Is Renting Clothes the Next Step Towards Sustainability?


When we think of renting clothes, the first thing that springs to mind is renting a dress for a formal occasion. However, there are many rental services and subscriptions which allow people to rent clothes for any occasion. Examples of these services in the UK include Girl Meets Dress, My Wardrobe HQ and The Endless Wardrobe, but will these prove to be the next big step towards sustainability?

Rental platforms are a way of trying out the latest trends. Fashion influencers tend to wear an outfit once and it’s never to be seen again, which is why this has become the norm for many social media users. People want to save face on social media, and this is why it’s so common.

Renting clothes allows people to try out the latest trends through what is promoted to be a sustainable alternative. Returning an item after they’ve worn it means it won’t sit untouched in their wardrobe until it’s eventually thrown away. Although it appears to be better for the environment, there’s not a clear answer as to whether it is or not.

After the items have been worn they need to be returned, which requires them to be transported. The emissions created by transporting rented clothes may be on par with those created by clothes from fast fashion brands. You’re guaranteed to need to send the rented items back, but this isn’t always the case for fast fashion brands, as many people are happy with their purchases. Despite this, fast fashion brands rack up their emissions in a multitude of other ways.

It’s also important to consider what the items are packaged in. Although rental services may pack items in cardboard, if people aren’t recycling it then it’s pointless. People need to take responsibility for their recycling habits and realise that the simple task of putting a certain piece of rubbish in a different bin makes a big difference. Those who have rented the clothes tend to send them back in plastic packaging, which counteracts their attempt at being sustainable because most of it is not recyclable.

Once these companies have received their items back, they are dry-cleaned. Unsurprisingly, dry cleaning services have a greater impact on the environment than when we wash clothes ourselves. Stain removers and dry-cleaning solvents produce harmful chemicals and pollute the air in ways which are worse than we imagine them to.

Rental services are more common for luxurious and high-end fashion brands, making it more difficult for those with a lower disposable income to make attempts at being sustainable. It’s usually those with less money who want to be sustainable, but it isn’t attainable for them because of the large price tag that comes with it. Yet again evidencing the classism in the fashion industry.

On the surface, despite the fact that we don’t have the definitive answer, renting clothes appears to be sustainable. Although renting clothes is cheaper than if you were to purchase them yourself, sometimes it’s only marginally cheaper - this leaves people wondering why they should rent an item when they could buy it for themselves for a similar price. This concept may be somewhat sustainable, but it is flawed. The issues surrounding transportation, packaging and dry-cleaning cannot be ignored, which is why it’s unlikely that renting clothes will pave the way towards sustainability.

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