Deepa Kalro turned her unused ethnic garments into a thriving clothes rental business. That was seven years ago and today, The Dress Bank rents out about 300 dresses in a month. “After my wedding, I noticed the heavy ethnic wear I had were laying around in the wardrobe gathering dust with no occasion to wear it. We have so many waste resources and how can we make the most of these, I thought. This is where the idea came from,” shared Deepa Kalro, founder of The Dress Bank, a bridal rental showroom in Bengaluru.
Fashion rental business although not new is picking up in India. The recent growth is driven by several factors, including the rise of social media, the increasing cost of clothing, and the increasing inclination toward sustainability.
Worldwide too, it is a big business that is witnessing healthy growth. The global online clothing rental market was valued at $1,013 million in 2017 and is estimated to reach $ 1,856 million by 2023, registering a CAGR of 10.6% according to a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com.
The concept took off in 2009 when Rent the Runway, a US-based e-commerce platform allowed users to rent, subscribe or buy designer apparel and accessories. Ever since the company has been registering strong growth. Its revenue for the third quarter of 2022 rose 31% year-over-year, while its active user base increased, with subscribers beginning to use the platform for more than just special events.
Earlier, people used to rent only high-end unaffordable luxury clothing for special occasions. Nowadays, people can rent any clothing items online that complement their everyday wardrobe.
“Renting is a structured way of borrowing clothes where you don’t have the awkwardness and you feel like you really own the dress,” said
There are various renting models. The 2015-launched Dress Bank follows a three-day model. One can book the outfit, wear it the next day and return it on the third day. However, if a customer needs an outfit for a certain number of days, a customized package is also available and the pricing depends on the demand for the apparel. Kalro shared that though many are still cynical about fashion rentals, the number of people becoming open to the idea is escalating.
Entire wardrobe rental is an extended service that is gaining popularity in this arena. It allows consumers to choose several pieces of clothing and accessories in one visit to mix and match.
Before renting garments consumers need to develop new skills, patterns of consumption, and forms of meaning to adopt the procedure. Once they feel comfortable with the system, they start to prefer renting to owning.
“I was a regular customer of rental clothing, especially for wedding functions and related events. Renting clothes not only saves money but it also allows people to freely post and flaunt their outfits on social media without the fear of not being able to repeat them. I have rented clothes for Rs. 2,000 that cost more than Rs. 15,000,” said Anjitha, a rental consumer and fashion designer.
Young people today crave newness, and at the same time, they are more interested in sustainable clothing than older consumers.
“New generation never wants to repeat what they wear once, mostly heavy occasion wears. Maintaining and dry-cleaning those delicate fabrics is cumbersome and expensive. So renting is the best option compared to purchasing,” said Chetan Jiwani, founder of Rent N Wear, Bengaluru.
Chetan turned to the rental fashion business after 20 years of being in the wholesale industry. “Rent N Wear launched in March 2022 and since we saw a rapid rise in consumer growth rate. We even have customers donating their unused clothes to the rental platform. Our pricing ranges from Rs750 to Rs70500, which is a lot more affordable than the actual prices of high-end designer clothes. I believe we are fulfilling the wishes of some people who wish to wear designer but can’t afford one,” Jiwani added.
The barriers consumers find unappealing in rental fashion are garment maintenance, hygiene, and quality issues. The pandemic was a nemesis to rental fashion. Hygiene concerns about rental outfits created skepticism and it caused havoc in the market leaving the rental industry in a dilemma.
“Pandemic situation was difficult for us like any other business. We took a backseat and focused on surviving instead of profits. This experience was humbling. I’m glad we managed to retain all staff members and pay salaries. At some point, it felt like we need to do everything from scratch, so we needed to stay patient,” said Kalro.
A sustainable endeavour
Studies say that fashion rental is one method to bring down the environmental impact of the fashion industry and encourage sustainable fashion. To create maximum sustainable benefits, fashion rentals need to be designed with sustainability in mind and adopted on a system-wide scale.
Not only is rental fashion more affordable, but it can also extend the life of each garment and reduce the number of resources needed to produce new clothing. In addition, rented clothing is often of higher quality than what you would find at a typical retail store, which means it will last longer than fast fashion stock.
“There are environmental and economic factors that may influence consumer behaviour to act more sustainably. As people face pressure to constantly buy clothes for different life events, renting could be a better choice for consumption-weary consumers,” said Swetha Poddar, founder of Candid Men, a fashion rental venture based in Bengaluru.
The rental industry is being considered as a potential solution to battle fashion’s overconsumption crisis. The hope is that the industry will produce less if consumers rent garments for short periods of time, rather than buying garments that are rarely worn and simply thrown away.
As more people become aware of rental options, and as rental companies expand their offerings, the rental fashion trend will continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is expected that the global online market for clothing rentals would expand at a strong CAGR of 11% from 2021 to 2031.
The rental market in India could become a germane model along with e-commerce growth and bursting start-ups. Flyrobe, Stage3, Rent It BAE, Lionise, Date The Ramp, Rent At TALI, Kirayepe and Rent An Attire are some of the omnichannel Indian fashion rental platforms launched in the past decade.
Rent It Bae a fashion rental service has acquired the business of Flyrobe, India’s first fashion rental startup. The company has merged the two businesses and is now operating under the brand name Flyrobe. Read more about it here.