Fashion for rent: the new style of ethical dressing

The desire for newness plagued me for most of my early twenties. Whether it was a dress for a special occasion or an outfit for a work dinner, the thrill of buying something new was a way of life. 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.

The pandemic gave us time to reflect and become more aware of how fast fashion is produced. Many of us are now looking for ways to avoid buying into it, while not wanting to break the bank.

The cultural shift towards a more ethical focus on fashion has accelerated as peer-to-peer clothes rental has become more mainstream. Pre-pandemic, the idea of ​​renting a stranger’s clothes might have sounded off-kilter. It now feels part of our how we work and live. According to Westfield’s “How We Shop: What’s Changed” report, UK consumer interest in clothing rental grew from 22 per cent in 2020 to 27 per cent 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. On honeymoon in Rajasthan, India, she was shocked by the amount of textile waste she saw. In 2019, she founded the rental platform By Rotation, a social fashion rental and resale platform. It was a side hustle for six months before she took the plunge to work on it full time.

The app, also called By Rotation, has a fast-growing community of more than 300,000 lenders and renters across the UK, coming together to share over 35,000 items from their wardrobes. 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 the principle of Airbnb, but for clothes, with no inventory management, it offers a fresh perspective on fashion consumption and sustainability. It defies the traditional fashion rental landscape by steering away from a capital-intensive, logistics-heavy and retail-centric approach.

By Rotation’s tagline, “What’s mine is yours”, reflects an inclusive attitude. Although the brand has famous rotators, such as television presenter Stacey Dooley, athlete Dina Asher-Smith and aristocratic model Amelia Windsor, anyone is able to monetise their 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. While clothes can be posted, they can also be exchanged in person, so the start-up hopes to grow communities in Manchester and Birmingham in the UK, and over in the US, in New York.

As the rental model continues to grow and the value of the global sharing market is expected to reach $1.5tn by 2024, according to BCC Research, more brands and traditional retailers are wanting in. John Lewis and French Connection recently introduced a rental service, and reality TV show Love Island has announced a partnership with eBay to dress contestants in second-hand outfits. It looks like our disposable attitude to fashion could now be very last season.