Let me start by saying this is not another think piece about how millennials killed the shopping mall. There are enough of those floating around the internet as it is. More and more data is coming out about the environmental impact of fashion, especially fast fashion. According to UNEP, the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of humanity’s carbon emissions, which is more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. On top of that, 11.2 million tons of textiles end up in landfills each year according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
But keeping up with fashion and investing in a piece is hard to do if fast fashion is all you can afford — unless you decide to rent your clothing. While clothing rental started out as a way to rent ball gowns for black-tie affairs, brands like Rent the Runway, Le Tote and Stitch Fix now offer monthly clothing memberships for daily wear.
As someone with a very active social calendar, the idea of renting clothes each month intrigues me. I constantly need new outfits for destination weddings, bridal showers or themed birthday parties. This means I am constantly combing through sale racks and ordering an excessive amount of clothing that I will wear once and scream, “That is the old me!” when someone suggests I wear it again. But none of the current offerings on the market spoke to me. The clothes were either too ordinary, formal or professional.
This is why when I stumbled upon Nuuly, the subscription clothing rental service for the Gen Z customer, I felt seen. Nuuly was started by URBN — the parent company of Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People. For $88 a month you can rent six clothing items that are hand-selected by the URBN team. Customers have access to hundreds of brands and labels, along with unique vintage apparel offerings. When your month ends, you have the option to send everything back or buy them at a discounted price.
I had a hard time deciding what six items I wanted to rent because everything was so trendy: star print coats, head-to-toe corduroy and satin skirts. After a few hours of scouring through the site (I am bad at making decisions), I decided to rent two coats, a gown for the work Christmas party, a dress for Thanksgiving, a going-out dress and a sweater. The retail value of these items came out to $1,858, way more than I would ever spend on clothes in a single year. Nuuly allowed me to dabble in trends and luxury without having to commit. I felt like a high-end Instagram influencer as I walked around in my $365 Apparis faux-fur coat or $695 LoveShackFancy maxi dress.
The best part is that sustainability is embedded in Nuuly’s business model. Each shipment is sent in packaging made of post-consumer plastic (recycled ocean-waste plastic) that is reused over many shipments. Individual garments are not wrapped in plastic polybags, and they encourage vendor partners to reduce the use of plastic in their practices as well. Additionally, their home office campus generates the bulk of its electricity from a fuel cell power plant that turns natural gas and water into electricity.
“We created Nuuly to offer customers an affordable way to infuse frequent newness into their wardrobes and try new brands and trends. Given that the average consumer throws away many pounds of clothing per year, our goal is to make shareable clothing accessible to a broad audience,” says Kim Gallagher, Nuuly’s director of marketing and customer success. “Facilitating this sharing economy through Nuuly saves water, electricity and emissions that would typically be used to create new garments.”
Clothing rental seems to be here to stay. Banana Republic launches its Style Passport service in August 2020 that allows shoppers to rent three pieces for $85 a month. Just last week H&M started to experiment with a clothing rental service in Sweden. There is a growing interest in subscription and sharing-economy clothing models, and it would not surprise us if more brands jumped on board in 2020.
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