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Clothing rental was pivotal to sustainable fashion pre-COVID. Where is it now?  

IMAGE VIA YOUR CLOSET

WORDS BY SHEENA MCGORLICK

A move to accessories, a focus on sweats and selling old stock.

If youre anything like me, you’ve been living exclusively in loungewear for the past six months. Your Levi 501s have probably collected more dust than that daggy photo of you at your school formal that sits atop your grandparent’s mantlepiece. And it’s safe to say that any piece of clothing that signifies you even slightly dressing up to go out hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time now.

While the brands that sell loungewear as their bread and butter have been rubbing their hands together with joy, its hard not to sympathise with businesses whose offering is built on high-end fashion pieces, evening and formal wear. On top of that, consider the businesses that rely on renting these pieces as their business model.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in both supply and demand in this space, from an array of new businesses launching to an increase in consumers renting, and up until COVID hit this sustainable clothing rental system was thriving. Now, these businesses run the risk of being forgotten completely. So just how hard has this industry, a model that plays a key role in the sustainable fashion movement, been impacted?

From hundreds of orders to “literally nothing”

Briella Brown has been running Your Closet for five-and-a-half years and has had constant success since the beginning. But nothing prepared her for the impact COVID has taken on the business. “Almost overnight, we went from hundreds of enquiries a day and shipping hundreds of dresses a week to literally nothing,” says Briella.

She made the decision not to sell Your Closet’s stock, because she knew (and hoped) off the back of this, there would be a lot of events to come. Instead, to future-proof the business, she decided to venture into accessories.

“We have partnered with certain accessory labels and that has been doing really well, it’s purely online.” The accessories offering ranges from designers such as Reliqua, By Charlotte and Love Isabelle. Given the lower price point of accessories and the higher frequency of use, it seems that Your Closet is onto a pretty solid strategy.

yourcloset.com.au

Launching a business in a pandemic

The owner of Walk-In, Faye Rozon, describes her business as a conscientious rental platform for luxury fashion design. Faye founded Walk-In in June of last year and started out by selling directly from Instagram, before launching the website only three months ago just before the second wave of COVID hit Melbourne.

The impact of COVID has been devastating for the entire fashion industry and being based in Melbourne has seriously been the biggest impact,” Faye explains. While Walk-In offers rentals nationally, including to a strong client base in Sydney, being based in Melbourne means the greatest chunk of its market is there.

Walk-In has needed to further safeguard the business, offering a range of clothing that is not just limited to evening and formal wear. In the last few months, it’s pivoted its strategy to offer more comfortable pieces, such as Balenciaga oversized hoodies and Alexander Wang leggings. Its been very confronting, but I think we have been working really hard and seeing where and what we can do differently,” Faye tells me.

walk-in.com.au

Pivoting to pre-loved pieces

Style Theory, a rental boutique founded in 2015, was also able to shift its strategy quickly at the beginning of the pandemic. Initially, when COVID hit, our business grounded to a halt. We were able to pivot quite quickly and set up a ‘Buy Me’ section on our website, where we listed older styles that we wanted to clear at heavily discounted prices,” founder Kelly Cooke explains.

Currently on the site, there are various pieces for sale from numerous different labels, ranging from By Johnny, to Talulah, Bec & Bridge and more, and all stock is being sold for under $200. This strategy has proven to be extremely successful.

Feedback to Kelly from customers has been that they love the concept, as they’ve been able to purchase items they’d previously hired but were no longer available in the retail space due to seasonality. Better yet, it’s an extremely sustainable and cost-efficient way to shop, allowing consumers to invest in quality pieces for a fraction of the price.

styletheory.com.au

It’s safe to say that despite all the doom and gloom of the past six months, the clothing rental industry has proven that sustainable fashion models can withstand the harsh repercussions of a global pandemic.

I know for myself, and I’m sure many others, that the mindset towards shopping consumption has shifted over this period and less has definitely become more. Now excuse me while I go hire that Balenciaga tote to take to my five-person park picnic this weekend.

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