy is expected to be worth $1.5tn by 2024 according to BCC Research. Traditional retailers are also interested in joining the market. John Lewis and French Connection have recently launched a rental service and reality TV program. Love IslandA partnership was announced with eBay to allow contestants to wear second-hand clothes. It seems like fashion’s disposable attitude could be ending.