Nuuly, Urban Outfitter's clothing rental brand: "Nuuly is a new way to experience clothing. It's about discovering something you didn't know existed, loving something you never expected and surprising yourself in the best possible way"instagram/nuuly

We all know the stereotype of that one person coming back from their year abroad, telling everyone how it transformed their life. Safe to say, I’m only halfway through my year abroad and I’m about to tell you how it’s transformed mine – at least in terms of clothing.

My flat in Munich has a lot less space than I have at home. This meant having to put my clothes into piles of those I really wanted to keep, and those I don’t wear often enough to keep. This process of forced reflection really made me reconsider how I value my clothes. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for the environment if I viewed clothes as investments with long-term value, rather than as items to be consumed and then forgotten about?

Let’s stop treating clothes as if they have an expiration date

With the growing awareness of the environmental impact of fast fashion, the idea that we need to change the way we consume clothing is becoming more mainstream. Copenhagen Fashion Week was opened by up-and-coming brand Carcel this year, whose show featured no clothes and no models – instead, people were invited onto the catwalk, to highlight the need for a collective action to change the fashion industry. On Carcel’s website, they state one of their principles as, “No seasons, no sales and no waste – let’s stop treating clothes as if they have an expiration date”.

My Wardrobe HQ seeks to "encourage mindful consumption whilst having fun"instagram/mywardrobe_hq

After moving into my new flat, the first thing I did was to adopt a one-in, one-out policy in terms of buying new clothes. On one hand, this helped on a practical level with ensuring I can physically store all the clothes in my room. However, on the other hand, it made me reconsider what I already have: do I really value it? "Does it spark joy", to quote Marie Kondo? I had expected my new policy to be easy to carry out, as I have a lot of clothes that I rarely wear. But I was pleasantly surprised by how often I found that I did value things I already had, and how often I found that I could restyle old items in new ways.

Yet, one thing I’ve always enjoyed about fashion is the fun of it – the excitement of seeing new designs and trends, as well as getting something new for myself. This desire to have something new is a crucial element in the satisfaction fashion creates; the excitement of choosing something, of having an inspiring, fresh item hanging up in your wardrobe. This realisation made me run into a problem with my new strategy towards buying clothes. Whilst the ethical, environmental and financial benefits are apparent, it does restrict the 'fun' aspect of clothing for me. This is where the second change to my buying habits comes in: rental fashion.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about fashion is the fun of it

Clothing rental company Armoire allows customers to subscribe for new clothing each month and then "return each item at your convenience, or purchase favorites at a discount"instagram/armoire.style

Clothing rental companies have surged in popularity in recent years. One example is Girl Meets Dress, which currently has over 4000 items available for rent; there’s also My Wardrobe HQ, which had a 70% repeat user rate within a month of launching in late 2019. Most of them operate on the basis of a monthly subscription plus a rental fee for individual items, and since many items on these websites may be considered 'high-end', the final price ends up being significantly less than that of purchasing a new item from the same brand. That, along with the reduced environmental impact as renting reduces the mindless consumption and waste, makes it a very attractive prospect for consumers. We no longer buy for the sake of it and allow the items we regret buying to disappear from our sight within our closet - instead consumers are encouraged to reflect whether or not they like the items enough to keep them. If not, you can send it back and allow the next person to make that same decision for themselves. 


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Meanwhile, companies also benefit from making their products available to rent, as it provides an opportunity to profit from excess inventory and returned items. This is part of the reason why Urban Outfitters set up their own rental service in the US, as they, along with other more expensive 'fast-fashion' brands, saw large amounts of items being returned and found themselves overwhelmed by bringing them back into the market to reduce waste. 

My Wardrobe HQ: "This year’s BAFTA’s will focus on #sustainablefashion by asking attendees to re-wear, rent or a choose sustainable option over buying new"instagram/mywardrobe_hq

However, many high-street brands have not gotten on board with rental fashion to the same extent, and consequently the potential positive impact of rental fashion does not show itself as it would if it was already mainstream. Will it become normal to rent an outfit for one-off events? When we purchase items, will it primarily be for long-term use? Whilst this would be positive news for the environment, the situation is complicated if we consider the negative effect of constantly shipping and delivering rented clothing from one person to the next. 

At the moment though, it’s clear that the fashion industry needs to change. With 11 million garments going to landfill in the UK each year, measures to reduce wastage need to be embraced. That’s why coming May Week, I’m planning to scour rental websites for something I can borrow, wear once, and pass on to someone else to value. There’s no point in hanging on to clothes I’m never going to wear again – especially since I have to find a way to lug it all home again at the end of the year.