The Devil Rents Prada…

Is there a future in hiring fashion? Lydia Varney discusses the rise in renting our clothes.

It’s no new revelation that fashion is one of the world’s most polluting industries; we’re aware that fast fashion comes at the cost of poor labour conditions in sweat shops, that the tons of disposed fashion waste we constantly produce is an environmental nightmare and that our over consumption is leading to an entirely unsustainable future for fashion. What we’re less aware of, however, is what to do about this. How do we change habits that have taken years to form? What do we do when nothing found in charity shops fits? How do we support sustainable brands when they seem so overpriced?

My Wardrobe HQ, which has recently hit the floor in Liberty London, offers one potential solution: renting clothes. Now you can faithfully keep up with your ‘not buying it’ environmental mantra whilst still donning a different dress to all those big events and Instagram opportunities. It’s like loaning from your friends, but on a commercial scale. You can wear the brands you’ve coveted at only a fraction of the price, you can try something more experimental as a one-off, and you can rest easy knowing that your decision is, for once, both fashion-forward and environmentally friendly. My Wardrobe HQ don’t take any shortcuts, after all – they’ll take care of postage and dry cleaning, using Green Courier, the UK’s leading eco-distribution option, and they partner with Blanc Living, a dry cleaning company committed to using non-toxic, biodegradable detergents.

On paper, I’m sold. I’m fed up with companies not taking the sustainability issues in fashion seriously, yet I love treating myself for special events, and I have to confess I’m not likely to rewear an occasion dress more than a handful of times. My Wardrobe HQ is definitely the solution for me, especially given my expensive taste and love of designers. But, having said this, I’ve never actually used the service and in honesty I’m not sure I see myself giving it a go anytime soon. After a little browse on the site, I found a gorgeous white Victoria Beckham dress, rentable for £19 a day. The main issue became quickly clear once I clicked through to the product; the minimum rent time was 4 days, which would make me £76 poorer for a one-time wear. Admittedly, the product retails at £1,475 so it’s really only a fraction of the price. But, for most of us, I’m not sure it’s easy to justify that amount of money on something you’re not actually getting to keep. It’s especially hard to make that decision when it’s possible to own a dress for life for around the same figure; I’m not even talking about a cheap fast fashion outlet here, but instead considering second hand options on Depop or similar. There’s also sustainable companies that aren’t too far off that figure, and will give you a piece to treasure for life.

Perhaps it’s us consumers that need to change our perception; perhaps the solution to the fashion minefield we’ve got ourselves into is one that can be solved by shifting away from a sense of ownership of our clothes. Perhaps we need to collaborate, share and let go of our goods. But, whilst this might work between a group of friends exchanging their favourite dresses, I don’t think My Wardrobe HQ is ready to change the whole face of fashion just yet. At the end of the day, they are still supporting the idea that you only need to wear an item once; would it not be better in the long run to encourage people to be seen in the same occasionwear pieces time and time again? Surely we need to stop thinking that we need a new outfit for every photographed event, and start rewearing our own pieces? 

Another concern I have is the potential damage renting clothes could do to a company’s sales. This is why the choice on My Wardrobe HQ is limited; not every brand is happy to start competing with their own products, but at a rented price. It is unclear if brands receive any cut in the rental price, but I would certainly hope so given the design expertise undoubtedly involved in producing the luxury pieces. It is also difficult to see how sustainable companies can be supported in the future, if instead of buying their pieces, we chose instead to spend a fraction of the price for a one-time wear. I doubt, however, that My Wardrobe HQ is looking to completely redefine fashion to the point where nobody owns anything at all; it seems to me more of an option to supplement your wardrobe for special occasions.

You can probably tell just from reading this that my feelings overall are very mixed. Logistically, I’m not ready to commit more than £30 for something I won’t wear more than once, so for the time being it’s looking like a no from me. But I do think the concept is genius. I like that My Wardrobe HQ is changing the perceptions of re-using pieces, and bringing this to a luxury market. I think the company has real integrity too, and as a fashion lover, I’m enthralled by their brand selection, full of interesting designs and flattering pieces.  I think we’re a long way off shared ownership of fashion items and the world of rentals, but I think there’s a lot of good to be taken from My Wardrobe HQ’s philosophy. It’s about time we all start working out how we can reduce the amount of one-time wear pieces in our wardrobes, whether that’s by selling on, swapping or loaning. My housemates will be pleased to know I am now more convinced than ever that they should lend me clothes for my next big date, and that, in return, they’ll be allowed to borrow any of my wide range of gym leggings, bobbled old jumpers and baggy trousers… it’s a win-win, right?