When Carrie Johnson wore a rented gown to marry the prime minister, it prompted a fashion frenzy. And this week a study revealed that renting clothes is worse for the planet than throwing them away.
Now one of the world’s most famous department stores, Harrods, is launching its first fashion rental service. In partnership with My Wardrobe HQ, which supplied Johnson’s wedding dress, it will offer showstoppers by the Italian couture designer Giambattista Valli and more everyday brands to rent from its Knightsbridge store.
Although fashion rental has been around for a few years, it has been in the ether more in the past year than ever before. Jane Shepherdson, the chair of My Wardrobe HQ since 2019, said: “At the time it felt like it was a little bit of an uphill struggle raising awareness. Weirdly, throughout the pandemic, given nobody could rent and there weren’t any events, people were talking about it an awful lot.”
She credits shifts in broader consumer habits with paving the way. “We’re all doing Airbnb and are happy to share people’s beds – so therefore why not share clothes.”
Fashion rental has been proffered as one of many solutions to the industry’s sustainability crisis. With about £140m worth of used clothing sent to landfill in the UK every year, according to Wrap, rental can give clothes a longer lifespan. But this week’s study, by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, showed the impact of the hidden environmental costs of delivery and packaging.
Beyond questions of sustainability, rental is seen as a way for customers to access clothes they would not normally be able to afford, even if just for a day. “Most people couldn’t afford to go out and buy a £3,000 Gucci suit but most people could afford to rent one at £30 a day,” said Shepherdson.