Is the rent-a-dress model harmful to the Australian fashion industry?

An analysis.

Savvy, safe and extremely seductive. The rent-a-dress business sure has its benefits. But is this model negatively affecting the luxury fashion industry? Or is it creating a more economic alternative? And are we becoming too obsessed with what we are wearing next weekend? *Thinking emoji*

A few years ago, designer clothing rental for women was more or less completely unheard of. Yes sure, men’s suit hire was a ‘thing’. But even then, the pants were wide, the creases were deep and the fabric was slightly tarnished.

On the other hand, women who didn’t want to purchase an expensive dress for a one-time event were left to borrow from a friend or close acquaintance. With that came the risk of ending the relationship because of an accidental red wine stain or an un-fixable rip (definitely not caused by drunkenly falling out of a cab between event A and after-party B).

This, however, has all changed in the last five years. Dress rental companies are popping up faster than Target designer collabs.

In theory, the whole concept seems appealing. Wearing a dress, or potentially a whole outfit, straight off the runway for a tenth of the price? Sure thing.

But is there something to say about the future of Australian fashion if our disposable income is going directly into renting the same handful of dresses? Weekend after weekend, are these rentals ruining the careers of some of our favourite Australians designers?

In the last few years, one by one, notable Australian designers have been faced with voluntary administration. Brands like Josh Goot, Bettina Liano, Kirrily Johnston and Lisa Ho have been forced to shut down and restructure their businesses. That’s not to say the rental industry is the culprit. However, with Australia having one of the highest number of clothing rental companies per capita… it’s definitely a factor to consider.

Larissa Walsh, founder of Facebook group-cum-market leader, Rent A Dress AU, is all for the rental dress market:

“While the easy answer appears to be that rental sites are causing the demise of our luxury fashion economy, I don’t believe that is true. Many individuals are now actually purchasing more designer items because they can afford to.

“Rent A Dress AU encourages the purchase and acquisition of luxury designer brands, and therefore contributes to causing a luxury designer market to become more reachable by the younger fashionistas of today’s society, and in turn, helping its economy. ”

It isn’t all rainbows, fast money and sunshine. Recently, I half-heartedly paid to advertise a dress I wished to rent out from my very own wardrobe. I wasn’t happy about it, but the prospect of earning a few more dollars during the silly season seemed appealing.

The story goes like this: a keen renter liked my $400 dress and enquired over Facebook. Happy to receive the $90 rental fee, I organised a time with her to pick it up from my house. Annoying as it was to coordinate the pick-up without simply giving her the keys (and free-rein) to my house, she finally arrived.

And honestly, she was quite lovely. I felt bad. However that Sunday, post-renter’s said party, she sent me a Facebook message saying she hadn’t worn the dress due to her ‘European hips’ not fitting into the ‘teeny size 6’, and therefore would drop it back the next day. She must have caught me at a good time, or perhaps midway through a Pressure Cook on Masterchef, because I didn’t make her pay a cent, despite all of the inconvenience.

Four weeks later, to my dismay, I realised I hadn’t heard from her. In my heart I thought that perhaps she was just as lazy as me, but after scrolling/stalking/frantically searching my message banks (plural), it was evident that she had deleted all contact with me. Unable to find her, even with my FBI-grade stalking abilities, it hit me like the stench of a returned rental item that hadn’t been washed….

That b*tch had stolen my $400 dress.

Renting an outfit may be a good option for a one-off style pursuit (hello Kendall Jenner double hip-high slits) or a high society black-tie event. But renting a dress every weekend is doing nothing for our bank accounts. Especially when it becomes an obsession to wear the latest craze every weekend of the year, no matter the dress code or the occasion.

Just like overseas copies ruined the Tiffany & Co dog-chain bracelet, allowing every girl to access the same dress every weekend is kinda ruining designer fashion.

At the end of the day, nothing can replace the feeling of wanting, saving up, and buying something brand new, just for you (and you only).

This feature was originally published in Fashion Journal issue 156. You can read the full issue here.

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